With the BYU women's basketball team missing 6-foot-7 junior center Jennifer Hamson due to a finger injury, the Cougars needed everyone else to step the inside presence against a solid San Francisco squad.
BYU sophomore Morgan Bailey, senior Keilani Unga and sophomore Ashley Garfield answered the call.
Bailey and Garfield both finished with double-doubles in points and rebounds as they helped the Cougars roll past the Dons, 80-58, in the West Coast Conference opener for BYU.
“It was a fun game,” Garfield said. “I think that all around everyone played well. I thought we came out with good intensity. It was fun to have a good game and start off conference the way that we want to.”
Bailey ended up with 14 points and 13 rebounds (the second double-double of her career) for the Cougars while Garfield tallied 14 points and 10 boards (her first double-double).
“It’s a fun accomplishment,” Garfield said. “It’s something I tried to do consistently in high school. Now I want to keep building off that and keep being consistent, particularly with the rebounding. The points will come but I try to go to the boards hard every game.”
Bailey, a former star at Timpanogos High School, said the ability of all of the post players to make things happen gave BYU a big advantage.
“It’s good we were used to not having Hamson here because I had that practice,” she said. “But I’ve been waiting for two years sitting on the bench, so I was ready to go. When I wasn’t there, Keilani was there. When Keilani wasn’t there, Ashley was there. It was like clockwork.”
Cougar head coach Jeff Judkins said his interior players were challenged to come up big and they did a great job.
“I told Morgan and Keilani that this was an opportunity for them to do it,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of games without Hamson and that helped, but Morgan is a better player than she was a month-and-a-half ago. She’s more aggressive, she’s smarter, she understands it better and she’s getting her timing.”
He also gave a lot of credit to the way his team played defense. BYU held San Francisco to 33.3 percent shooting for the game.
“I thought the first 10 minutes was probably one of the best defensive efforts we’ve had in a long, long time,” he said. “I thought we were aggressive and took them out of their stuff. That’s the way this team practices when they want to, which is great.”
The Cougars started the game fast, scoring the first 10 points including a pair of 3-pointers from BYU senior guard Haley Steed.
It was an uphill battle the rest of the way for the Dons, who never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
“It felt good from the beginning, right from the opening tip-off,” Bailey said. “This gives us confidence and it shows we are who people think we are.”
The Cougars put the game away early in the second half as they used a 16-3 spurt to go up 50-27, then cruised to the victory — although there were times when Judkins wasn’t pleased with the effort.
“I’ve told my team a lot of times to not look at the score,” he said. “Play the game to get better every possession and every play.
“I’ll never forget that when I was coaching at Utah we were in the Elite Eight beating Arizona by 25. I’m still intense on the bench and a couple of the players said, ‘coach, we’re up 25.’ I didn’t even know that. That’s what I want my team to be.”
BYU ended up having nine players score, five of whom hit double figures.
Garfield and Bailey had 14 each, sophomore guard Xojian Harry put in a career-high 11 and junior guard Kim Beeston and junior forward Stephanie Seaborn both added 10.
The victory improves BYU’s overall record to 10-4 (1-0 in league action) and the team feels like they’re playing well at the right time.
“Our conference is super-strong and there are going to be a bunch of teams that will be fighting for it,” Garfield said. “I think to start out on the right foot was huge. San Francisco beat us on our home court last year, so we were able to take care of that. We lost our first league game last year and it ended up costing us the conference.”
Judkins added: “We feel we’re playing our best basketball right now. Hopefully we can keep it up and keep learning and keep getting better.”
The Cougars will have a tough test in their next game as they head to San Diego to take on the Toreros (9-5, 1-1).
That game is scheduled to take place on Jan. 10 at 8 p.m.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.