Provo • It might have seemed a little awkward when BYU 5-foot-10 guard Malia Nawahine lined up against her former teammate, 6-foot-6 Utah center Emily Potter, as the rivals got ready for opening tip on Saturday.
“I told her if I won, you owe me a dollar,” said Nawahine of the moments while the players waited for the game to begin.
Potter did actually win the tip, but it was the Cougars who surprised the visiting Utes with a 77-68 victory at the Marriott Center.
BYU (4-5) came into the contest on a four-game losing streak and fell behind in the opening moments against Utah (7-2), which had won six in a row. But the play of Cassie Devashrayee, who had 36 points, enabled the Cougars to come back after falling behind 12-3 early.
And the inside presence of BYU’s Sara Hamson sure didn’t hurt. The freshman 6-foot-7 center is also on the Cougars volleyball team, and she was on the court Friday in Lexington (Ky.), where BYU’s season ended with an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky.
Hamson registered nine blocks when she got on the hardwood against the Utes, tying her older sister Jennifer for third in school history. The Hamson sisters’ mom, Tresa Spaulding, holds the mark at BYU with games of 11 and 10 blocks.
“I’m a little tired, but you just power through,” said Sara Hamson, who arrived at 1 a.m. and reported for a Saturday morning session to learn her role in a two-three zone BYU employed for the first time.
“I think Sara Hamson was a bit of a game-changer for them,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “Nine blocks and she did a nice job for them. She played a lot of minutes.
“Hats off to BYU,” Roberts added. “They had not played that well in the games I had seen.”
The Cougars’ four-game losing streak included setbacks at Northern Colorado and a home loss on Wednesday to Utah State.
After the rough start, BYU nearly caught the Utes in the first half — chopping the lead down to two points. The third period began with a bucket by Amanda Wayment and then a 3-pointer by Devashrayee.
Utah, led by Megan Huff’s 19 points, had its last lead at 42-41 when Potter, who scored 11, hit a bucket with 3:37 left in the third.
But Devashrayee, fouled on a trey attempt, hit all three free throws to kick off an 8-0 run. Devashrayee’s 36 points, including 18-for-22 marksmanship from the free throw line, were a career high.
Nawahine — who had 13 points — scored six in the final quarter. Nawahine, in her final year of eligibility, transferred from Utah to BYU for this season.
“I’m just happy for her because this was such a big game for her in so many ways,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said.
Judkins said he didn’t think they’d play a zone the whole way, but fouls forced the issue.
And against a Utah team that struggled from the perimeter, hitting only eight of 26 3-pointers, Hamson proved to be the perfect piece in the middle of the zone.
“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Judkins said.