PROVO — Just as she does on the basketball court, Haley Hall Steed chose to pass something — in this case a compliment — to her teammates.
Asked about her ability to make the right pass so often that she now leads the country in assists, she shrugged and said it's easy when surrounded by players who can finish.
"This team has so many weapons," said Steed after BYU soundly defeated Pepperdine 68-42 Saturday afternoon at the Marriott Center. "When you have four other players around you who can score, it makes it a lot easier to pass."
Not only does Steed lead the nation in assists, her team is ranked 13th in assists. Steed's teammates say that's because she sets a tone of unselfishness.
"I don't know what we would do without Hailey," said Kim Parker Beeston, a Wasatch High graduate who led the team in scoring with 15 points. "Our whole team revolves around Hailey on and off the court. She's the assist leader in the nation. That's pretty amazing to play with such an awesome player."
Steed led the team's scoring early and finished with 12 points. She had nine assists and added two steals in a victory that was tougher to earn than the 26-point margin of victory might indicate.
The Cougars led most of the game, but allowed Pepperdine to get within five early in the second half when Shay Cooney-Williams, the Waves' leading scorer, hit the second of her two 3-pointers. But Beeston answered with back-to-back 3s of her own.
"When you have players like that want that kind of pressure, it makes your team feel that," said BYU head coach Jeff Judkins. "Those were big 3s she hit."
He said fearless play is often contagious, and the Cougars needed that to play to their potential on Saturday.
"We didn't play some of our best basketball, but we had moments where I thought we played pretty well," said Judkins. "I thought we did a lot better job defensively the second half. I'm happy. I think we can play better. But I thought we played well enough tonight to win. ... Good balanced scoring was nice to see."
Center Jennifer Hamson was recovering from a freak accident involving a dislocated finger, but she still managed to score 10 points and grab 10 rebounds. She also had five blocked shots.
"She's intimidating," said Judkins with a smile of Hamson. "She's getting her timing back defensively. Everybody mentions her offense, but it really isn't. It's her defense. When her timing is right, defensively, she can be a major force. She takes so many things away."
He also praised the defensive efforts of Morgan Bailey and Keilani Unga.
"Keilani, you know, you saw flashes tonight of the best defender in the league," he said. "She can guard any position on the floor. Very few teams in the league have that."
He said his team was suffering from a brutal turnaround that involved playing in San Diego Thursday night, waking up at 4 a.m. to fly back to Utah, dealing with a longer-than-usual bus ride because of the snowstorm and associated accidents, and then practice Friday afternoon.
"It was hard," he said. "But this team doesn't want excuses. Pepperdine had to do the same thing. I thought we came out early in the game pretty good, then we weren't so good. ... We just have to be more consistent."
He praised sophomore Ashley Garfield for her gritty performance, in which she came off the bench to score 10 points and grab six rebounds.
"Garfield, what do you say about that kid?" Judkins said with a grin. "Comes in, gives you a lot of energy and a lot of toughness, and I think that helped the first half. She gets 10 points tonight. That's very positive."
The Cougar defense held all but one of Pepperdine's players to single digits. Kelsey Patrick led the team with 11 points.
Next up for the Cougars is Gonzaga.
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