Provo • It jumped off the stat sheet for BYU after its last game, a loss in the West Coast Conference title game to Gonzaga. Lexi Eaton, a first-team all-WCC honoree, shot 2-for-18.
The sophomore guard has had more than a week to ruminate on that game as she and the Cougars (26-6) prepare to take on No. 5-seeded North Carolina State (25-7) in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Los Angeles. BYU coach Jeff Judkins said the team can’t afford a repeat of that kind of night from one of his stars — but he also doesn’t expect it to happen again.
“Lexi’s too good of a player,” he said. “That’s the worst game she’s played offensively in probably two months. And this is the kind of kid she is: She knows it. She’s accepted it. She got herself in the gym and started shooting. That’s the kind of player Lexi is. You watch, she’ll bounce back.”
Throughout the season, BYU has had a way of responding to losses. This year, the Cougars are 6-0 following a defeat; its last back-to-back losses were in February 2013.
Against the No. 16-ranked Wolfpack, they can’t afford to follow up their WCC tourney loss with anything but a win.
It’s a game that will require the best from all of BYU’s best players, but Eaton took her last game a little personally, hoisting up extra shots and taking time to read a few books about controlling her emotions. On the biggest stage in college basketball, Eaton acknowledged it’s one of her big challenges, and she’ll seek more discipline in her shot selection and gameplay.
“ It shows all of your weaknesses, and you can’t get away with anything,” she said. “I got away in high school with it, but this is even bigger. I think just practicing just handling your adrenaline — that just takes practice on your own.”
Battle of bigs pivotal
BYU’s 6-foot-7 Jen Hamson, the reigning WCC player of the year, will face one of her biggest foes against NC State.
Markeisha Gatling, the Wolfpack’s starting 6-foot-5 center, is a dominating presence who can get to the basket. She averages a team-leading 17.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, which earned her first-team all-ACC honors this season. She bruised her knee in the ACC tourney, but BYU expects her to be ready.
Hamson will be expected to use her defensive prowess — with 128 blocks this year, she’s No. 2 in the nation — to lock down Gatling. Also the team leader in points (18.3 ppg) and rebounds (11.2 rpg), Hamson will look to get her 15th double-double of the year.
Although Morgan Bailey will also have to tangle with a tough post in N.C. State’s Kody Burke, Judkins identified the starting center matchup as pivotal.
“Whoever has the best game of those two, it will be a big plus for their team,” he said. “That includes foul trouble, that includes rebounding, just setting the presence for their team.”
BYU vs. N.C. State
P Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV • ESPN2