LINCOLN, Neb. -- We don't mean this in a condescending way at all: This game was a kind of moral victory for BYU.
No, the Cougars didn't pull an upset for the ages, as the No. 12 seed fell to No. 1 UConn 70-51 in the regional semifinals. But at least for the first half, it was a genuinely competitive contest. Certainly far more so than probably any observers anticipated it would be.
The Cougars knocked the "home" team out of this regional, as they beat No. 4 seed Nebraska in the second round. Nonetheless, the Nebraska fans still showed up in big numbers, which was a heartening thing to see. So was the ovation the Nebraska crowd gave to the Cougars as they walked off the court following a valiant battle against a Goliath program. Bravo, Big Red backers.
And the Huskers faithful had to feel a little better about their team's loss to BYU, considering how well the Cougars hung in with the defending national champions for 20 minutes. Nebraska was eliminated by a good team. BYU was eliminated by a great team.
KEY STAT: The Huskies (37-0) were 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the first half, which was a big reason they were leading just 30-29 at the break. Meanwhile, the Cougars made 5 of 10 3-pointers in the first half, and that energized the underdogs. In the second half, UConn's 3-point shooting really wasn't much better (3-of-11), but the Huskies allowed just one additional trey from BYU.
TURNING POINT: Bria Hartley's layup at the 15:14 mark of the second half gave UConn a 44-37 lead and essentially the separation that the Huskies had been looking for all game. Once they got that margin, they were able to build from there.
KEY PLAYER: Just as she was in the Huskies' second-round victory over Saint Joseph's, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis was all over the court doing good things for UConn. But not really from behind the arc, where she has such a reputation for killing foes. KML made just 1 of 4 3-point attempts, but was 6-of-12 from 2-point range. She supplemented her team-high 19 points with 13 rebounds and 4 assists. Kudos also go to UConn's Stefanie Dolson, who gave up a few inches to BYU's Jennifer Hamson, but held her own and played her fellow senior center to a draw. Both finished with nine points and 13 rebounds; for BYU to have made this one close throughout, Hamson would have needed more scoring production.
HOW IT WAS WON: It sounds so trite, but execution was everything for the Huskies. In the second half, they disrupted the sets that BYU had used effectively in the first half. And they cleaned up their own performance. The Huskies had seven turnovers in the first half, and just three in the second half. And, ultimately, UConn took control on the boards, too. The Huskies had just a narrow edge, 20-19, in rebounding over the first 20 minutes, and finished the game with a 47-38 advantage.
WHAT'S NEXT: UConn advances to the Elite Eight for the ninth year in a row. Monday, the Huskies will take on the winner of the Texas A&M-DePaul game for a trip to Nashville.