After trailing most of the first half, the BYU women’s basketball team shot better, made more assists and continued to clean up the glass to earn a 67-43 victory over Portland in Provo Thursday night.
The tally gives Cougar coach Jeff Judkins his fifth-straight and his eighth season overall with at least 20 wins.
There was some question about which direction it was going to go through the first period, however. The teams were neck-and-neck most of the way, though a pair of free throws by BYU sophomore wing gave the Cougars a 26-23 advantage at the break.
One of the reasons it was so close is because the home squad struggled to find the net, converting just 29 percent from the field and missing all nine 3-point attempts in the initial period. Things turned around after the break, however.
“First of all, I’m happy; that was a nice win,” Judkins said. “We didn’t shoot the ball very well and missed a lot of easy baskets early, but Jen (Hamson) made a big difference tonight. She and Lexi stepped it up again.”
That would be an understatement. The duo combined for 49 of their team’s 67 points. Hamson finished with 27 plus 13 rebounds and four blocks, while Eaton had 22 points, five boards and three assists.
“Obviously we need to get more production out of other kids, but defensively they did a great job,” the coach said. “We didn’t give up threes until the end of the game and our bigs closed out on theirs quite well. It helped us stay in it until our shots started to fall.”
And fall they did. The shooting percentages shot up into the 40s for both field goals and treys, but more telling are a 22-0 edge in the paint, 13 points off turnovers and 15 second-chance points just in the second half.
“Defensively we kept our intensity; that was a key,” Judkins said. “Often when the shots don’t fall, we play flat defensively, but that didn’t happen today.”
He was particularly pleased with the efforts of sophomore point guard Kylie Maeda. “Kylie looked to be more aggressive and did a great job. It’s the hardest thing for a point guard to look to score yourself, but we need her to do that.”
However, he added that Hamson was the difference. “Without those second or third chances, we wouldn’t have had this margin,” he said.
“Lexi played with a lot more confidence today,” he said. “It was good to get Morgan (Bailey) back tonight and she got 10 boards.” Bailey missed the last two games with an injury.
“We moved the ball better in the second half,” Judkins said. “We usually get threes and that opens things up and lifts the lid on the basket. We’ll be working on shooting tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
The players said the key to weathering scoring droughts is team unity.
“The shots weren’t falling early, but it’s important to remember it’s a long game,” Eaton said. “We’ll keep getting those shots, so we just have to be patient and get ready to shoot.”
Hamson said, “It can be frustrating but we have to stay confident in our shots and stay positive with each other. The team is there for me and the good passes in are helpful.”
Eaton said, “Jen and I draw a lot of attention from the defense. When they collapse on us, we can kick it out to our teammates. If they have open shots and hit them, it opens up everything.”
“It’s important to keep the entire team involved,” Hamson said.
BYU (20-5, 10-4) will host No. 15 Gonzaga (23-3, 13-1) Saturday at 2 p.m. MST.
“That’s a big game for us,” Eaton said. “They’re No. 1 and we’re No. 2. It would help our RPI as well if we could beat them.”
Judkins said his staff has been working on some things that he hopes will make a difference.
“Jen’s got to stay out of foul trouble and Kim’s got to hit shots,” the coach said. “We hope we get a good crowd here to help us. We expect to really come out and be ready to go.”
Hamson said there might be some positive carryover from this contest to that upcoming challenge.
“After that first half, we talked about how there’s going to be some hard times when we’re playing Gonzaga,” she said. “We can use some of the things we figured out today to help us when we run into them again.”
Tip-ins: In a very classy move, the Cougars presented Portland coach Jim Sollars with a gift basket before the start of the game. He’s announced he’s retiring at the end of this season after 28 years at the helm for the Pilots. … This was a pink game for the Cougars, and the players also made themselves available for autographs after the game. … The official attendance was 695.
Beky Beaton can be reached at email@example.com.