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Cougars Bypass Big Green Upset

  • BYU's Keilani Unga blocks Dartmouth Center Daisy Jordan as she leaps to shoot during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    BYU's Keilani Unga blocks Dartmouth Center Daisy Jordan as she leaps to shoot during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth's Abbey Schmitt blocks BYU's Keilani Unga as she shoots during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Dartmouth's Abbey Schmitt blocks BYU's Keilani Unga as she shoots during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • BYU's Keilani Unga blocks Dartmouth Center Daisy Jordan as she leaps to shoot during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Dartmouth's Abbey Schmitt blocks BYU's Keilani Unga as she shoots during the Brigham Young University at Dartmouth Women's Basketball game on November 13, 2012. Dartmouth Lost, 57-58. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Hanover — Last night’s 58-57 loss to Bringham Young University left the young Dartmouth College women’s basketball team with plenty to build off, though it’s hard to ignore the sting after nearly netting an upset against the defending West Coast Conference champions.

Leading by five points with fewer than five minutes to play and by a basket with 1:36 remaining, Dartmouth (1-1) surrendered five straight points to help the Cougars (2-0) escape with the win.

After a traditional 3-point play by BYU sophomore Lexi Eaton (game-high 19 points) put the Cougars up 56-55 with 1:21 to play — the ninth lead change of the game — both teams missed the front ends of one-and-one free throw opportunities before a key steal by Haley Steed gave the ball back to the Cougars with just 12 seconds left.

There was some contact between Steed and dribbling Big Green senior Faziah Steen (18 points) near midcourt, and Steen appeared to lose the handle off her foot.

Steed pounced on the loose ball and alertly called timeout, setting up a quick Dartmouth foul and a pair of Eaton free throws to make it 58-55 with 11 seconds left.

The Green’s Nicola Zimmer missed a 3, and Abbey Schmit’s putback layup at the buzzer wasn’t enough.

“I thought I got pushed (on the turnover),” said Steen, who was effective after missing Dartmouth’s season-opening win at Bryant with knee soreness Saturday. “At the end of a close game, refs aren’t going to call a lot of fouls. I’d said something to the refs (about BYU’s physical play), but it doesn’t matter. It was a turnover, and we have to move on.”

The final moments spoiled an otherwise inspired performance by the Green, who started four sophomores. Schmit, who missed all of her freshman season with a torn ACL and sprained MCL, had 15 points and six rebounds after contributing 14 points and 11 boards in her debut Saturday.

Steen was another bright spot for the Green, erupting for 16 second-half points after spending much of the first half on the bench with two fouls. Schmit had nine points in the first half as Dartmouth trailed 31-27 at halftime.

“I’m so proud of Abbey because she could have given up after last year,” said Dartmouth coach Chris Wielgus. “She’s put in a lot of hard work to get to the point where she’s at now.”

All eight players who saw action scored at least one basket for the Green, which jumped to a 7-3 lead on hoops from Steen, Schmit and Kayla Thompson.

Sustaining possessions often until the waning seconds of the shot clock, Dartmouth got contributions from Milica Toskovic (eight points), Zimmer (three points, six rebounds), center Tia Dawson (four points, six rebounds, two blocks), and others.

“There’s a lot to build off from what we did tonight,” said Steen, a two-time All-Ivy League second-team selection. “Especially so early in the season, to be so young and play a team like (BYU) so close. … There have been times when we’ve had games, like, against a top-25 team, and get blown out. That certainly wasn’t the case tonight.”

A 3-pointer from Eaton gave the Cougars their largest lead early in the second half, 36-31, but Dartmouth dominated the middle stages of the period with a 13-3 run.

Steen scored seven points during the rally, executing a steal and fastbreak layup, sinking a pair of free throws and dishing off to Schmit for two in the lane. The Green seized a 44-39 advantage following a pair of free throws from Toskovich.

“It’s obvious that Dartmouth is going to be good this year,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “They had control of the game for stretches and were much more physical than what we’d seen on tape. They did a great job of not beating themselves, which is what (Wielgus’) teams are usually good at.”

A Steen pull-up jumper made it 52-47 Dartmouth with 4:15 to play, but Eaton scored five during a 9-2 BYU rally. Keilani Unga banked a putback off of a free throw miss and Steen and Eaton traded 3-point plays, the latter giving the Cougars the lead for good.

Dartmouth had a chance to regain the lead or tie it from the free throw line with 34 seconds left, but Zimmer missed the front end of a one-and-one and Steed gobbled up the rebound. Steed subsequently missed the first of her own one-and-one chance, but then responded with the critical steal against Steen.

Free Throws: Steed, a post-graduate player, was the WCC tournament MVP last season and is BYU’s all-time assists leader with 237. … BYU played its second game without 6-foot-7 center Jennifer Hamson, a junior who doubles as a varsity volleyball player and is engaged in a tournament with that Cougars’ program this week. … It was the first-ever meeting between Dartmouth and BYU. The Green also faces Dusquesne for the first time during the first round of the Blue Sky Classic at Leede Arena next month.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.