(1) BYU vs (4) Marquette – 7:00 PM
The Sweet Sixteen kicks off on Saturday night in what is sure to be a white hot atmosphere in Provo, as BYU aims to advance to their second ever Elite Eight against Big East double winners Marquette. Nothing’s come too easily for this Cougar squad thus far in the NCAA Tournament, and so it was on Thursday night, as BYU struggled to find the back of the net, coming just inches away on numerous occasions but finding themselves unable to put the decisive score on the board.
As the minutes ticked away, BYU’s domination became more and more apparent, but they were staring extra time right in the face before Michelle Murphy was clipped in the box in the final minute of regulation. Carlee Payne Holmoe kept her nerve to beat Amy Howard in goal to sink what’s likely the biggest goal of her life, as she fired BYU into the Sweet Sixteen.
Marquette’s night on Thursday was almost as nervy for much of their match against Princeton. The Golden Eagles scarcely could have wished for a worse start to their second round contest, going behind to the Tigers after just eleven minutes. The Big East side would slowly haul themselves back into the game, with a goal in the final minute of the first half before Taylor Madigan netted the eventual winner shortly after the break. Ally Miller made it a comfortable win late, and the Golden Eagles held Princeton to just one shot in the second half.
Marquette netted their second two goals from corner kicks and might be aiming for an advantage on Saturday from dead ball situations. However, winning aerial duels in the air against BYU is a tough ask, with Lindsi Lisonbee Cutshall and Rachel Manning so dominant in the air for the Cougars. The obvious concern for Marquette is falling behind early like they did against Princeton on Thursday. Going behind against BYU is akin to a death sentence at altitude, as the Cougars have the legs and the talent to make opponents run themselves into the ground chasing a goal. Interestingly, Markus Roeders seemed a lot more willing to go deeper into his bench than BYU was on Thursday. Whether that’ll be enough to mitigate the fatigue factor in the thin air of Provo is certainly up for debate.
What isn’t up for debate is BYU’s penchant for finding a way to win this season. The offense hasn’t been at their best in either NCAA Tournament game so far, but they’ve ground opponents down and squeezed out two wins. The defensive matchups in this one look to be top notch, as Marquette’s Ally Miller will try to neutralize Payne Holmoe, with Lisonbee Cutshall likely to try and do much the same against Maegan Kelly. Marquette isn’t without ancillary weapons, but I think BYU’s are just a bit better, and with home advantage via a likely big crowd and the altitude on their side, I see the home side edging their way into the Elite Eight in another close contest.
Prediction: (1) BYU 2 – 1 (4) Marquette