Provo • Forgive BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins if he feels like a child without his security blanket this season, the Cougars' third in the West Coast Conference.
Supreme point guard Haley Steed is not part of the school's women's basketball program for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The four-year starter whose remarkable career was hampered and lengthened by three season-ending ACL injuries is BYU's all-time assists leader with 813 and third-leading 3-point maker with 262.
"We lost one of the best players in the league and one of the best players in school history," Judkins said. "That's my biggest fear."
Having won a pair of exhibition games last weekend by slimmer margins than expected, the Cougars start playing for real Friday afternoon against South Dakota State (3 p.m.) at the Marriott Center.
The Cougars, picked to finish fourth in the WCC, will hope to replace Steed with a point-guard-by-committee approach, Judkins said. Sophomore Kylie Maeda and junior Stephanie Rovetti are coming off knee injuries that ended Maeda's season with eight games remaining last season and kept Rovetti from playing at all. Redshirt freshman Makenzi Morrison out of Alta High School also is in the mix to get minutes at the point.
"We have a lot of depth," Judkins said. "We have a lot of good players. We are pretty deep in every spot. We just need some strong point-guard play."
They also have a fair amount of experience, led by preseason all-conference pick Jennifer Hamson, a 6-foot-7 senior who has spent her career playing both volleyball and basketball. Hamson decided to sit out the volleyball season to concentrate on basketball this year, and she will play her final year of volleyball in 2014.
"That's been a real positive thing for us," Judkins said.
Another positive has been the healthy return of 5-10 sophomore guard Lexi Eaton, who was the WCC co-newcomer of the year in 2011-12 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury early last season.
"Sitting there for a year and watching has really helped her, and she has worked on her shot a lot, instead of taking it to the basket every time," Judkins said. "We expect big things out of her."
Junior Morgan Bailey and senior Kim Beeston also return with a lot of experience, and Bailey should add some muscle inside if she can become more consistent than she was last season and avoid foul trouble.
A closer look
Best case • Guard Lexi Eaton, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, returns to the form that made her the West Coast Conference co-newcomer of the year in 2011-12 before she suffered a season-ending ACL injury eight games into last season.
Worst case • The Cougars don't find a point guard capable of replacing Haley Steed, one of the best players in school history, and 6-7 Jennifer Hamson does not dominate inside to make up for the team's lack of outside shooting.
Watch out for • Morgan Bailey, a 6-2 junior forward who showed flashes of brilliance last season but was wildly inconsistent. The Cougars need Bailey to help take some of the pressure off Hamson inside.
Nov. 1 • def. Colorado Mesa, 70-66 (exhibition)
Nov. 2 • def. Westminster College, 72-60 (exhibition)
Friday • South Dakota State, 3 p.m.
Tuesday • at UNLV, 5 p.m.
Nov. 16 • Boston College, 4 p.m.
Nov. 23 • at Cal State Northridge, 5 p.m.
Nov. 26 • Washington State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 30 • Arizona, 2 p.m.
Dec. 3 • at Nevada, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 7 • at Creighton, 1 p.m.
Dec. 10 • at Weber State, 7 p.m.
Dec. 14 • Utah, 2 p.m.
Dec. 21 • Utah State, 2 p.m.
Dec. 28 • Loyola Marymount, 2 p.m.
Dec. 30 • Pepperdine, 5 p.m.
Jan. 2 • Pacific, 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 • Saint Mary's, 2 p.m.
Jan. 9 • at Gonzaga, 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 • at Portland, 3 p.m.
Jan. 18 • at San Diego, 3 p.m.
Jan. 23 • San Francisco, 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 • Santa Clara, 2 p.m.
Jan. 30 • at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 • at Pacific, 3 p.m.
Feb. 6 • at Santa Clara, 8 p.m.
Feb. 8 • at San Francisco, TBA
Feb. 13 • Portland, 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 • Gonzaga, 2 p.m.
Feb. 20 • at Pepperdine, TBA
Feb. 22 • at Loyola Marymount, 3 p.m.
March 1 • San Diego, 1 p.m.
March 6-11 • at WCC Tournament, Las Vegas