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TAMPA, Fla. — In the end, the size and strength of a top 10 team in the nation proved to be too much.
The 14th-seeded BYU women’s basketball team dropped its NCAA Tournament opener, 86-53, to No. 3-seed Louisville in Tampa, Florida, in a physical — often chippy — competition.
Morgan Bailey led BYU (23-10) with 15 points and 10 rebounds in her BYU finale, adding another double-double to her prolific college career. The niece of former Jazz big man Thurl Bailey was the first BYU player to score in double figures Saturday, shooting 7-of-14 from the field a year after helping the Cougars to a Sweet 16 appearance.
Bailey finishes her BYU career in sixth-place on the Cougars’ all-time rebounding list. Fellow senior Xojian Harry had two points and an assist in her BYU nightcap.
“My seniors have to hold their heads up high because they’ve done a lot of incredible things,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins told the media after the game. “Hopefully my younger players will learn from this game.”
Junior sharpshooter Lexi Eaton, BYU’s leading scorer in 2014-15, added 14 points and six rebounds for the Cougars, who got nine points from sophomore guard Makenzi Morrison.
BYU’s last lead of the contest came early, a 4-2 advantage with 18:35 left in the first half before the Cardinals took control for good.
Louisville freshman Myisha Hines-Allen finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds in her career tournament debut, and Jude Schimmel added 13 points and four assists for the Cardinals (26-6), who were ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll of the regular season.
Shawnta’e Dyer and Bria Smith each supplied 11 points for Louisville, which advanced to face the winner of South Florida and LSU on Monday.
“I haven’t seen (Louisville) play like that all year,” Judkins added. “Their way to deal was to pressure us. I thought we did a really poor job of getting catches on the wing. But we couldn’t feed the post. You can’t give teams easy baskets and you can’t turn the ball over. That was the game.”
The Cougars didn’t hit a 3-pointer for the entire first half, missing their first seven triples of the game even while shooting 40 percent from the field.
But the vital long-distance throw is a staple in the Cougars’ arsenal, and BYU’s 19 turnovers didn’t help the women’s team get back in the game.
BYU didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Morrison nailed one from the top of the key with 13:55 left in the second half, after Louisville had already taken a 50-34 lead. The long ball would be BYU’s last.
Meanwhile, Louisville’s inside presence out-muscled the Cougars from the opening tip. The Cardinals outscored BYU 44-30 in the paint, and added 11 second-chance points on 33 rebounds to net the win.
Barely two minutes into the second half, Louisville’s Mariya Moore drew a technical foul — and the ire of both coaches — leveling BYU’s Morrison with a hard push off a screen.
BYU leading scorer Lexi Eaton responded to the physical play of the game with an elbow of her own two minutes later, a move that went uncalled by the officials — though she did receive a foul on a push on the same play.
Eaton also picked up a tech for slamming the ball and shouting at the ref with just over four minutes remaining and the Cougars trailing 70-44.
“It was a rough, physical game,” Morrison told reporters after the game. “They came out and pressured us. We were prepared and mentally we knew they were going to be that way, but physically, it was a new thing for us. We adjusted a little bit as we went on, but it was too late in the game.
“We gave them too much momentum. You can make winning a habit, you can make losing a habit, and I would love to make coming to the NCAA Tournament a habit. I would love to come back next year and win.”