LOS ANGELES (AP) BYU entered its NCAA tournament first round matchup as a decided underdog. From the moment the game tipped off however, the Cougars didn’t look the part.
Lexi Eaton scored 25 points, Jennifer Hamson finished one block shy of a triple-double and 12th seeded BYU upset No. 5 North Carolina State 72-57 in the first round of the Lincoln regional on Saturday.
The Cougars (27-6) will face fourth-seeded Nebraska in the second round on Monday at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA’s campus.
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”They believed in themselves,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. ”This is how we won 27 games – defend, pound it inside, take what the defense gives us and everyone helping. I’m glad they came and played the way they played all year.”
BYU held a seven-point halftime lead and never trailed in the second half, ballooning their lead to 21 at one point. It was the Cougars 11th win in their last 12 games and their first tournament win since 2006.
Hamson, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, scored 12 points – all in the second half – and tied her career-highs with 19 rebounds and nine blocks.
Led by the 6-foot-7 senior center, BYU outrebounded NC State 52-37 and blocked 15 shots.
”My whole focus was just to rebound and play defense,” she said. ”I have great teammates who take advantage offensively when I’m not feeling it. We just worked together.”
Eaton added eight rebounds and four assists, Morgan Bradley added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Kylie Maeda scored 14 points for the Cougars as well.
NC State (25-8) shot a season-worst 27.4 percent from the field in its second-lowest scoring output of the season.
Miah Spencer scored 16 points to lead the Wolfpack, who lost in the first round for the fourth time in their last five tournament appearances.
”Hamson creates some situations maybe you’re not used to seeing,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. ”If you double her they got a lot of kids around her that can knock down shots, which we found out.”
Hamson entered averaging four blocks per game, second-best in the nation. She surpassed that mark by halftime, swatting away five shots in the opening half.
Those blocks, plus 17 points from Eaton, helped BYU get out to 33-26 halftime lead. The Cougars finished the half on an 11-2 run, with Eaton accounting for seven of those points.
N.C. State dug itself an early hole by shooting just 23.5 percent (8 of 34) from the floor in the first half, including 2 of 11 from three-point range.
The Wolfpack had a promising start to the second half, cutting the deficit to five at 38-33 with 16:41 to go.
BYU quickly squashed that momentum though, reeling off a 24-8 run to take a commanding 62-41 lead with 5:30 remaining. Four different players scored in the Cougars’ spurt, topped by eight points apiece from Hamson and Maeda.
”We all came ready to play and were more aggressive,” Eaton said. ”We also knew they didn’t have (tournament) experience so we knew we would have a leg up on them.”
Spencer tried to engineer a comeback, recording five points and an assist in a 10-2 NC State run, but it was too little too late.
Markeisha Gatling contributed 11 points and eight rebounds and Len’nique Brown had 10 points and five assists for the Wolfpack, who lost five of their final eight games.
”It’s going to hurt for a while,” Moore said. ”It’s a tough way to end. Maybe in a few weeks we’ll be able to look back at the big picture and remember all the success they brought us.”