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It was a battle Friday evening in the Marriott Center as the BYU women’s basketball team faced No. 8 Duke University, losing 61-55.
The Cougars came ready to play and with a goal to minimize their opponents’ free throw opportunities. After allowing Duke 36 free throw attempts in a game last season, Judkins said he wanted to keep the Blue Devils between 18 and 20 free throws this year. Duke made it to the line 19 times.
“I think we did a lot better job on guarding them one-on-one than we did last year,” Judkins said. “At the end we kind of fouled them desperately because we weren’t playing our position. [But] that’s what kept us in the game tonight — not letting them get to the foul line.”
Three BYU players contributed double digits: freshman Lexi Eaton, sophomore Kim Parker and senior Haley Steed. Not only did Steed score 12 points, but she also nabbed 15 rebounds and recorded her second career double-double. Parker had a team-high 14 points and Eaton added 10.
Duke head coach Joanne McCallie, whose coaching career record at Duke is 114-26, openly praised Steed’s rebound total.
“The most disappointing thing, of course, is our rebounding,” McCallie said. “To see a guard, No. 33, get 15 rebounds … that’s unheard of. I don’t even know how to explain that, that’s an incredible thing.”
Despite the loss, Judkins said he is proud of the Cougars for taking on such a favored team. He said he’d hoped the Duke players would become tired by the altitude and unfamiliar territory, but the depth of their bench helped push the Blue Devils through their low points of the game.
“Duke is a very, very well-coached, experienced, athletic team,” Judkins said. “I’m sure they’ll be where they were last year: fighting to get to the Final Four. They really execute well and run their stuff. They’re athletic in every position, and they’re deep.”
One aspect of the game that was hindered was the play of 6-foot-7 sophomore Jennifer Hamson. Steed attributed Hamson’s lack of presence during the game — only playing 11 minutes — to her lack of presence in practice. Because of Hamson’s involvement with the BYU women’s volleyball team, her practice attendance has been scattered.
“We’re really excited, in the nicest way possible, for volleyball season to be over,” Steed said. “We like [Hamson], and we like it when she’s with us all the time. She’s a huge part of our team. When she can get done with volleyball season and start coming to practice every single day … that’ll help our team.”
Leading the way for Duke were Chelsea Gray, who scored 15 points and held a career high of six steals, and Chloe Wells, who scored double figures for the second time in her career and had 10 points.
Both BYU and Duke coaches said they will learn from this game. Judkins said the surprising minutes certain players contributed, as well as the points in tough times, inspire learning from this game and just getting better. Duke’s coach agreed.
“We like to attack,” McCallie said. “We like to be aggressive. Offensively we weren’t stellar. We were improved in the second half, and improved enough to get the job done. This is a great learning film for us, it’ll be a great teaching film.”
Another lesson to take from the game came from players in positions they are not used to. Judkins said Steed played point guard, compared to being the shooter in the past, and that was difficult for her. He also noted Eaton and Parker played wing, something they have never played before either.
Parker acknowledged the impressive performance from the younger players.
“I wasn’t a starter last year,” Parker said. “I came off the bench, and it really helps when the first five players go out there and they set the tone. I think that [the younger girls] weren’t as intimidated or scared because they saw that [the starters could] play with these guys.”
Overall, Judkins said he was happy that his team didn’t quit.
“I think we’ve really learned as a team what our future is,” he said. “If we play like that with that energy, and play with that intensity, we can beat a lot of people.”