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BYU guard Lexi Eaton playing her best basketball as Cougars enter season's final stretch

PROVO — Few players can match what BYU’s Lexi Eaton brings to the court, and after overcoming some obstacles, the junior guard is playing the best basketball of her career.

Eaton enters the final three games of the regular season for the BYU women's basketball team leading the Cougars in scoring at 21.1 points per game. She was recently named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week after torching Pepperdine for 37 points in a 77-58 win.

Her stellar play has greatly impacted the Cougars, who are 11-4 in West Coast Conference play and 19-7 overall a year after their magical run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. It’s the type of run both players and coach Jeff Judkins feel can be duplicated as this year’s team isn’t far off last season’s pace, despite two recent road losses on top of losing 6-foot-7 center Jen Hamson to graduation.

“I think it’s surprising to some people because we’re missing Jen,” Eaton said of BYU’s season. “So while it’s been a pleasant surprise, for some, we kind of knew that we could be pretty good this year if we put it all together.”

Eaton has certainly done her part in putting it all together after recovering from a potentially devastating ACL injury that she suffered during the early part of the 2012-13 season. The 5-foot-10 Springville native was afforded a medical redshirt for that season, and after a lengthy 10-month recovery, came back to play a prominent role as the team's second-leading scorer last season.

This season, with the ACL injury further back in the rearview mirror, Eaton has taken her game to new heights.

“I think with Lexi is that she’s letting (the game) come to her instead of forcing things and doing things that really aren’t there,” Judkins said. “She’s really letting the offense, her teammates, and everything we try to do just come.”

A lot of the improvements have come about by taking a more measured approach to every game.

“I prepare myself better in a lot of different ways,” Eaton explained. “I get in the zone, stay in the zone, and then try to repeat that. It’s part of my goal to improve every year, so hopefully our team can improve every year. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Eaton had plenty of time to perhaps reassess her goals, and her approach, during her lengthy 10-month recovery process after her ACL injury.

“When she got injured, she didn’t waste her time, but really studied what was going on out there,” Judkins said. “I think that helped her, and now that she’s been through some ups and downs coming back, she’s just really playing her best basketball. She’s matured as a player, is the best way to put it.”

Her approach has led to more consistent play, something that was a bit of a problem last season despite her many successes.

"She started to get more consistent toward the end of last season and that's just continued," Judkins said. “She’s a very skilled player. She can really do everything and she’s been taking advantage of all the skills she has better this year."

Indeed Eaton has improved in every facet of her game, especially in her shooting from the field and from 3-point range. She's upped her field goal percentage this season from 38.6 percent to 43.6 and her 3-point percentage from 36.5 to 41.5.

Ironically, the improvements in shooting haven't come through more repetitions in the gym.

“I’ve actually shot less on my own in the gym, I’ve just been more efficient and shot them more (within game speed),” Eaton explained. “So instead of quantity, I’m focused on quality with my practice time. That’s what’s made the biggest difference.”

Being further removed from her ACL injury has certainly played a factor as well.

“I don’t think about it when I’m out there playing, but the change of my course, and then things I’ve been able to learn from it, I wouldn’t have it any other way," Eaton said of having to battle through her injury.

Also helping is the improved post play of 6-foot-2 senior Morgan Bailey, who is also having a fantastic season and averages 18.5 points per game.

“Morgan is a huge post presence, which takes a lot of the focus and helps out everyone,” Eaton said. “It really helps us on the perimeter and we’ve had players step up there too. It’s created an ideal situation for all of us and we’ve really come together well.”

Other standouts include sophomore Makenzi Morrison, who has filled in admirably for graduating senior Kim Parker, and junior point guard Kylie Maeda, among others.

“This team has really jelled well, and Lexi and Morgan have made big improvements,” Judkins said. “We’ve had some young players step up and we’ve come together well. I think we’re ready for the final stretch.”


Twitter: @BrandonCGurney