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Lincoln, Neb. • For 24 minutes, BYU was not just a 12 seed. The Cougars weren't Cinderella, or just happy to be in the Sweet 16.
They were a contender, trading body blows with the nation's best team. For 24 minutes, it wasn't David vs. Goliath just two basketball teams scrapping to survive.
It fell apart for BYU slowly at first, but surely as top-ranked, undefeated Connecticut eventually topped the upstart Cougars, 70-51. BYU put up a fight to remember in a game few thought it could compete in at all, capping a surprising NCAA Tournament run on a bittersweet note.
While the Cougars (28-7) couldn't notch one of the tournament's biggest upsets and reach the Elite Eight for the first time, they walked away from Pinnacle Bank Arena feeling like they had shown they were capable of competing with even the top tier of college basketball royalty.
"Our team is great, and I think we really showed what we could play like in that first half," senior guard Kim Beeston said. "It's just too bad we couldn't keep it up for the whole entire game."
Beeston led with 16 points, 13 in the first half as she helped the Cougars lead for almost nine minutes of the game. Junior forward Morgan Bailey chipped in 14. Senior center Jen Hamson had 9 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks in her final game for BYU basketball.
The first half was the memorable one for BYU. Holding the Huskies to a mediocre 35.5 shooting percentage in that stretch, they surged ahead behind Beeston and Bailey's shooting, even as Hamson was slow to start offensively.
With defense and 3-pointers going their way, the Cougars led by as much as six. The Cougars were down by only a point at halftime, No other opponent had ever been closer than five points behind the Huskies this year at halftime.
Lexi Eaton's first basket after the intermission marked the first time UConn (37-0) trailed in the second half all season.
"We had a shot," Judkins said. "At halftime, we went in there feeling pretty good, like 'Hey, we can get this game.'"
From there, their upset effort petered out. What ended up killing the Cougars was speed as UConn wound up its transition offense and started grabbing more offensive rebounds.
The game was tied at 37 a few minutes into the half, but UConn went on a 7-0 run before a media timeout. With Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis leading the Huskies' attack, the Cougars lost steam trying to keep up.
Judkins said he heard UConn coach Geno Auriemma shout "speed up" from the sidelines, and unfortunately for the Cougars, the game eventually sped out of hand. BYU went on a five-minute scoreless drought lasting into the final three minutes of the game, and by then the Huskies were up by 20. UConn's 20 offensive rebounds translated into 27 second-chance points.
The dream of the shocking upset was stamped out at the finish, but what BYU took out of it was a hopeful note. Even in defeat, the Cougars saw rays of light for the program's future.
"I think we all learned and grew from this experience," Bailey said. We know what it takes to be No. 1. We're all hungry for more. Next season starts Monday."
UConn 70, BYU 51
R The Cougars hand the Huskies their first second-half deficit of the season.
• BYU's Kim Beeston finishes with 16 points.
• BYU's Jen Hamson has nine points, 13 rebounds and six blocks.