UConn Women Take Control In Second Half, Advance To Elite Eight

Video report by Bob Rumbold, Fox CT

Text by John Altavilla, Hartford Courant

LINCOLN, Neb. – Inspiration comes in all shapes and formats. Nowadays, it’s often delivered over the cell phone, a text or tweet that puts one’s mind in the right place.

BYU received its adrenaline for the Lincoln regional semifinal on Saturday earlier this week from the thumbs of Thurl Bailey, the uncle of one of its players, junior Morgan Bailey.

Thurl Bailey, now an analyst for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, played for Jim Valvano on the day in 1983 that North Carolina State put the Slamma Jamma on Houston for the NCAA national championship.

Thurl Bailey knows miraculous things can happen in the spring. And that was his message.

“He [Thurl Bailey] said you have to compete, you have to survive and move on,” Morgan Bailey said.

Still, there was no empirical evidence supporting the theory the Cougars could beat No. 1 UConn. In women’s basketball, 12 seeds, no matter how inspired they are, rarely bloom past late-March. What made them so different?

Well, UConn found out. BYU competed. It just couldn’t survive. So it is UConn that moved on to the Elite Eight with its 70-51 win at the Pinnacle Bank Arena.

But not since its 11-point win at Baylor on Jan. 13 had the Huskies felt so much heat.

The Huskies were led by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. She followed her triple-double in the second round with another 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

Breanna Stewart, who didn’t have a field goal for nearly the first 19 minutes, added 16 points and six rebounds. Bria Hartley added 12 points and five assists. And Moriah Jefferson had 11 points.

BYU (28-7) was led by senior Kim Beeston. She scored 13 of her team-high 16 in thre first half. Its 6-7 center, Jennifer Hamson, had nine points and 13 rebounds.

UConn will play in its ninth straight Elite Eight on Monday (9:30 p.m., ESPN) against the winner of Texas A&M-DePaul, which will begin in 20 minutes.

UConn (37-0) has now 43 straight dating to its win over Idaho in the first-round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. But unlike many that preceded it, there was nothing in common with any of them.

Was BYU intimidated? It didn’t look like it at all. They just couldn’t get to the free throw line. With 5:12 to play, UConn’s lead now 67-48, the Cougars were 0-for-3 from the line. The Huskies were 14-for-21.

The Huskies came in having trailed for just 38:49 in their first 1,440 minutes this season. Not a single second had come in the postseason, which opened with a 72-42 pounding of Cincinnati in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference on March 8.

But with 17:34 to play, Lexi Eaton’s basket gave BYU a 35-34 lead. It was the first time all season the Huskies had trailed in the second half. But by that time, it was just the latest piece of evidence that UConn was in a tussle. They had already trailed five other times.

The Huskies had brought Geno Auriemma’s dream alive by playing their best basketball at the best time of the year. They were firing on all cylinders, especially their starters, who will be carrying the load for the rest of the way. All five scored in double-figures in Tuesday’s second-round win over.

But this was no joy ride, certainly not in the first half when the lead changed eight times and there were three ties. For the first time this season, this was UConn careening down a slope, its hands over its head wondering what was going on and when it would stop.

It was new. It was unusual. It was strangely entertaining. And it was BYU’s doing.

Not only did the Huskies trail in the first half, they did so five times. They fell behind for the first time, 3-2, with 17:44 to play. And then with 8:21 to play, Beeston’s basket gave the Cougars a 19-17 they stretched to six (27-21) and held onto for 7:18 – an eternity in this season of routs.

Stewart’s first field goal, with 1:03 to play, returned the lead to UConn at 28-27. And its halftime lead was just one (30-29).

All of the ingredients that normally feed upsets were melding. The Huskies were 11-for-31 from the field in the half and Stewart, its national player of the year candidate, was just 1 of 8. The Huskies were 0-for-8 from three.

Meanwhile, BYU was 5 of 10 from three, holding its own on the boards and getting the beginning of a great day from Beeston, a senior guard with a penchant for making threes. She led the Cougars with 13 first-half points. Bailey did her part with eight.

And despite saying that UConn’s offense would not change due to the presence of Hamson, it seemed as if it did, a little in approach, a lot in efficiency.

What seemed impossible enjoyed a long life.

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