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Cougs shoot way past Utes

Judkins-coached team gets Huntsman Center victory

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Jeff Judkins said he felt "very comfortable" Saturday afternoon sitting on the same bench he sat on for 14 years as a player and a coach at the University of Utah.

This time, however, Judkins was seated on the west bench of the Huntsman Center floor as the head coach of the BYU women's basketball team. And just like he did most of the time as a Ute, Judkins enjoyed a victory as the Cougars upset Utah 77-65 before a crowd of 3,556.

With the win, the Cougars improved to 3-2 in the Mountain West Conference and 12-6 overall, while Utah fell to 2-3 and 9-8.

Judkins' Cougars took it to the Utes right from the start, trailing for only a few seconds before building up a 12-point halftime lead and cruising home by the same margin.

This is Judkins first year as the BYU head coach and he's obviously taught the Cougars how to shoot the ball. That was something "Juddy" was known for during an all-conference career at Utah and during five seasons in the NBA — the ability to sink shots.

The Cougars shot 60 percent in the first half against a team known for its defense (34.1 percent for Ute opponents), before cooling off to shoot 49 percent for the game. From 3-point range the Cougars shot 50 percent on 10 of 20.

"It helps when you hit the shots," said Judkins.

"We're a good shooting team and we do that in practice. We had the same shots against New Mexico, but they didn't fall. Tonight we hit them."

Utah coach Elaine Elliott didn't blame her team's defense as much as she gave credit to BYU.

"When you shoot 60 percent in the first half, that's tough to handle," said Elliott. "Just give them credit."

Leading the way for BYU was Melanie Pearson, a 6-1 transfer from UCLA, who scored 28 points in just 20 minutes of action.

Pearson made 7 of 9 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range and also sank all nine of her free throws. Before Saturday, her best game was 15 points against Arkansas, although she did score 30 once for UCLA.

"Pearson singlehandedly beat us," said Elliott. "That kid was phenomenal. That's a big performance."

So why doesn't Judkins put Pearson in the starting lineup?

"I believe your sixth man need to be better than your fifth," he said. "I've always believed that. I played for the Boston Celtics and that's what Red Auerbach believed. Melanie gives us energy and scoring off the bench."

The only other Cougar in double figures was guard Erin Thorn, who scored 15 points. Jennifer Leitner added eight points and nine rebounds for BYU.

Utah was led by Erin Gibbons with 21 points and Lauren Beckman with 15. But the Ute bench produced just 10 points, compared with 37 for BYU.

Part of the motivation Saturday for the Cougars was playing for teammate Heather Cheesman, who is in the hospital after she was injured in practice Thursday. Cheesman suffered a bruised vertebrae, and her status for the rest of the season is in doubt. Each of the Cougar players put her number "50" on the backs of their shoes to remember her.

Next up for BYU will be a home game against San Diego State Thursday, and Utah faces UNLV the same night.

E-mail: sor@desnews.com