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BYU women's basketball: Lady Cougars prepare to take on N.C. State in NCAA tournament

By Joseph D'Hippolito

Special to the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 21 2014 9:05 p.m. MDT

Brigham Young University's Jennifer Hamson, right, and Kim Beeston smile during a news conference held before the team's practice for the NCAA women's college basketball tournament on Friday, March 21, 2014, in Los Angeles. BYU is scheduled to play North Carolina State in a first-round game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Jae C. Hong, AP

LOS ANGELES — BYU begins the NCAA women's basketball tournament by looking into a mirror.

The 12th-seeded Cougars start the West Regionals Saturday at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion against a similar opponent, fifth-seeded North Carolina State. Tip-off is 4;30 p.m. MT.

"I honestly think their team is a lot like our team," BYU guard Kim Beeston said. "They really look to get the ball inside to their big players. Then when the ball gets kicked out, they have shooters.

"When we practice against that type of play every day, that's something we're ready for and we can handle."

The biggest of those big players is 6-foot-5 center Markeisha Gatling, who leads the nation in field-goal shooting at 67.6 percent. A member of the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first team, Gatling averages 17.6 points and 7.1 rebounds, both team highs..

BYU (26-6) counters with 6-foot-7 center Jennifer Hamson, the West Coast Conference's player of the year and defender of the year. The senior ranks second nationally in blocked shots (4.0) and leads the Cougars in both scoring (18.1 points per game) and rebounding (11.3 per game).

"I've been at BYU for 13 years and she's probably the best post I've coached in a long time," Cougars coach Jeff Judkins said. "She creates so many different problems for teams. She's a great passer. She can shoot. She can score with people playing behind her. Defensively, she does a great job with anticipating and helping out."

The Wolfpack (25-7) compliments Gatling with senior forward Kody Burke and freshman guard Mia Spencer. The 6-foot-2 Burke made the All-ACC second team after scoring 15.0 points a game.

Spencer entered the starting lineup Feb. 23 after starting guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman suffered a season-ending injury. Since then, Spencer is averaging 14.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3-point range.

"Their game is moving the ball around, getting it inside and rebounding," Judkins said. "They just dominate the glass so we just have to do a great job on that."

Yet none of North Carolina State's players have been to the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack is making is first appearance since 2010.

BYU, however, has seven players — including four starters — who competed in the 2012 NCAA tournament. That experience could prove pivotal.

"A couple of years ago, we came out a little bit scared," Beeston said. "When you have a deficit or when you're not playing your best, it's really hard to come back. As long as we can come out fiery and passionate, and realize we are a great team, I think we'll be happy at the end of it."

Hamson believes the Cougars' low seeding provides motivation.

"We have nothing to lose," Hamson said. "So we have nothing to do but to play confidently and play our game. That is what the tournament is all about. Sometimes, there are upsets, and that is what we are trying to do."

The winner will face either fourth-seeded Nebraska or 13th-seeded Fresno State on Monday at 7 p.m. MT.

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