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Las Vegas • Senior Haley Steed has carried the BYU women's basketball team on her back for a long time, coach Jeff Judkins has said more than once this season.
Juniors Jennifer Hamson and Stephanie Seaborn apparently got the message loud and clear on Friday afternoon in a West Coast Conference quarterfinal game: The Cougars' plucky point guard may have a horse-like surname, but the saddle has grown heavy.
Hamson recorded her third double-double of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds and Seaborn set career highs with seven 3-pointers and 21 points to power the Cougars past Loyola Marymount 69-57 at Orleans Arena.
"It was nice to see some other players step it up," Judkins said.
The fourth-seeded Cougars (21-9), relegated to that spot instead of the second seed after a puzzling 68-55 loss to LMU in Los Angeles last week, now play top-seeded Gonzaga (25-5) at 1 p.m. MST on Saturday in a semifinal matchup. Like BYU's men's team, the Cougars must win the tourney to get into the NCAA Tournament.
"The advantage [Gonzaga] has is they are rested," Judkins said of the rematch of last year's tournament championship game, which BYU won. "The disadvantage they have is they haven't played in a week."
The Zags also know they owned the Cougars in the regular season, sweeping them 74-59 in Spokane and 66-55 in Provo.
But as LMU discovered Friday, this is a different BYU team when Seaborn and Hamson are clicking. With the Lions playing the same triangle-and-two defense that was effective last week, Seaborn found herself open time and again from beyond the arc and began to make the No. 5 seed pay, after some urging.
"I was hesitant at first," acknowledged the 6-foot Canadian. "I wasn't having the mentality I should have had."
Then she took off, going 7 for 13 from 3-point range.
Judkins said BYU knew the triangle-and-two was coming, "and [Hamson and Seaborn] did a great job of solving that problem. … We took a lot of 3s tonight, but that's what they gave us."
BYU finished 13 of 28 from 3-point range.
"They hit the shots they needed to hit," said LMU coach Charity Elliott. "They took advantage of some of the things we were doing."
The Cougars led by as many as 22 points in the second half before Judkins pulled Steed to give her some rest after she had played 38 straight minutes. Her backup, Kylie Maeda, tore an ACL in the loss at LMU and watched the game from the bench in street clothes.
With Steed out, LMU mounted a furious rally, scoring the game's final 10 points and forcing Judkins to put his seventh-year senior back in the game when he really wanted to rest her for GU's now-superior depth.
That underscored Steed's importance to the team, although she had just three points on 1-for-6 shooting. She played a marvelous floor game, recording five assists, five steals and just one turnover, prompting Judkins to proclaim she is the real MVP of the league, an honor that went to Gonzaga's Taelor Karr.
Hamson also played a terrific game, going 8 for 14 from point-blank range, never taking a shot more than 3 feet from the basket. Kim Beeston chipped in 13 points and eight rebounds.
"I told them this was going to be their night," Judkins said.
O In Short • The best game of junior guard Stephanie Seaborn's career gives BYU an easy quarterfinal win at the West Coast Conference tournament.
Key Moment • BYU's 12-0 run in the first half gives the Cougars a commanding lead they do not relinquish.
Key Stat • Seaborn goes 7 for 13 from 3-point range, while 6-foot-7 Jennifer Hamson goes 8 for 14 from point-blank range.
BYU vs. Gonzaga
O WCC Semifinals
At Orleans Arena (Las Vegas)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
TV • BYUtv