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BYU basketball: Cougars confident entering NCAA match-up with N.C. State

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Brigham Young University's Jennifer Hamson, right, and Kim Beeston smile during a news conference held before the team's practice for the NCAA women's college basketball tournament on Friday, March 21, 2014, in Los Angeles. BYU is scheduled to play North Carolina State in a first-round game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 21 2014 09:51PM
Updated Mar 22, 2014 04:13PM

Los Angeles • Watching tape, the Cougars said they saw NC State sharing some traits with the Gonzaga team that had just blasted them: big posts, physical style of play, and winning attitude.

But in many ways, BYU has felt like it is scouting itself.

"I honestly think they play a lot like us," Kim Beeston said. "When we practice against that type of play every day, I think it is something that we are ready for and is something we can handle because we’re familiar with it."

The Cougars (26-6) know they have their work cut out for them. As a 12 seed, they aren’t expected to come away from their match-up against No. 16-ranked NC State (25-7) with a win. But BYU does have the benefit of knowing what it is getting into, and there’s confidence in that knowledge.

The Wolfpack has been a surprise this season, getting to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons behind ACC Coach of the Year Wes Moore. They have a big-bodied 6-foot-5 center in Markeisha Brown, who is the surest-shooting player in college basketball. They have a contigent of guards who create offense from the perimeter, relying much on Brown to draw defenders inside.

Yep, sounds familiar.

BYU’s similar reliance on Jennifer Hamson, the WCC player of the year, has characterized the team’s offensive success this year. When she is hot, the rest of the team, including fellow first-team all-conference guard Lexi Eaton, can manufacture points more easily.

But the key to success, coach Jeff Judkins pointed out Friday, will be in getting production from more than just the usual suspects. He thinks one thing this team has that his 2012 NCAA tournament team didn’t is balance.

"That’s probably the biggest difference," he said. "We have people that can score when we need to and take advantage of it."

A lot of things have come together for BYU this year: Hamson took a year off volleyball to focus on hoops, and it’s paid off in spades. Eaton has recovered from an ACL tear to give a penetration threat the team lacked last season. Beeston has improved her passing as well as her leadership, and other role players such as Morgan Bailey and Kylie Maeda have given the program the punch it needed to get back in the Big Dance.

Now there, the Cougars are anxious to continue their run. While NC State has come out shining from the rigors of the ACC, BYU believes it has the weapons to match up with the Wolfpack and steal a big upset.

That belief, in and of itself, is maybe one of the best things the Cougars have going for them.

"We have nothing to do but play confidently, play our game like we know how to," Hamson said. "That is what the tournament is all about. Sometimes there are upsets."

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