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Chicago • In a gut-wrenching NCAA Tournament loss, there was at least one bright spot.
A 6-foot-7 bright spot.
Center Jen Hamson was the silver lining in the 59-55 loss Saturday at All State Arena. The long-limbed sophomore thrived even as many of her teammates struggled, setting career highs with 21 points and nine field goals made.
Her reach was an undeniable advantage one that DePaul found tough to get around.
"Jen did a great job of getting the ball where she needed to," coach Jeff Judkins said.
It was more than just being tall, although that certainly helped. Hamson showed a feathery touch around the rim, turning around for easy buckets deep in the post but also hitting a few short-range jumpers as well.
Her length was key in holding the DePaul post players to only eight combined points in the first half. The Blue Demons couldn't get much going against Hamson and senior forward Kristen Riley to start.
"Her teammates did a great job of feeding her, and she was getting great position on us," DePaul junior forward Katherine Harry said. "She was able to catch and finish every time."
Hamson almost single-handedly brought the Cougars out of a huge hole, scoring 14 points in the first half and helping BYU take a 29-27 halftime lead.
But a key shift in the Demon defense limited her opportunities. DePaul ran a little-used zone scheme that caught the Cougars off guard. It didn't help that Hamson got four fouls with more than 11 minutes left, but even when she was in the game, BYU couldn't find holes to sneak in entry passes. The Cougars passed into more steals than points.
In the end, it was Hamson who helped get BYU in position to tie. She hit a bucket to narrow the lead to six, then got another plus a foul after a Lexi Eaton steal cut the lead to three.
"I think it was [her best game]," senior point guard Haley Steed said. "That was as good as I've seen Jen play. She was the big reason we went into halftime with the lead. It was a great game for her."