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End of the road: Cougar women’s basketball can’t catch Owls, drop 71-67 decision in WNIT

By Darnell Dickson - | Mar 17, 2023

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU's Lauren Gustin (left) goes up for a shot against Rice's India Bellamy during a first round Women's National Invitational Tournament game at the Marriott Center on Friday, March 17, 2023.

The BYU women’s basketball team fell behind Rice 10-0 to open its first round NIT game at the Marriott Center on Friday.

The Cougars chased that deficit the rest of the night and managed to close to within two points with 3:22 to play but could never catch the Owls, losing 71-67 after a spirited fourth quarter comeback fell short.

How difficult was it to start out with a 10-point deficit?

It’s pretty hard, but I do I look at some positives,” BYU coach Amber Whiting said. “I challenged the team at halftime as far as like who had went off (from Rice) and they didn’t score again in the second half. And with second-chance points we only gave them two in the second half, and we outrebounded them. I think that’s probably our season low in turnovers.

“It’s all about the foundation that’s being built here. These guys are a huge part of it. I feel like we did some good things today, but we just put ourselves in a hole to start.”

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU's Nani Falatea (left) prepares to drive against Rice's Destiny Jackson during a first round Women's National Invitational Tournament game at the Marriott Center on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Lauren Gustin finished with 20 points and 20 rebounds, her fourth game with the 20-20 double-double this season. Gustin grabbed 552 rebounds in 2022-23, just 12 short of breaking the NCAA season record held by George Mason’s Natalie Butler (563 in 2018).

“It would have been awesome (to get the record) but I just wanted to get the win,” Gustin said. “None of us want to lose. It’s definitely upsetting and it’s the end of the season now. So I think that it’s definitely heartbreaking. I mean, it sucks. But I’m proud of us girls fighting.”

Nani Falatea added 20 points and five rebounds, though she was just 2 of 10 from the 3-point line. Ari Mackey-Williams and Kaylee Smiler both hit double figures with 10 points each.

Rice (23-8) had a balanced attack with Dominique Ennis at 13 points, India Bellamy with 12 and Katelyn Crossthwait and Shelby Hayes with 10 apiece.

Trailing 58-48 with just under seven minutes to play, the Cougars made a push with 7-0 run, including a driving layup and a 3-pointer from Mackey-Williams. That cut the Rice lead to three, 58-55, with 4:53 to go.

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU's Arielle Mackey-Williams (right) and Rice's Jazzy Owens-Barnett chase a loose ball during a first round Women's National Invitational Tournament game at the Marriott Center on Friday, March 17, 2023.

A triple by Falatea with 4:13 remaining brought BYU back to within two points, 62-60. The Owls led by three as the game moved under two minutes and a blown defensive assignment left Crossthwait wide open for a 3-pointer that splashed through for a 68-62 lead for Rice with 1:30 to play.

BYU had one last chance after Smiler knocked down a 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining. The Cougars got a defensive stop and had two chances to tie the game with triples in the final ten seconds but Mackey-Williams and Falatea both missed.

“I’m really proud of my girls how they finished that game,” Whiting said. “We got down. They could have folded and they could have turned on each other but they didn’t. It says a lot about their character and a lot about what we’re building here.”

The Cougars spotted Rice the early 10-0 lead, looking very much like a team that hadn’t played in 10 days. A driving layup by Falatea, followed by a steal and transition basket from Smiler, brought BYU within three at 16-13. But the Cougars allowed Destiny Jackson an easy drive for two and the home team trailed 18-13 after one.

BYU pulled within 20-17 with 6:52 to play in the second quarter but surrendered a 9-2 run by the Owls, keyed by strong inside play from Shelby Hayes, and trailed 29-19 with 3:20 to go. A 3-point play by Gustin trimmed the deficit to 33-27 at the 1:10 mark, but the Cougars faltered in the minute and gave up a late 3-pointer to Ashlee Austin, which gave Rice a 38-27 halftime lead.

Hayes, who came into the game averaging four points, outworked the Cougars continually in the paint and finished the first half with 10 points on 5 of 8 from the field. She didn’t score in the second half.

Rice (23-8), which started season 9-0 with wins against Texas A&M, TCU and Houston, moves on to the second round against Oregon, which routed North Dakota State 96-57 in the opening round.

BYU finishes the season at 16-17, the program’s first losing record since 2007-08 (13-16).


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