True freshman Lexi Eaton helped blow USD out of the water with her career-high 26 points. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
LAS VEGAS — True freshman Lexi Eaton’s career-high 26 points pushed the BYU women’s basketball team to a 64-46 semifinal victory against San Diego Saturday at the Orleans Arena Saturday.
The win launched the Cougars (25-6, 12-4) into the West Coast Conference Championship game and broke a four-season winless streak in conference tournament play.
“I am just proud of our team," BYU head coach Jeff Judkins
said. "We didn’t play one of our best first halves, we kind of missed some opportunities, but I thought defensively we did a great job of taking them out of stuff. If you look at their first half, they had zero assists. I am lucky I have good players.”
Eaton shattered her previous career high of 16 points set against Kansas State in November, and also contributed six rebounds and shot 52.6 percent from the field. BYU received a boost from its post players as Jennifer Hamson helped out with 10 points and nine rebounds and Kristen Riley added 10 rebounds and seven points.
) has some confidence I don’t think a lot of freshmen have," Riley said. "That’s what we needed tonight, we needed someone to take over and she did that. She’s great."
The Cougars totaled 30 points in the paint to USD’s 12 and scored 18 points off the Toreros’ 15 turnovers. BYU shot 42 percent from the field during the game and held USD to 25 percent.
BYU got out to a four-point lead after eight minutes of play, but couldn’t shake off the Toreros. USD tied up the game at 17-17 with 7:08 left in the half. Riley and Eaton layups pushed the Cougars back to their four-point lead and Riley capped off the 8-2 BYU run with a 3-pointer to bring the score to 21-15.
Back-to-back Eaton layups in the final minute sent the Cougars to the locker room with a 29-21 lead, their largest of the half.
Eaton had a game-high 13 points at the half on 50 percent shooting. Riley led on the boards with seven and had three blocks. The Cougars shot 35.5 percent from the field in the first half while holding USD to only 23.3 percent shooting.
The freshman guard continued to deliver in the second half, with six points in the first four minutes from a trey, a layup and a free throw. The Cougars’ rapid scoring put BYU ahead 39-25 with 15:34 on the clock.
An 8-0 BYU run, including two straight Hamson layups, secured the win by bouncing the Cougars ahead by 19 at the 15-minute mark. The team finished 18 points ahead of the Toreros.
“I want to congratulate San Diego," Judkins said. "They have a really good team. We have been very lucky to have beaten them three times. They play hard and they are very physical. The game was physical tonight and I just want to congratulate them, they will definitely be going somewhere."
After splitting the regular season with Gonzaga, BYU will rematch against the Bulldogs Monday at noon in the WCC tournament final.
“Last time we played them (Gonzaga), we weren’t ready to play and we are ready for them now," Eaton said. "We want to throw the first punch this time and put them back on their heels and just play like we know how to play. We didn’t play like that the last time we played them.”
The Cougars recorded 20 points in the paint to the Toreros’ 10.
BYU scored 18 points off of USD miscues.
With a 29-21 first half lead, the Cougars improved to 21-0 when leading at the half.
BYU was outrebounded by USD 48-38, pushing its record to 5-3 when outrebounded by its opponent.
The Cougar bench outscored USD’s 18-6 and had 18 points off turnovers to USD’s seven.
BYU won the contest in the paint 30-12 and shot 42 percent from the field to the Toreros’ 25 percent.
Lexi Eaton scored 13 points in the first half and shot 50 percent from the field going 5-for-10. Her game-high total of 26 points are a team high for the year and a career high for the true freshman guard. The points also mark her 20th overall game scoring in double digits. She also had six rebounds.
Haley Steed dished out five assists in the first period and ended the game with a game-high eight. She also had four points and four rebounds.
Kristen Riley recorded three blocks in first half action and finished the game with four, tying her career high, while grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds. With seven points against USD, the senior passed Scarlett Overly to become No. 20 in BYU history for career points with 1,027. The semifinal game also put Riley tied in second place with Erin Thorn for career games played with 127 contests.
Jennifer Hamson came off the bench to score 10 points in the second half of action and also grabbed nine rebounds, the second most on the team.