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Provo • The BYU women's basketball program didn't miss a beat when leading scorer Lexi Easton was lost for the season with an ACL tear of her right knee.
In one large respect, the Cougars, winners of nine consecutive games, were fortunate. At nearly the same time BYU lost Eaton, a sophomore who was scoring nearly 16 points a game, 6-foot-7 junior center Jennifer Hamson finished her volleyball season and joined the basketball team full time.
In her eight games, Hamson averages 3.5 blocks a game, changes shots on defense and prevents opponents from double teaming on offense. As a result, the Cougars (12-4, 3-0 WCC) have become a typical Jeff Judkins-coached team, one that shares.
Seven players average five points or more a game, including Hamson and junior Kim Beeston who combine to score more than 23 points a game. Then there's senior point guard Haley Steed, whose 126 assists lead the nation.
"This team has so many weapons," said Steed following BYU's 68-42 victory Saturday against Pepperdine. "It makes it easier to pass."
BYU travels to Gonzaga on Thursday for a 7 p.m. tip off. The Cougars, picked as the preseason favorite, upset Gonzaga in the WCC Tournament final in 2012, providing the launching pad to 2013.
The Cougars blew out Pepperdine in the second half, 38-22.
"It was a nice win," Judkins said. "We didn't play some of our best basketball, but we also had moments where I thought we played pretty well. I thought we did a lot better job defensively in the second half, especially defending the ball screens. I'm happy, we can play better, but I think we played well enough today to win. Good balanced scoring is nice to see as well."
BYU endured a poor road stretch early on, losing four games. Three of those losses were by a combined 15 points.
The Cougars haven't lost since, including an overtime victory at San Diego. And Hamson, who missed the conference opener against San Francisco with a split finger, returned against San Diego with 13 points and five blocks.
"I'm happy with the win, especially on the road," Judkins said after escaping San Diego. "It was nice to have Jennifer back."
Utah dives into pool
An improved Utah's swimming and diving team hosts Denver on Friday at 5 p.m. at Ute Natatorium, while just the women (4-5) compete 1 p.m. Saturday against Oregon State.
The Utah men are 5-1 with their only loss coming at 16th-ranked UNLV, a team it had already beaten. The Utes haven't competed since taking a 158-122 win over Arizona State in mid-December. At the meet, Ute Nick Soedel swept the sprint freestyle events to eventually earn CollegeSwimming.com's Swimmer of the Week.