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BYU women's soccer: Cougars top UNLV 2-0 in first round of NCAA tournament

PROVO — The BYU women's soccer team was in prime form Friday night, getting past UNLV 2-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With the win, the Cougars advance to the second round, where they'll take on Oklahoma in a match that will be played in South Carolina.

As is often the case, the final score didn't reflect how dominant the Cougars were throughout the match.

Scoring chances came in bunches, with the frontline players just missing until the 19:38 mark, when Michele Vasconcelos continued her torrid pace, scoring in her sixth straight match on a cross from Ashley Hatch. Vasconcelos' shot was deflected but had enough steam behind it to find the upper right corner of the back of the net.

The Cougars' first goal from @byusoccer_w's 2-0 NCAA tournament win over UNLV tonight, courtesy Michele Vasconcelos

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 12, 2016

Vasconcelos teamed with the usual suspects — namely Hatch and Nadia Gomes, owning the majority of possessions while putting constant pressure on the Rebels. By doing as much, the Cougars were able to disrupt and neutralize UNLV's attack, forcing the Rebel forwards to play more defensively than they'd prefer.

"We knew that UNLV team scored a lot of goals this year and that they love to attack, so we made sure that we had the ball and that they had to defend us," said BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood. "So the more offense we played, obviously the less offense they could play...sometimes the best defense is having the ball and going at your opponent. We wanted to make them feel uncomfortable."

Despite the pressure and constant barrage on UNLV's goal, the Cougars led just 1-0 at the half but extended the lead to 2-0 quickly in the second. Getting one through early after the break was Rockwood's halftime directive to her players, and they responded in kind, with Elena Medeiros sending in an easy chip off a beautiful cross from Paige Barker at the the 47:06 mark.

The Cougars' second goal from @byusoccer_w's 2-0 NCAA tournament win over UNLV tonight, courtesy Elena Medeiros

— Brandon Judd (@brandonljudd) November 12, 2016

"We always want to push for two goals, so I think we came out with a lot of energy," Medeiros said. "It was kind of a weird scramble, but the ball eventually got wide to Paige and she just played the perfect ball across, instead of shooting it, and I was just there to tap it in. It was a pretty easy goal. Paige set it up perfectly."

When UNLV did attack, it found getting open shots very difficult against the Cougars' defense, led by West Coast defensive player of the year Taylor Isom.

"It's always great to get a shutout," Isom said. "The forwards are always pressing, making it easy for us, so that when the ball does come to us it's very readable."

Overall the Cougars outshot the Rebels 18-7, but with much of their 18 shots being much more live, in general, than those from UNLV's attack.

With the win, the Cougars advance to take on Oklahoma, in a match to be played at South Carolina, which hosts BYU's regional draw. Having seen a lot of success on the road already this season, BYU is confident going against whatever lies ahead.

"These girls have had the chance these last several years to go on the road for some really big games, even this year. We've challenged them with that," Rockwood said of traveling to South Carolina. "We've traveled very well, they're a really good group to travel with...we've won nine games on the road this year, so there's no reason to believe we can't go out there and get some results."

BYU will square off against Oklahoma this coming Thursday.


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney