Los Angeles • It was easy to get the 5 seed and the 12 seed confused Saturday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.
In achieving an NCAA tournament first-round upset, BYU played like a favorite.
The Cougars (27-6) dominated ACC power NC State (25-8) in their first game in the Big Dance, putting up a defensive wall and being led by sophomore guard Lexi Eaton’s 25 points in a 72-57 victory. Although playing as a 12 seed, BYU looked anything but with its poise and execution.
Up by as much as 21, the Cougars relaxed a bit at the finish, but still had no problem coming away with the program’s first tournament win since 2006. Coach Jeff Judkins thought the experience of missing an opportunity in their last tournament in 2012 helped motivate his veteran players who shined on Saturday.
“Great job tonight — I’m proud of them,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It was great to see them take advantage and do something that was unplanned.”
The big key was defense: BYU locked down on all-conference center Markeisha Gatling, who entered the game shooting a nation-leading 67.6 percent percent from the field. But the senior had little luck against junior forward Morgan Bailey, who helped keep her from getting comfortable.
Gatling was held to 11 points on 5-for-14 shooting, and her team shot only 27.4 percent from the field in a frosty performance. Much of that had to do with WCC Player of the Year Jennifer Hamson, who had a near triple-double with 12 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks. Her long limbs deflected and altered countless other shots, and NC State could only manage 18 points in the paint.
But Hamson was hamstrung on offense for most of the game herself, opening the door for Eaton. Fresh off one of her roughest games in the WCC tournament, Eaton had 17 first-half points to spur the Cougars to a 7-point lead at halftime.
Eaton finished with 25 points on 9-for-19 shooting, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and hearty pat on the back from her coach. It was a much-improved follow-up from a dismal performance in the WCC championship, a loss to Gonzaga.
“You can’t dwell on losses like that,” Eaton said. “You’ve just got to learn and move on. I think we all came with a different mentality this game. A more aggressive mentality.”
That aggression played out almost right away, as the Cougars seemed a step ahead early. Bailey and Eaton helped set the tone with early buckets. The Wolfpack took the lead once more in the first half by a point before BYU went on a 9-2 run to end the half.
Where N.C. State had the edge — at least initially, was the backcourt. Len’Nique Brown and Miah Spencer combined for 26 points and were 7-for-7 from the line. But BYU’s backcourt ended up getting the better of them in the matchup: Aside from Eaton’s big game, point guard Kylie Maeda had 14 points, matching a career high, on 5-for-6 shooting.
BYU 72, NC State 57
Beeston 1-8 0-0 3, Hamson 3-10 6-7 12, Maeda 5-6 2-4 14, Eaton 9-19 5-7 25, Bailey 6-12 0-0 13, Garfield 0-0 0-0 0, Rovetti 1-1 0-0 2, Harry 1-2 0-0 3.
Totals 26-58 13-18 72.
NC STATE (25-8)
Brown 3-14 3-3 10, Spencer 5-14 4-4 16, Barrett 3-8 0-0 7, Gatling 5-14 1-2 11, Burke 2-18 0-0 6, A. Williams 1-3 1-2 4, N. Williams 1-1 0-0 2, Mathurin 0-1 1-3 1.
Totals 20-73 10-14 57.
Halftime—BYU 33-26. 3-Point Goals—BYU 7-19 (Maeda 2-3, Eaton 2-5, Harry 1-2, Bailey 1-3, Beeston 1-6), NC State 7-27 (Spencer 2-5, Burke 2-11, Barrett 1-2, A. Williams 1-2, Brown 1-6, Mathurin 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—BYU 52 (Hamson 19), NC State 37 (Burke 9). Assists—BYU 13 (Beeston, Eaton 4), NC State 11 (Brown 5). Total Fouls—BYU 17, NC State 17. A—1,941.