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Provo • Expectations are quite high for the BYU women's basketball team this season after the Cougars won a pair of NCAA Tournament games last spring.

And why not?

The Cougars return all the major contributors except superstar Jennifer Hamson and 3-point specialist Kim Beeston from that Sweet 16 team, and coach Jeff Judkins has added five promising newcomers to complement returning starters Lexi Eaton, Morgan Bailey and Kylie Maeda and some other mainstays from last year.

BYU is picked to finish second in the West Coast Conference (after being picked fourth last year) behind perennial power Gonzaga.

Then Westminster happened.

The Griffins of Salt Lake City, an NAIA program, stunned the Cougars 59-54 on Nov. 1 in an exhibition game at the Marriott Center, and a wave of panic swept through Judkins' program.

Will the Cougars really miss the 6-foot-7 Hamson that badly? The jury is still out on that one.

Hamson is no longer swatting and altering shots, averaging nearly 18 points a game and grabbing almost every available rebound, although she's still on campus playing out her eligibility on the nationally ranked women's volleyball team. Judkins knew she would be impossible to replace, but figured the Cougars would be able to play at a faster pace to make up for the loss offensively.

They bounced back with a 79-43 win over Fort Lewis College last week, and will open the 2014-15 season on the road Friday at South Dakota State.

"I've got a good team," Judkins said. "It might take us awhile to sort of find ourselves and get rolling, but we've got enough talent to [get back to the NCAA Tournament]."

Bailey, a 6-foot-2 post player and the niece of former Utah Jazz star Thurl Bailey, and Eaton were both picked to the all-WCC preseason team, and will be counted on pick up the scoring slack left by Hamson and Beeston.

"Morgan is very coachable," Judkins said. "She is the best low-post player that I have had in a long time. She can score in quite a few different ways. She's going to have a big year."

If she can stay healthy, that is.

The senior is battling some ankle and knee injuries that have plagued her for several years. Morgan missed four games last year due to injury, and the Cougars lost two of them.

Eaton, a national caliber high-jumper for BYU's track team when she's not competing in basketball, averaged 16.8 points per game last year, mainly as a penetrating guard, and as worked all offseason on her shooting and her defense.

"She's so athletic, I want to use her not just on the offensive end, but also to guard people with her strength and athleticism," Judkins said. BYU women's basketball primer

Key losses • Towering All-American Jennifer Hamson and sharpshooter Kim Beeston used up their basketball eligibility, while backup point guard Stephanie Rovetti transferred to Fresno State.

Key returnees • Point guard Kylie Maeda, shooting guard Lexi Eaton and forward Morgan Bailey are the returning starters, while Ashley Garfield, Micalee Orton, Xojian Harry, Makenzi Morrison and Kristine Fuller should provide depth.

Outlook • After making it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last March and winning a school-record 28 games, the Cougars and coach Jeff Judkins believe they can duplicate the feat, but it won't be easy. Even though they are trying to replace All-American Jennifer Hamson, the Cougars are picked to finish second behind Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference race. —

BYU women's basketball schedule

Nov. 14 • at South Dakota State, 7 p.m.

Nov. 19 • Cal State Northridge, 11 a.m.

Nov. 22 • Nevada, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 26 • vs. Butler at Weston Invitational, Laie, Hawaii, 7 p.m.

Nov. 27 • vs. BYU-Hawaii at Weston Invitational, Laie, Hawaii, 5 p.m.

Nov. 29 • vs. Oregon State at Weston Invitational, Laie, Hawaii, 5 p.m.

Dec. 4 • UNLV, 7 p.m.

Dec. 6 • vs. Colorado State at EnergySolutions Arena, noon

Dec. 9 • Weber State, 7 p.m.

Dec. 13 • at Utah, noon

Dec. 22 • at Utah State, 7 p.m.

Dec. 27 • at Gonzaga, 3 p.m.

Dec. 29 • at Portland, 8 p.m.

Jan. 1 • Santa Clara, 12:30 p.m.

Jan. 3 • San Francisco, 2 p.m.

Jan. 8 • at Loyola Marymount, TBA

Jan. 10 • at Pepperdine, 1 p.m.

Jan. 15 • Pacific, 7 p.m.

Jan. 17 • Saint Mary's, 2 p.m.

Jan. 24 • San Diego, 2 p.m.

Jan. 29 • at San Francisco, 8 p.m.

Jan. 31 • at Santa Clara, TBA

Feb. 5 • Pepperdine, 7 p.m.

Feb. 7 • Loyola Marymount, 2 p.m.

Feb. 12 • at Saint Mary's, 7 p.m.

Feb. 14 • at Pacific, 3 p.m.

Feb. 21 • at San Diego, 3 p.m.

Feb. 26 • Portland, 7 p.m.

Feb. 28 • Gonzaga, 2 p.m.