LINCOLN, Neb. — BYU hasn’t faced a team this year like No. 1 UConn.
Meanwhile, the Huskies haven’t faced a player like 6-foot-7 Cougar center Jennifer Hamson.
"Definitely not this season,” said the Huskies’ 6-foot-5 center, Stefanie Dolson. “She's extremely tall and is going to change a lot of shots and probably block a lot of shots, but I think for us, it's almost the same thing about them not being intimidated by us — we have to make sure we're not intimidated by her size.”
BYU and UConn square off Saturday in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 (2:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Hamson leads the nation with 141 blocked shots.
"Shot blocking is my favorite part of the game,” Hamson said. “I love it. The big thing is that my team is good too. In our last few games we've had well-rounded blocked shots and stuff. UConn is good at it too. They have the size and the ability. I think it will be fun to see how it goes. At least we are used to it a little bit playing it at practice against each other."
“Jen’s going to intimidate them a little bit,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “They’re not used to playing a 6-7 kid that’s active. There will be some really good matchups.”
UConn forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said her team has a game plan for Hamson.
“I think the challenge is just to keep her off the glass and make her uncomfortable. We want to keep her outside of the paint as much as possible, and if she does get it, we want to make her pass it out."
RED TO BLUE?: After BYU upset Nebraska last Monday night at Pauley Pavilion, Judkins lobbied for Cornhusker fans to become Cougar fans.
At least for this weekend.
BYU takes on UConn at Pinnacle Bank Arena — the home of the Nebraska women’s basketball team.
Will the Cornhusker faithful turn out to watch, and root for, the school that knocked their beloved team out of the tournament?
“They said they’d be there. They said, ‘We’re going to cheer for you,’” Judkins said. “I think Nebraska will be on our side. They always want the underdog to win. I hope we're not the villain. I hope they cheer for us and realize that we played a great game and Nebraska, their team is awesome. I hope that they cheer for us and support us, know that we beat their team, and that hopefully we can get some good fan support and get some energy.”
Thousands of Nebraska fans purchased tickets believing they would be watching the Huskers in the Lincoln regional.
“Everyone loves a good underdog,” said Cougar forward Morgan Bailey. “I think the way that we played against Nebraska, hopefully they’ll admire that and support us as we take on UConn.”
SURPRISE ‘BUSINESS TRIP’: BYU guard Kim Beeston’s parents, Lindsay and Vicki Parker, were in Los Angeles to watch the Cougars defeat Nebraska Monday.
After the game, the Parkers drove through the night back home to Heber City, where Vicki works for a direct mail company, 123 Postcards.
“My dad dropped off my mom at work. She worked all day. Then her boss came in and gave her a letter,” Beeston said. “She opened it up and it said, ‘Business trip to Lincoln.’ It had my dad’s and mom’s name on it with hotel reservations and everything for this weekend. Her co-workers and boss all went in on this amazing thing. She started bawling and her co-workers were clapping and cheering. It was a really special experience because chances like this don’t come often.”
SHOW OF SUPPORT: The football team plays its annual spring game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday, but BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe won't be there. Instead, he is in Lincoln to cheer on the women’s basketball team as it faces UConn.
TOUGH DRAW: BYU upset North Carolina State and Nebraska on its way to the Sweet 16. Up next is the top seed in the entire tournament.
“Would I want to play UConn now? No, I'd rather play them for the championship game and know we got to the Final Four, but everybody knows that you have to go through UConn to win a championship right now in women's basketball,” Judkins said. “You play them now or you play them in the championship, you're going to have to eventually meet them."