PROVO -- With each passing, and wasted, BYU scoring opportunity, the fans stood up and sat down with such urgency, it was as if Wednesday night was the musical chair world championships.
The drama merely increased when Natalyn Lewis' one-time shot hit the crossbar after a brilliant cross from Maren Hendershot early in the second half. With the score knotted at 0-0, the increasingly restless Cougar faithful had to be wondering if BYU's NCAA Tournament hopes would end before they really ever began. Hardly.BYU's Kim Lowe scored a pair of goals spanning just six minutes midway through the second half as her squad eliminated California 2-0.
"Our nerves were a little into us in the first half. It's the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and we didn't want to look past a good team and ahead to Santa Clara," said Cougar striker Maren Hendershot. "We realized we just had to play, and we did, and it was fun."
It really was that simple.
The first half was a game of equal possession in the area for both squads. Twenty-third ranked BYU is used to controlling the ball almost at will, but Cal was able to do the same throughout much of the opening half, something that appeared to bother them.
"Cal is a very good team, a very quick and very physical team. They're a quicker and more physical team than anyone we've played this year," said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood.
A short halftime lecture was all the Cougars needed. By no means were they playing poorly, but winning a few more of those 50-50 balls and making slightly better passes were all the Cougars needed reminding off.
"They played a strong second half. They came out and went after it for all that it was worth, and we didn't," said California coach Kevin Boyd.
Despite that, shots like Lewis' four minutes into the half were just barely off target.
If BYU didn't tally a goal soon, there was a good chance the Golden Bears would successfully counterattack and then pack it in and protect a one-goal lead, something they'd be capable of considering they beat two top 10 teams this year.
Following 10 more minutes of absolute ball control, the Cougars' attack finally produced a goal. In the 59th minute Hendershot and Lewis' combination passing near midfield freed Hendershot up with a wide-open run up the left side. With Cal's defense scrambling, Lewis filled the open space in the middle and made her run. Hendershot fed Lewis near the top of the box, and she quickly fired a shot. Cal's defenders were quick enough to jump in front of the ball and force a deflection, one that bounced right to Lowe, who easily booted it in.
Less than six minutes later, a duration which the Cougars continued owning, it was Sara Reading who created her own scoring opportunity near the top of the box. Cal keeper Maite Zabala made a superb diving save, but she couldn't quite hang on. As the ball trickled away, Lowe blasted it into the open net.
With the comfortable two-goal cushion, Rockwood started subbing out some of her starters, no doubt to rest them for Saturday's big game.
The Cougars' reward for winning their first-round game is a date with No. 1 and undefeated Santa Clara in California this Saturday. The Broncos have eliminated the Cougars from the NCAA Tournament the last two years by scores of 1-0 and 3-0, respectively.