Senior setter Lauren Richards Evans moved into fourth place in career assists at BYU in the Cougars' season-ending loss to Pepperdine. (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
LOS -- BYU's season came to an abrupt end Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the Cougars lost in four games to Pepperdine in a match played at USC. The loss concludes BYU's 25-4 season that saw its first Mountain West Conference championship since 1999 and a return to the NCAA Tournament after missing two of the last three years.
"I'm incredibly proud of the season we had," said BYU head coach Watson. "We made a significant amount of progress and have a great foundation on which to build next year. I'm just so proud of our team."
The Cougars were led by sophomore outside hitter Erica Lott, who recorded a career-high 24 kills on .290 hitting. All-America candidate Lindsy Hartsock hit over .500 for the 16th time this year with a .522 mark that included 13 kills. Hartsock also led the Cougars with 10 blocks. Sophomore Annie Kemp started at the libero position and tallied a career-best 18 digs while Lindsey Evans added 11. Sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Goodman recorded her 15th double-double of the year with 16 kills and 16 digs.
Senior setter Lauren Richards Evans, playing in the final match of her Cougar career, put up 59 assists and became the fourth-best setter in BYU history as she moved from sixth place to fourth in career assists at BYU with a total of 4,056.
"We worked hard," said Evans. "It's not the way we wanted to end but we know we deserved to be here in the Tournament. It was a great year."
Pepperdine opened up an early 9-5 lead by virtue of a 4-1 run in game one. The Cougars responded with a 4-1 run of their own and had a chance to tie the game at 10-10. But two costly errors allowed the Waves to regain control and open up a 22-13 lead, which included a string of six straight points.
BYU's NCAA jitters began to fade as the game progressed, however, as the Cougars chipped away at the lead and got back to within five at 18-23. Despite the resurgence, Pepperdine looked to be pulling away again with a 27-20 lead until three kills from Lindsy Hartsock gave BYU hope. But the Waves' lead proved insurmountable as they picked up the 30-24 win.
After three straight Pepperdine points to open game two, Hartsock got the Cougars going with a kill straight down the middle. But the momentum stayed with Pepperdine as the Waves built an 8-3 lead early and kept BYU at bay. Down 18-12, the Cougars capitalized on two Wave hitting errors and an emphatic cross-court kill from Erica Lott to pull within three points. A 4-1 run sparked by another Lott kill allowed BYU to inch even closer at 19-21.
From there, the two teams traded points as each squad fought for every ball and every score until consecutive kills by Dyer and Hartsock gave BYU an opportunity to tie the game at 24-24. But instead of the lead they so desperately wanted, the Cougars found themselves down 27-24 thanks to a 3-0 Pepperdine spurt. BYU refused to go down quietly, however, going on a 5-1 run thanks in part to two kills from Lott to finally tie the game at 28-28. But two quick kills from the other side ended the Cougars' comeback hopes and sealed the game 30-28 in favor of Pepperdine.
The Waves' spell was broken in game three as the Cougars came out a completely different team, scoring the first two points to take their first lead of the match and opening up an early 14-5 lead. Pepperdine attempted a comeback with a 4-0 run, but BYU would have none of it as the Cougars quickly regained the nine-point advantage and led by as many as 11 on the way to a 30-24 game-three victory.
"We came out strong after the break," said Watson. "We were able to take care of the details we let get away from us in games one and two. Our serving especially allowed us to get on a roll."
Both teams came out determined to extend their NCAA stay in game four, trading points until an 8-8 tie was broken by a Cougar block and two kills from Hartsock and Lott to give BYU a three-point lead. With a crowd full of BYU blue cheering them on, the Cougars held on to the lead until three straight Wave points evened the score at 14-14.
Still tied at 19-19, BYU put up two huge blocks, one on each side of the court, to take a crucial two-point lead. The advantage was short-lived, however, as the Waves responded with a 5-1 run to take their own two-point lead at 25-23. With their Tournament lives at stake, the Cougars dug deep and found a way to fight back, scoring four of the next five points to gain a slim lead at 27-26. But it was simply not enough to stop the Waves, who pounded out the next three points and recorded the 30-28 win.
"I thought we put ourselves in a position to make a little run in games two and four," said Watson. "A couple of plays here and there would've been the difference in those games. We played better as the match went on, but it just didn't work out the way we would've liked. We're going to build on this experience and this season and get better for next year."