BYU guard Lexi Eaton (21) and Xojian Harry (11) celebrate after upsetting Nebraska on Monday night.
Kelvin Kuo/Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Morgan Bailey worked her way down low and tossed in baby hook shots. Jennifer Hamson used her long arms to yank down rebounds over everyone’s heads. Add some well-timed 3-pointers with Nebraska closing in and BYU couldn’t be denied.
The Cougars held on to beat the Cornhuskers 80-76 Monday night, advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s tournament for the first time since 2002.
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They rushed to the middle of the court, shouting and jumping with joy.
”It’s indescribable,” Hamson said. ”So many emotions flow through me. We played so well together.”
Bailey tied her career high with 18 points, Hamson had 15 points and 14 rebounds, Lexi Eaton added 15 points and Xojian Harry hit three 3-pointers in the final eight minutes for the Cougars (28-6), who became just the third No. 12 seed to reach the final 16.
”It’s nice to have a good balanced team,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. ”They just believe in themselves.”
The Cougars led by 17 points in the first half on the way to their second straight upset, having defeated No. 5 seed North Carolina State in the first round at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Next up is either No. 1 seed Connecticut or No. 9 seed Saint Joseph’s.
”We’re praying like crazy that Saint Joe’s wins,” Judkins said, laughing.
Tear’a Laudermill scored 22 points and Big Ten player of the year Jordan Hooper had 15 of her 20 points in the second half for fourth-seeded Nebraska (26-7), which now hosts a regional it won’t be playing in.
”Anything we can do to help them in Lincoln, we know our way around,” Huskers coach Connie Yori said.
Playing with a dislocated middle finger on her left hand from the first round, Hamson scored BYU’s final five points after Nebraska got within three points and then two over the final 42 seconds.
Laudermill rallied the Huskers with 12 consecutive points after they trailed by 12 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
”If we would have had two more minutes, maybe, but that is the way sports are sometimes,” Hooper said.
BYU dominated the first half, leading by 17 and holding the Huskers to 33 percent shooting. Hamson, the 6-foot-7 shot blocker, disrupted the Huskers when Bailey wasn’t backing them down and scoring.
”That’s my money move, that’s what I love to do is the baby hook,” Bailey said. ”Last game it kind of got taken away from me so I’m glad it was there.”
Nebraska came out of halftime on a 20-10 run to close to 51-50. Hooper scored 12 points and Emily Cady added seven in the spurt.
”I told them we waited so long for us, let’s give our best shot, let’s take it, let’s don’t give it to them,” Judkins said.
The Huskers again got within one, then two points before Harry hit two consecutive 3s, Eaton scored and then Harry hit another 3 to extend BYU’s lead to 69-57.
”With so much on the line, it’s easy to get rattled when things aren’t going your way,” Bailey said. ”We’ve learned to get out of that faster.”
The Cougars outscored the Huskers 23-10 to start the game, when BYU was shooting 60 percent. They extended their lead to 37-20 on the first of three straight baskets by Bailey before Nebraska outscored BYU 10-4 to end the half trailing 41-30.
Hooper had just five points in the first 20 minutes, when the Cougars owned a 16-10 edge on the defensive glass.