For nearly a full minute in the first half, North Carolina State held possession of the ball in BYU’s defensive third, moving it from one player to another, probing for an opening to attack.

The Wolfpack couldn’t find one and never even got a shot off.

That moment is a microcosm of the Cougars stingy defense, which has been spectacular all season and particularly effective when it was needed most. Behind that effort, No. 2 seed BYU powered to a 3-0 victory against the Wolfpack in the NCAA third round in front of 3,629 at South Field on Saturday.

For the first time since 2012, the still-unbeaten Cougars (21-0-1) are headed to the Elite Eight.

For those paying attention and do well in math, that’s one step from the Women’s College Cup and the Final Four in San Jose.

“So much of our offense starts with our back line,” BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said. “For them to come out composed and move the ball as quickly as they did, we didn’t allow North Carolina State to set up in any type of offense. We knew going in we wanted to keep the ball away from a couple of their forwards that like to go 1 v. 1. We wanted to keep the ball and play offense so they would have to play a lot more defense. That’s been our philosophy all year, so it wasn’t anything new. We just knew we needed to come out strong and really set the tone.”

BYU put pressure on the North Carolina State defense immediately, Jamie Shepherd getting off a good shot after a corner kick and Elise Flake taking a rocket that Wolfpack goalkeeper Jessica Berlin managed to deflect away in the first few moments of the game.

In the 12th minute, BYU put a ball into the box that deflected off a North Carolina State defender and to the foot of Cameron Tucker, who scored past a sliding defender and Berlin for a 1-0 Cougar lead.

“We were really excited to get going,” Tucker said. “Every time we score early in the game we’re doing something right and it makes the rest of the game easier. We were really anticipating wanting to go to the goal right from the very beginning.”

BYU scored its second goal when Josie Guinn chased down a ball, deked a defender and took a hard shot from 15 yards out that sailed into the top right of the net for a 2-0 advantage in the 34th minute and that was the score at halftime.

“I’ve been wanting to score for a long time,” said Guinn, a defender who tallied just her second goal of the season. “I make the forwards have to defend me, that’s the best situation. I was making the run up the side and then Ashton (Brockbank) found me through the seam. I got into the box, cut it back, saw the opening in the goal and just kind of went for it.”

Rockwood added, “Josie has been practicing that shot every day all year long so it was fitting that it came tonight. She earned that. It was awesome.”

BYU’s defense was rock solid, throttling NC State’s leading goal scorer Tziarra King and holding the Wolfpack without a shot on goal until the final two minutes of the half.

BYU made the score 3-0 in the 49th minute. Tucker made a solo run to the goal and her shot was deflected by Berlin. But the ball came right back to Tucker, who put the ball into the back of the net.

Cougar goalkeeper Sabrina Davis was tested in the second half and made a huge diving stop of a point-blank shot from King with just under 30 minutes to play to keep the Wolfpack from getting back in the game. Davis finished the match with seven saves, all in the second half.

“I hate whenever Sab has to make a save, but I can always count on her,” senior defender Alyssa Jefferson said. “I know it’s my fault and I just look at her like, sorry. I might be bias but Sab always plays great. She’s always ready and guiding and us and really sets the tone for us. When we fall into a lull, she gets us to focus. I think Sab is always on fire.”

North Carolina State, which upset No. 3 seed Arkansas 2-1 on Thursday, finished the season 12-7-4.

BYU won its three home NCAA Tournament games by a combined score of 12-1.

The Cougars will play the winner of Sunday’s third-round match between No. 1 seed Stanford and Penn State. If the Cardinal prevail they will host BYU in Palo Alto in the Elite Eight next week.

Follow Darnell Dickson on Twitter @darnellwrites or e-mail him at ddickson@heraldextra.com.

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