Even if you don't follow WCC women's basketball, it's probably not all that surprising that 6-foot-7 BYU Cougars center Jennifer Hamson is leading the nation in blocks (4.2 per game).
What might be more surprising is that she hasn't had a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double yet in her career, despite coming close twice against the University of San Francisco this season in a little more than two weeks' time.
The USF Dons should probably be commended for their courage in attacking the paint against BYU this season instead of avoiding 6-foot-7 senior Jennifer Hamson, especially after what happened in their first meeting. When they took that approach in their January 23 game in Provo, the result was a 34-point loss in which Hamson recorded 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 8 blocks. Within the first three minutes of BYU's 73-66 win at San Francisco this past Saturday, it seemed like the combination of her shot blocking ability and USF's strategy would make her first career triple-double an inevitability.
BYU opened the game with Hamson patrolling the paint to anchor a zone defense and USF post Paige Speitz showed little fear in taking the ball aggressively to the basket against Hamson, giving the shot blocker her first three blocks of the game within the first three minutes. But Hamson also showed that she isn't just piling up the blocked shots as a function of being tall: as an accomplished volleyball player, she has a good sense of timing and used her athleticism to get to short jumpers outside the paint as easily as she got to layups inside the paint.
Nevertheless, the Dons' aggression in attacking the basket paid off in the first half as they mounted a surprising 21-11 lead with 8:08 left. In something of a recurring theme this season, the Dons' struggle to contain the Cougars' perimeter players led to the two teams going into halftime tied up. Hamson had five blocks by halftime and getting another five didn't appear to be all that much of a stretch.
Part of what changed in the second half is that was that BYU played more man defense after USF hit a few jumpers against the zone in the first half. That exposed one of Hamson's weaknesses: defending players in space out on the perimeter.
The 6-foot-3 Speitz, who was also nominated as PoTW, proved to be a tough guard for Hamson. Still not necessarily able to allude her long arms off the drive, Speitz did force Hamson to roam outside of her comfort zone to the 3-point arc. Speitz had only hit two threes all season, but matched that on Saturday as Hamson struggled to get out to contest the shots. Speitz might have gotten a little overconfident when she attempted a step-back three from the corner late in the second half, but Hamson's impact as a shot blocker was somewhat mitigated with Speitz so hot from the outside.
Although Speitz's career-high scoring performance might have been justifiably left out of BYU's scouting report, USF exploited another of Hamson's weaknesses throughout the game that helped them establish a lead and keep things close in the second half when BYU tried to pull away: her rather slight frame.
A number of teams defend Hamson by sending double-teams when she catches the ball to force turnovers, ineffective passes out of the post, or poor shot angles. Although that has worked for opponents in both BYU's losses and close wins, USF took the opposite approach by using single coverage, despite giving up a serious height advantage. And it worked as a variety of USF defenders were able to push Hamson out of the post position and did so relatively easily.
What was definitely surprising is that everyone from Speitz to 6-foot-1 sophomore Denae Mary Williams to 6-foot-0 sophomore Taylor Proctor to 5-foot-11 freshman Hashima Carothers was relatively successful in preventing Hamson from establishing strong post position. When Hamson did get low and offer BYU guards a large target for the entry pass, Hamson struggled to finish - she finished the game shooting just 8-for-17 with a combination of missed layups that spun out of the rim, a few that fell short, and a few that didn't have enough touch to go down. Although she finished with five offensive rebounds, there was at least one possession when 5-foot-7 senior Alexa Hardick got successfully boxed her out to keep her off the offensive glass.
Yet down the stretch, Hamson showed how dominant she can be when she decides to get physical: Hamson had 8 of her 25 points in the final 11 minutes of the game, which unsurprisingly coincides with when Speitz re-entered the game with four fouls. USF still used a combination of defenders, but Hamson was just more aggressive in establishing position and hitting the offensive boards - her two offensive rebounds in the second half came under nine minutes.
It might be unfair to say that Hamson won Saturday's game for BYU - BYU's rather efficient guard play was a major factor - but it was a fairly representative case of both how dominant she can be and how teams can exploit her weaknesses.