BYU basketball: Lexi Eaton’s bounce-back performance powers Cougars
Published: March 22, 2014 09:21PM
Updated: March 22, 2014 10:17PM
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BYU's Lexi Eaton, right, blocks a shot by North Carolina State's Miah Spencer during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament on Saturday, March 22, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles • She’ll bounce back, Jeff Judkins gently assured the media early in the week. She’ll find a way.

Sophomore Lexi Eaton takes losses too seriously not to respond to them. Her coach knew, even days before the NCAA tournament, that she would find a way to redeem herself for a lackluster night the week before in the WCC title game.

“It’s that important to her,” Judkins said at the time. “She’s not here just for the fun, she’s here to perform and do her best.”

Eaton made her Judkins look prophetic, wasting no time in showing why she’s considered the future headliner of BYU basketball. And Saturday’s performance, which guided the Cougars to a 72-57 victory in the first round of the Big Dance, may leave some to subtract “future” from that label.

The guard was a terror, knocking down 7 of 13 in the first half alone to show the bite of BYU’s offense. She hit long shots and jumpers, but also dove in to the paint, fearlessly banging with N.C. State’s bigs to make lay-ups and get to the free throw line.

Much of the focus for BYU has been about Jennifer Hamson, the WCC Player of the Year who almost had a triple-double against the Wolfpack. But in the first half, when Hamson didn’t score any points, Eaton was the dynamic element to the Cougars’ offense: slashing, shooting, creating.

It’s what Judkins has come to expect.

“She came back hard, she worked hard, she got in the gym, didn’t feel sorry for herself and worked on her shot,” he said. “She studied what she was going to get tonight and took advantage of that. If she plays like that and we have [Hamson and Morgan Bailey] inside, we are a tough team to guard.”

Part of that maturity came from Eaton sitting out a year as she recovered from an ACL injury. Eaton has cultivated a reputation as a gunner, and not without reason. But since returning for her sophomore year, Judkins said she’s displayed a better understanding of the game, and she’s made better adjustments in games to fit what BYU needs from her.

Eaton said she spent that redshirt season making a long list of things she wanted to work on, and attacking each item. That fastidious attention to her flaws helped her quite a bit against NC State.

Just like she planned.

“I think it is starting to show right now,” Eaton said. “It has just been great to enjoy it with my team this time around instead of on the bench with my hands behind my back. It has paid off for sure.”

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon