The BYU women’s basketball team has sent a message to opponents in 2019-20:
Good luck shooting over us.
Entering Thursday’s game against San Francisco in the Marriott Center, the Cougars were No. 4 in the nation in total blocked shots (106) and No. 5 in blocked shots per game (6.2 per game).
BYU did more than just match those numbers against the Dons as the Cougars notched 13 blocks on their way to a defense-oriented 57-44 victory over San Francisco.
“I thought we didn’t play our best offensively but team defense-wise we were good,” BYU head coach Jeff Judkins said. “People did their jobs defensively, did what they needed to do. We made them take tough shots.”
Leading the “block-party” mentality for the Cougars has been 6-foot-7 junior center Sara Hamson, who has 81 blocks this season — she was No. 2 in the nation coming into the game — including seven swatted shots against the Dons.
“I think it has helped that I have had a full year of just playing basketball and have had so much time just getting those reps and the timing down,” Hamson said. “The biggest thing with blocked shots is timing.”
But she said the aggressiveness and determination to contest shots has been something the entire team has embraced.
“Our team is an amazing defensive team and it’s not just me,” Hamson said. “A lot of the girls have arms longer than you think so they surprise you.”
BYU senior forward Jasmine Moody said that having a shot-blocker behind you allows you to be more decisive defensively.
“Since Sara is on the inside, we can really pressure on the outside,” Moody said. “We know to funnel things to her and she’ll be there.”
Judkins said when his team locks in on the defensive end and gets those deflections, it makes things really tough for opposing offenses. Before Thursday’s win, BYU was No. 6 in the nation in field goal percentage defense as the Cougars allow opponents to shoot just 33.3 percent per game.
“This is probably one of the better defensive teams I’ve had,” Judkins said. “They believe in it, they are athletic and they are smart — and then we have length. Length in women’s basketball is big. Sara just takes the middle away and she closes out as well as any big I’ve had.”
One of the biggest keys when trying to get blocked shots is doing it without getting called for fouls.
“This team is smart,” Judkins said. “When you go through stuff and guard it, they are pretty good at it. We’ve gotten better at fundamentals and understanding what teams are doing. We are playing good and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Hamson said that’s something she’s worked on so she can stay in the game.
“I don’t try and foul ever,” Hamson said. “I back off if they start calling things but I try to start off aggressive and set a tone that opponents can’t just come and lay the ball up. I do better when I move my feet”
BYU’s defense was able to keep up the Cougars comfortably in front even when the offense was struggling at times in Thursday’s win.
“When we play hard and have a good defensive possession, it sparks our offense,” Moody said. “We play off of our defense. We know sometimes we aren’t going to make our shots but we know if we come back and play defense aggressively, then we will get what we want offensively.”
Hamson added: “I think that defense helps with our trust in each other and the flow. If everyone helps each other, we move more as a unit.”
The home team trailed San Francisco 13-7 early in the second quarter before putting together a 22-4 run to seize control.
BYU ended up getting 11 points from Moody and 10 points from Hamson as part of a balanced scoring effort for the Cougars.
San Francisco senior Mikayla Williams scored 15 points to pace the Dons.
The Cougars (11-7, 6-2) continue their homestand as they host Santa Clara at 2 p.m Saturday at the Marriott Center in Provo.