With additional reporting by Prentice Beverly.
LOS ANGELES - Brigham Young used commanding performances on both sides of the court to stun fourth-seeded Nebraska Monday, 80-76, in the second-round regional of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
In pulling off their second upset in three days, the Cougars advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002, and become just the third 12th-seeded team in NCAA history to pull off the feat. Ironically, they head to the Lincoln, Neb. regional.
Morgan Bailey tied a career high in leading BYU with 18 points on 9-15 shooting, while Jennifer Hamson registered a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Lexi Eaton added 15 points.
Tear'a Laudermill scored 22 points for Nebraska, and Big Ten Player-of-the-Year Jordan Hooper put up 20. Three other players scored in double figures for the Big Ten conference champs, but their efforts would fall just short of the mark.
The last time BYU made the final 16 was in coach Jeff Judkins' first year there. He admitted that he'd taken a few things for granted after that.
"It's taken me 12 years to get back here, so I’m not going to take this for granted at all," Judkins said. "I just can’t say enough about the NCAA Tournament, how exciting it is to play. You work so hard for this."
Bailey set the pace for BYU, making six points in the first 2:50 of the game to establish the tone of the game. The Cougars less than one minute after the tip and never trailed after that. The Cougars' defense limited the Huskers to 33-percent shooting for the opening period. Meanwhile, the BYU offense swelled the lead to 17 points twice in the lead two times in the final five minutes of the half. BYU led 41-30 at halftime.
Sparked by Laudermill, Nebraska rallied to cut the deficit to five points by the 15:34 mark of the second frame. Bailey's scoring helped the Cougars inflate their cushion back to nine points, but the Huskers continued to grind, pulling within one roughly four minutes later. Again, BYU rallied, and led, 69-57, with 6:24 remaining.
A Laudermill three-point shot with 42 seconds to go got Nebraska within three points, but a Hamson layup and subsequent free throw at 14 seconds sealed the deal for the Cougars.
Hamson said the final play was meant for Eaton.
"She’s a girl who loves to get through and score, and I was just there in case she didn’t quite make it and so it ended up bouncing off a defender right into my hands," Hamson said. "So I do what I try to do best is get it in the basket. So that just was my mindset.”
Bailey said the Cougars went into the match up with a strong mindset.
"We started out attacking inside and then working outside, so I think that with me hitting shots at the beginning, it opened up shots for the guards and that’s what we do every game," Bailey said.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori commended BYU's offensive cohesion.
"They had a number of kids who made plays. They deserved to win," Yori said. "They hit shots and played well. We determined we were going to play off some kids and it burned us. They had some kids that knocked some shots down. (Morgan) Bailey played well. Congratulations to them.”
Hooper said she was proud of the Husker's comeback attempts.
“It shows the character, grit and tenacity of our team," Hooper said. "We never give up no matter if we are down 20 or two, you keep going. To be down twice or three times, that even shows even more gut. It sucks to be down that much, but to make the climb back it was fun with this group. If we would have two more minutes, maybe, but that is the way sports are sometimes.”