Gary Witherspoon, our West Coast hoops guru, brings us today's CARDINAL COUPLE article. He previews BYU, a team he regularly follow. Don't forget to get those NCAA WBB Tournament entries in by Friday morning! It's free, you could win a major award or a absolutely fabulous CARDINAL COUPLE T-SHIRT !! We'll have a couple of randomly drawn picks available for viewing in Thursday's article.
We present Gary's fine work here picture-free. Enjoy!
Here is a preview of BYU Louisville's first round opponent. Game two against either South Florida or LSU is going to be tough. LSU has been playing better now that they got things resolved with their star player.
If this seeding has any merit for the Cards, it is the opportunity to knock off Kentucky if they can get by either South Florida or LSU.
BYU: Louisville’s Round One Opponent
If you remember last year’s tournament or caught the gist of the comments by the ESPN announcers Monday night indicating that BYU might be a threat to Louisville, you should be a little more at ease after reading this introduction to BYU. BYU is one of the teams I follow somewhat closely.
Last year’s BYU team kind of took the tournament by surprise or by storm somewhat like Louisville did in 2013. As a 12 seed, BYU trounced fifth seed NC State, dominating their post players and inside game. And they handily beat fourth seed and big ten champ Nebraska before facing UConn in the round of 16. BYU gave UConn the toughest game they faced all season. BYU was the first team to lead UConn late in the first half. UConn hit a shot with 15 seconds to go that gave UConn a 1 point lead going into half, but BYU hit a shot at the buzzer that would have taken the lead back except the shot was ruled late.
Most people thought BYU would fold in the early part of the second half, and UConn did come out smoking and took a four or five point lead, but BYU came back and to re-take the lead again at about the 17 minute mark. It stayed close until around the 13 minute mark when UConn started a run that gave them a double digit lead, and this is when most teams fold, but BYU came back twice to get the lead back to single digits and eventually got it to 6 points with about 7 minutes to go. Then Morgan Bailey got her fourth foul and when she went out, UConn started pouring it on and eventually got it to 19 points at the end. But that 19 point win was the hardest fought win UConn had all season.
This game was no fluke. Nether team played really well offensively. BYU had the post players with whom to battle UConn. Morgan Bailey, BYU’s power forward and niece of Thurl Bailey (NC STATE’s post on the national champion team in Survive and Advance), completely outplayed Breanna Stewart. Stewart had three of her first five shots blockec by either Bailey or Jennifer Hamson, BYU’s 6’7” center. Stewart had only one basket in the first half. Bailey is an Emmonie Henderson type post player, but with a lot of savvy and greater shooting range. Hamson stuffed Dolson twice and stuffed Stewart once and altered Stewart’s shot three times in the first half alone.
BYU also had a couple of great shooting and performing guards in Lexi Eaton and Kim Beeston. Kylie Maeda, a 5’4” point guard, ran the offense. Beeston and Hamson graduated (ran out of BB eligibility), so only Bailey, Eaton and Maeda remain as starters. While Eaton and Bailey are as good as any of the players on Louisville’s team, BYU has become pretty much a two player team. If Jeff Walz concentrates the defense on those two players, they can be bottled up and severely limited. While Bailey is probably a better all-around player than any of Louisville’s four post players, Louisville has a four to one advantage on her because BYU has only Bailey and four small guards, and BYU has no one on the bench to replace Bailey. Bailey shoots 52% from the field, and was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, averaging around 18 points per game and 11 rebounds per game.
Lexi Eaton averages 21 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per game. She is a very versatile player who is best in the mid-range game, but she can also drive to the bucket and shoot the three as well, as can Bailey. Eaton hits just over 40% of her three point attempts. Eaton draws a lot of fouls, and gets a lot of free throws. Bailey hit two threes over Stewart in the first ten minutes of the UConn game. Lexi is kind of a combination of Bria Smith’s ability to drive to the basket, Mariya Moore’s offensive prowess and accurate shooting, and has a lot of the court savvy of Jude Schimmel. But again Eaton will be just one great player against three for Louisville.
BYU lost their power forward and second leading rebounder to a season ending knee injury, and they are really hurting now in rebounding and defending the post. Other than Bailey at 6’2”, BYU starters are 5’4”, 5’’5”, 5’9” and 5’10”. I think they list each of these as an inch taller than this, but I think this is probably more accurate. BYU has no one coming off the bench who can contribute much, unless the coach pulls a surprise and uses a player no one, except for those close to the program, even knows about.
They do have 6”2” Alohi Robins-Hardy who somewhat strangely sits the bench. Early in the season as a freshman and as a three time state champion from Hawaii, Alohi showed she could handle the ball well, shoot accurately from all over the court and be a strong rebounder and passer. However, she apparently is in the coach’s doghouse for now. When asked about her a month or so ago, Coach Jeff Judkins simply said she has the potential to be a great player, but she was not in basketball playing shape.
Alohi was recruited by Judkins and given a basketball scholarship, but she said she wanted to play both volleyball and basketball, and he told her she could do that as Jennifer Hamson did. However, during BYU’s NCAA volleyball run that took the volleyball team all the way to the Championship game with Penn State, Alohi was largely co-opted by the volleyball program and volleyball coach. She was made the team’s starting setter at the NCAA regionals, and continued in that position all the way to the final championship game. Robins-Hardy was an odd but very poised and very talented 6’2” freshman setter who could also block, hit, serve and dig. That was a big role for someone just a few months out of high school.
BYU went into the NCAA volleyball tournament unseeded. Volleyball only seeds 16 teams, and BYU became the first unseeded team to ever make it to the championship game. With Robins-Hardy’s prowess and an already strong team, BYU beat four consecutive seeded teams who were all ranked in the top twelve in the nation. They beat Arizona 3-0 in the round of 32, Florida State 3-1 in regional semis, Nebraska 3-0 in the regional finals and Texas 3-1 in the national semifinal. They were finally stopped in the national championship game by eight time national champion Penn State.
I only mention that because BYU is getting a reputation as a giant killer in women’s sports. As a result they have a bit of a mystique to which I think the ESPN announcers were alluding when they announced BYU as Louisville’s scary first round opponent. But I do not think this BYU basketball team represents much of a threat to Louisville, unless Coach Jeff Judkins pulls Alohi Robins-Hardy off the bench as a big ace in the hole, like the volleyball coach did it its NCAA run. I do not know if Alohi could transform the basketball team into a powerhouse as she transformed the volleyball team into a national powerhouse. That move got the volleyball coach the National Coach of the Year Award.
I would really be shocked first to see the coach play her, and even more shocked to see her have that much impact on the team, but she did do it in volleyball. During the summer she went with the basketball team on its once every four years foreign tour. Then she started practicing with the volleyball team in September, but she did not play much in any of the volleyball team’s matches.
She started practicing with the BB team when BB started and did not travel with the volleyball team. Late in the volleyball season, the coach was beginning to get disappointed with the volleyball team’s senior setter, and invited Alohi to volleyball practice to try setting. Late in the season in a WCC match, BYU was getting beat in the third set with the score one to one in sets. He put Alohi in as the setter and BYU pulled the match out 3-2, winning both of the two final sets. After that Alohi started working out with the volleyball team preparing for the NCAA tournament. Facing ACC powerhouse Florida State, the coach inserted Alohi as the setter after BYU lost the first set. With Alohi setting, blocking, hitting, digging and serving, BYU went on to win three sets to one, and Alohi was from then on the starting setter on the team.
Alohi set up Jennifer Hamson for 31 kills in the next three sets against Florida State. Hamson was Judkins former star basketball player who gave UConn fits and was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks in last year’s WNBA draft even though she was not committed to playing professional basketball and may opt for Olympic volleyball. Judkins two basketball players won the volleyball coach the National Coach of the Year Award in his second season at around 30 years of age and in his second year as BYU’s volleyball coach. The young volleyball coach also probably got a big pay raise while Judkins has been coaching almost 20 years at BYU.
Alohi might be caught in some athletic department politics as a result of all of these happenings.