LOS ANGELES (AP) - BYU’s Jennifer Hamson has seen just about every defense used against her. Rarely does the 6-foot-7 center get rattled.
Hamson will need to keep her cool against fourth-seeded Nebraska (26-6) in the Cougars’ second-round NCAA tournament game. The Cornhuskers will try to disrupt the West Coast Conference’s player of the year who leads her team offensively (18.1 points per game) and defensively (11.4 rebounds and 137 blocked shots).
“She’s been fronted, she’s been played behind, the whole team has surrounded her,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “I don’t know what Nebraska will do. Hopefully we can adjust to it. That will be a key.”
Hamson dislocated her left middle finger late in 12th-seeded BYU’s 72-57 upset of No. 5 seed North Carolina State on Saturday. The team didn’t practice Sunday, when she iced it at the hotel.
“I don’t think it’ll affect her that much because it’s her left hand, thank goodness,” Judkins said.
Nebraska coach Connie Yori wasn’t surprised BYU (27-6) advanced.
“I wore blue yesterday because I thought there was a really good chance that BYU would win that game,” said Yori, who donned a denim blouse with beading. “I didn’t want to wear blue when we were playing BYU. I don’t think there is a clear-cut favorite in this game even though you look at the seedings.”
Here are five things to watch for in Monday night’s game at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA’s campus:
BLOCK PARTY: Hamson tied a career-high with nine blocked shots against N.C. State, and the senior ranks second in the nation in blocks. As a team, the Cougars blocked a season-high 15 shots, with six of their eight players contributing at least one. “We haven’t gone up against someone that tall and lengthy,” said Big Ten player of the year Jordan Hooper, who is 6-2. “That’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
STREAKING: Both teams are coming into the second round on a roll. Nebraska has won 13 of 14 games and four in a row, with its last loss against Purdue on March 2. BYU has won 11 of 12, with its last loss against Gonzaga on March 11.
EXPERIENCED FRONTLINE: Hooper, Emily Cady and Hailie Sample will make their 100th consecutive start together against BYU. Hooper had 23 points and 11 rebounds against Fresno State; Cady had 15 points and 11 rebounds; and Sample had six points and seven rebounds. They all stand at least 6-foot. After Hamson, BYU’s frontline includes 6-2 forward Morgan Bailey and 5-10 guard-forward Lexi Eaton. Bailey had 13 points and 12 rebounds against N.C. State, while Eaton scored 25 points - eight over her average. “All of their players are crafty and very skilled,” Eaton said.
STICKING AROUND: BYU is in the second round for the first time since 2006, when it lost to Oklahoma by 16 points. The Cougars are trying to reach the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history; their first trip was in 2002, when they lost to Tennessee in the regional semifinals. “It’s huge, just having that experience, getting all the nerves out first round,” Eaton said. Nebraska is one win away from returning to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. If they advance, the Huskers will play in the Lincoln Regional at their home arena. “We’re not going to worry about getting home right now because that’s not the first thing on our minds,” Hooper said. “The first thing is BYU.”
CONSISTENT CADY: Hooper gets most of the Huskers’ headlines, but Cady provides them with a consistent effort. The third-year starting forward came into the tournament averaging 12.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Yori likes to say Cady is the right side of the stat sheet, referring to her assists, blocks and steals. “She’s really our glue,” Yori said. “She’s not a kid that needs to score 15-18 a game to contribute. She just does so many things.”