ROSEMONT, Ill. — BYU guard Haley Steed had swished two 3-pointers from nearly the identical spot on the right angle just a few minutes earlier, as she sized up another with the clock ticking down in Saturday night's NCAA Tournament game with DePaul.
This time there were just six seconds left and the Cougars trailed by three as she fired up a 3-pointer that could tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Steed thought it was going in and her coach thought it was going in as the ball sailed right on line toward the basket. However, it turned out to be just a bit long and as it bounced off the back of rim, BYU's hopes for its first NCAA victory since 2006 were gone.
DePaul added a free throw with two seconds left finish off a 59-55 victory at the All-State Arena and send the Cougars home for the season.
"It felt good ... it was an open look ... I just missed it," a red-eyed Steed said in the somber BYU locker room. "I knew we needed a three. I came off that screen by Jen (Hamson), and I was open so I had to take it."
BYU coach Jeff Judkins was happy she took it and said the Cougars couldn't have gotten a better look.
"I wouldn't want anybody else to take that shot," Judkins said. "She's hit a lot of big shots in her career. When she shot it, I thought it was in. That was the shot we really wanted."
BYU certainly didn't lose the game because of Steed's miss. The biggest factors in the Cougar loss were two horrid starts at the beginning of each half, an overall poor shooting night and an inability to figure out DePaul's matchup zone in the second half.
The Cougars fell behind 10-1 to start the game, then were outscored 14-0 to start the second half after taking a two-point halftime lead. The latter was a hole they just couldn't climb out of.
Shooting was a problem for the Cougars all night as they finished at 33.9 percent, their third lowest percentage of the season. But take away reserve Jennifer Hamson's 9-for-13 and their percentage was an abysmal 23.9 percent.
A lot of the Cougars' problems shooting was that they took too many 3-pointers, settling for early threes with a lot of time on the shot clock instead of trying to work the ball inside.
"We probably shot too many threes, but it's hard, because you don't tell your players to be shy," Judkins said. "In timeouts you tell them to go inside and do this and until you're out there and you have people flying at you ... it's hard to be patient."
Judkins also gave credit to the DePaul coach Doug Bruno for switching to a matchup defense the Cougars hadn't seen, in the second half.
"We hadn't really played against a matchup zone, and there's no doubt that zone really flustered our offense," said Steed. "It made us stagnant, and we had a hard time getting the ball inside."
In the first half, the Cougars were able to get the ball into the 6-foot-7 Hamson, who scored 14 of her game-high 21 points in the first half. But DePaul came out in a matchup zone and the Cougars settled for 3-pointers when they weren't turning the ball over trying to pass inside.
BYU finished with just 6 of 24 from 3-point range for the game.
Besides Hamson's 21 points, only senior Kristen Riley was in double figures with 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. Riley also had a game-high seven assists and pulled down 12 rebounds.
DePaul put four players in double figures with Anna Martin getting 17, freshman Brittany Hrynko 15, and Jasmine Harry and Katherine Harry 12 apiece.
After coming back from the early 10-1 deficit, the Cougars led by five before taking a 29-27 lead into the break.
However, the Blue Demons came out with more energy in the second half and quickly scored 14 straight points as BYU failed on its first 10 possessions of the half.
Steed, who had missed her first five shots of the game, sank back-to-back 3-pointers to bring BYU within five at 45-40 with 8:21 left. The Cougars looked dead when they trailed 56-48 with two minutes left.
But two baskets by Hamson, the latter with a free throw, within a six-second span thanks to a BYU steal, cut the lead to three. After the two teams traded baskets, BYU had one final chance when Martin missed with 15 seconds left, but Steed's shot barely missed.
The Cougars headed back to Utah with a 26-7 record, their second best overall record ever with the 26 wins tying the most all-time.
Judkins says he's looking forward to next year already with four of the seven players who played Saturday back next year. Riley, Steed and Dani Peterson are the only seniors and Steed, who sat out two seasons with a knee injury, has the option to play another year as a medical redshirt. However she said Saturday that she hasn't decided yet what she'll do.
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