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BYU women's basketball: Cougars upset North Carolina State, advance to the Round of 32

LOS ANGELES -- Victory represented redemption for BYU in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament Saturday night.

The 12th-seeded Cougars stymied one of the nation's most potent scorers to beat fifth-seeded North Carolina State, 72-57, at the West Regional in front of 1,941 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

BYU (27-6) used its 11th victory in 12 games to advance to Monday night's second-round contest against fourth-seeded Nebraska, which defeated 13th-seeded Fresno State in Saturday's first game, 74-55. Tip-off will be 7 p.m. MT.

Beating the Wolfpack (25-8) not only gave BYU its first NCAA tournament victory in eight years. It meant exploiting a chance the Cougars squandered two years ago with a first-round loss to DePaul by four points.

Seven members of this season's roster -- including four starters -- played on that team.

"They waited for this for a long time," BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. "We kind of blew the opportunity we had two years ago. We didn't play our best game against DePaul. I just wanted them to come out and play their game."

"We played the kind of basketball we played all year. This is how we won 27 games."

In the process, the Cougars frustrated North Carolina State's Markeisha Gatling, the nation's leader in field-goal shooting (67.6 percent). With BYU's 6-foot-2 Morgan Bailey guarding her, the 6-foot-5 Gatling missed nine of 14 shots and finished with 11 points.

"I think I've been waiting for a game like this all year," Bailey said. "I love being physical. That's my type of game. We've never played against a big like her before, so I made it a point to try to push her off the block as much as I could. It was fun."

It also was unforeseen. Judkins said he originally planned to have Bailey and 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson share defensive duties against Gatling.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't think I'd have Morgan guard Gatling the whole game," Judkins said. "I thought it would be in spurts. I didn't want to get in foul trouble with Jen early. It was a gamble on my part. But she did a great job."

With Gatling suppressed, North Carolina State shot just 27.4 percent for the game.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack silenced Hamson offensively in the first half. Hamson, who entered the game averaging 18.1 points, missed all three of her field-goal attempts and failed to score a point.

But the West Coast Conference's defensive player of the year compensated defensively with 11 rebounds and five blocks in the first half on the way to tying career bests with 19 rebounds and nine blocks.

With Hamson's help, the Cougars grabbed 52 rebounds and blocked 15 shots.

"My whole focus was to rebound and play defense," Hamson said. "I have great teammates who can take advantage offensively when I'm not feeling it."

One of those teammates, Lexi Eaton, took offensive control. Eaton made seven of her first 13 shots to finish the first half with 17 points, and led all scorers with 25 points.

"I knew I could drive to the basket," Eaton said. "They were going to play tight on the bigs so I knew I had a lot of room to drive off the pick and roll."

Bailey added 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Hamson finished with 12 points and Kylie Maeda contributed 14 points. Freshman Miah Spencer led North Carolina State with 16 points.

Nebraska (26-6) -- ranked 13th nationally -- features 6-foot-2 Jordan Hooper, the Big 10 Conference's player of the year and a two-time All American. Hooper averages 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, Sophomore guard Rachel Theriot averaged 18.7 points and 10.0 assists during the Big 10 tournament.

"That'll be an interesting game," Judkins said. "They spread you out and make you have to guard them on the whole court. The key will be, can we guard them outside and not get hurt, and can they our inside presence?"

"If we can get the ball inside and if Jen and (Bailey) can guard their bigs outside, it should be to our advantage."