LOS ANGELES -- The Nebraska women's basketball team had to make a choice against BYU on Monday: play straight up and let 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson dominate inside or force the Cougars' other players to make shots.
Before the game, Husker coach Connie Yori told her staff if the other Cougars hit shots, the Huskers would probably lose.
She was right.
Hamson was a force anyway, scoring 15 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, blocking four shots and making huge plays down the stretch. But Morgan Bailey (18 points) sparked BYU to a 17-point first-half lead, and Stephanie Rovetti, Kylie Maeda and Xojian Harry combined to go 8-for-13 on three-pointers. No. 13 Nebraska made one final charge to pull within two points with 4.4 seconds to play but couldn’t get all the way back, falling 80-76 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Pauley Pavilion.
Yeah, the 12th-seeded Cougars stole Nebraska’s dream of playing a Sweet 16 game in Pinnacle Bank Arena next week. Instead, BYU is coming to Lincoln.
“They just had some kids that knocked down some shots,” Yori said. “Even though we fell behind I still felt like we were in the game. We’ve made a lot of comebacks in the last few years. I never felt like we were out of it.”
BYU returns to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.
“Before the game I told them that we waited so long for this,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “Let’s give it our best shot. Let’s take it, let’s don’t give it to them. I think what happened is these guys just stepped it up and made big plays when they had to.”
Nebraska (26-7) trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, but cut that deficit to one on two occasions midway through the second half and to two points in the final seconds.
“It just showed the character, grit and tenacity of this team,” Nebraska senior Jordan Hooper said. “We never gave up. To come back two, three, four times, it showed guts.”
But BYU held off every Husker charge. A big Nebraska push came at the 8:02 mark, when a driving layup by Tear’a Laudermill cut the Cougars' lead to 58-56. But Harry hit three three-pointers to extend the BYU advantage to 61-56, then 64-57, then 69-57 with 6:17 left.
Ten straight points by Laudermill gave the Huskers some hope late in the game, and her steal led to a basket by Emily Cady to trim the BYU lead to 78-76 with 4.4 seconds to play. But Hamson, who converted a huge three-point play with 13 seconds remaining, made two free throws to seal the upset.
“It sucks to be down that much, but to make the climb back was fun with this group,” Hooper said. “If we would have had two more minutes, maybe, but that’s the way it is with sports sometimes. BYU has scorers from every single position. They hit a ton of shots. They have eight or nine kids that can come in and score.”
BYU got out of the gate quickly, hitting 8 of its first 12 shots, with Bailey scoring six points down low. The Cougars led 11-4 just three minutes into the game, and 15-5 on Maeda’s second three-pointer. A three-point play by Hamson pushed the BYU lead to 23-10 at the 13:30 mark. The Cougars' largest lead of the first half was 35-18 after Rovetti hit her second three-pointer of the half.
Sample got aggressive on the offensive end and scored six points in an 8-2 Husker run that cut the deficit to 39-30. But Bailey, who scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first half, took the Huskers inside for another basket late, giving the Cougars a 41-30 halftime lead.
BYU shot 54 percent in the first half (15-of-28). Nebraska shot just 33 percent (11-of-33) and never seemed to find a groove on offense that didn’t include a Hamson block or intimidation.
“This group has been phenomenal to work with,” Yori said. “We’ve been asking these guys to play 40 minutes, game in and game out. Showing grit and toughness has been our strength all year.”
Laudermill led Nebraska with 22 points and Hooper scored 20 points in her final game as a Husker.