BYU women’s basketball: Veteran Cougars motivated by last NCAA appearance
Women’s basketball • BYU says experience will be a factor this time.
Published: March 20, 2014 09:14PM
Updated: March 20, 2014 10:13PM
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Brigham Young's Lexi Eaton, right, goes up for a shot against Gonzaga's Haiden Palmer in the second half during the NCAA West Coast Conference tournament championship basketball game, Monday, March 5, 2012, in Las Vegas. BYU won 78-66. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Provo • She got a taste two years ago: The big venue, the news conferences, the high stakes.

But in the BYU’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament, senior Kim Beeston came away with something more burdensome than the experience. After the Cougars lost in that first-round appearance to DePaul, they all left carrying regret.

She and BYU’s other vets have spent time sharing those 2012 memories with their younger teammates in the hopes that they can avoid that fate this time around.

“For me, personally, when we went and played DePaul, I was scared. Just because it’s a big stage, and it’s a little bit different having more people there: more media, more press. … Play your hardest because it’s a long road to get there, it’s hard to get there, and you may not get another chance.”

Those who remember the Cougars’ last tango in the Big Dance bring plenty of lessons from it — lessons they’ve been drilling in as they prepare for Saturday’s matchup with No. 5-seeded NC State. Like then, the Cougars are the lower seed. But unlike then, some of their standouts have gotten a little more seasoning. The postseason is a little more familiar. A run last year through the WNIT helped give the team a greater understanding of what winning in the tournament will take.

One thing they don’t want is butterflies. Lexi Eaton, then a freshman, said she felt that anxiety caused BYU to stumble in that 59-55 loss to DePaul in Chicago, particularly in the first half as the team fell behind early.

“I think there’s a lot of nerves,” she said. “I experienced it as a freshman. Those nerves can cloud your vision. I think it takes a lot of leadership from the older players. We have to step up and plow the way for them out there.”

One player who didn’t fade last time is Jen Hamson, then a skinny sophomore who had been a role player on the team. She exploded for a then-career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, a promising sign of things to come.

This year, greatness has become the standard for Hamson, averaging a double-double and leading the team in scoring and rebounds after taking a year off from volleyball. Coach Jeff Judkins called her “one of the best players I’ve coached.”

Tournament time is a test of that reputation, a make-or-break moment for the season that can seperate the greats. But Hamson knows it’s not just about her legacy — the 2013-14 Cougars ultimately rest their laurels on what they do this weekend in L.A.

“I love tournaments. I love playing in them. We have a better mindset this year as a team. We have nothing to lose. We might as well play our best.”

Women’s NCAA Tournament

O No. 12 BYU vs. No. 5 N.C. State

At Los Angeles

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. MDT

TV • ESPN2