BYU women’s basketball was historic in 2013-14, winning a school record 28 games on their way to the team’s first Sweet Sixteen run in the NCAA Tournament since 2002.
With 12 players returning from last year’s squad, head coach Jeff Judkins and his team are poised to build upon their recent success.
“We’re hoping to not just have it be a one-year fluke,” Judkins said. “We like to be consistent and have the chance of winning the conference championship, go back to the NCAA Tournament and cause some damage.”
How well the team lives up to those high expectations likely hinges on how well they can compensate for the loss of graduated center Jennifer Hamson, last season’s WCC Basketball Player of the Year. Hamson anchored the Cougars on both sides of the court last season, scoring a team-high 17.7 ppg while blocking a school-record 147 shots.
“We’re a lot different team than we were last year,” Judkins said. “We’re a lot quicker. We don’t have a 6-foot-7 center that can block shots, so defensively we have to be more sound as a team. I think chemistry wise they seem to really play well together. The strengths of each girl helps this team out. We have a good balance, which for a coach (is) what you want.”
Though replacing Hamson-one of the top players in program history-may be a longshot, the Cougars are optimistic that a pair of preseason all-WCC Players will be able to help fill the void left by the star center.
First in that all-WCC duo is senior power forward Morgan Bailey, the 6-foot-2 niece of former Utah Jazz great Thurl Bailey. Bailey averaged 10.7 ppg and 7.0 rpg last season, and should experience even greater production at the outset of the post-Hamson era.
“Morgan is a really good low-post player,” Judkins said. “She’s worked hard on her outside shot. I thought she played really well at the end of the year and hopefully she’ll just keep improving.”
Junior shooting guard Lexi Eaton makes up the second half of BYU’s All-WCC player package. Eaton proved herself a versatile scorer in 2013-14, averaging 16.8 ppg.
“We have big goals for this year,” Eaton said. “Obviously, we want to make it right back to where we were and build off of that. That of course is a hard task to do but we have our sights set high. First off, we want to get a conference championship.”
Of course, the only blemish on BYU’s season last year was a second-place finish in the WCC regular season and tournament standings behind Gonzaga. The road to the Cougars’ first conference championship since 2011 runs through the Bulldogs, who are WCC conference champions seven years running.
“We want to beat Gonzaga,” Eaton said. “They’ve kind of been the top dog, so we want to beat them out and make it back to the NCAA Tournament, make some noise and just show that we are a good program. ”
The Cougars also have an excellent opportunity to establish themselves as the best in the state this year. A three-game December stretch sees them facing off against Weber State in the Marriott Center before traveling to the University of Utah and Utah State in back-to-back road games. Success against in-state rivals will be the first step in creating a resume worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration.
“They know what’s expected and it’s going to be harder,” Judkins said. “We’ve got a bullseye on our back, people want to beat us, but I think my team understands the urgency of what we need to do. If we execute and do what we’re supposed to do-we’ve got a good team.”
2014-15 Projected Starters:
PG: Kylie Maeda (junior)
SG: Lexi Eaton (junior)
G: Ashley Garfield (senior)
G: Makenzi Morrison (sophomore)
PF: Morgan Bailey (senior)
Dec. 6 vs. Colorado State (Energy Solutions Arena)
Dec. 13 @ Utah
Jan. 24 vs. San Diego
Feb. 28 vs. Gonzaga