BYU basketball: Cougars prevail despite second-half struggles
Los Angeles •Â It could've been a killer.
Lexi Eaton drove under the basket, into traffic. The sophomore was looking to get a bucket, pass it off or draw a foul, but none of those happened.
What happened was better: After the ball was swatted from Eaton's hands, Jennifer Hamson's long arms stretched out for it and she put a shot up herself the last of her five attempts that night. Like the previous four, this one sank in, and Hamson got a shot for an extra point after an official called a foul on the play.
She had swept in at the right moment, characteristic of the night's performance for BYU.
"She's a girl who loves to get through and score, and I was just there in case she didn't quite make it," Hamson said of the play, which ultimately clinched the win. "So it ended up bouncing off a defender right into my hands."
Missed shots. Turnovers. Errant fouls. BYU gave Nebraska plenty of chances to steal victory out from under it in their Monday night battle in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But just as there were slips and mistakes, flickers of leadership of big-game composure ended up carrying the Cougars in the 80-76 win that brought them to the Sweet 16. Often from struggles, they summoned the big moments that helped them close out a bumpy game.
The Cougars created their own luck.
There was no question the game was unravelling late for BYU. The 17-point lead was long forgotten after a 30-14 run by Nebraska in the middle of the contest. The Cougars shot worse in the second half, as Nebraska shot better. They turned the ball over as Nebraska rang up steals.
But despite all of the Cornhuskers' momentum, they could never quite catch the Cougars.
BYU always had an answer. When it was down to one, Kim Beeston, who hadn't made a shot all night, hit a 3-ball that gave them space again. Xojian Harry exploded for a trio of threes not long after, and Morgan Bailey had some late buckets and rebounds. Eaton, who had missed several shots as the Cornhuskers caught up, sank critical layups to hold onto the lead.
Even early in the game, Kylie Maeda hit 3-pointers. Stephanie Rovetti, who had hit two 3-pointers all year, sank a pair in the first half.
Coach Jeff Judkins at various points saw his team was fading, and he coaxed them on by telling them to let shots fly, even as they struggled. That the Cougars did, and they won, spoke volumes.
"I think with a game that so much is on the line, it's easy to get a little rattled when things aren't going your way," Bailey said. "But I think our how our team has grown up since the beginning of the season is we've learned to get out of that faster. Hopefully we can continue with that."