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Senior Night sendoff: Gustin, Smiler help Cougars earn revenge victory over Houston

By Darnell Dickson - | Feb 28, 2024
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BYU seniors Kaylee Smiler, left, and Lauren Gustin embrace near the end of a Senior Night victory against Houston at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
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BYU senior Lauren Gustin, left, drives to the basket in a Big 12 women's basketball game against Houston at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
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BYU senior Kaylee Smiler (11) helps teammate Lauren Davenport during a Big 12 women's basketball game against Houston at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
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BYU freshman Kailey Woolston, right, drives past a Houston player during a Big 12 women's basketball game at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
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BYU senior Lauren Gustin looks for a teammate during a Big 12 women's basketball game against Houston at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.
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BYU senior Kaylee Smiler greets a teammate during introductions before the start of a Big 12 women's basketball game against Houston at the Marriott Center on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

The final Senior Night home game for BYU women’s basketball standouts Lauren Gustin and Kaylee Smiler was a good one.

Both seniors made significant contributions in Wednesday’s 64-54 victory against Houston in the Marriott Center. Gustin, the program’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,651 and counting, finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds. Smiler played her usual tenacious defense against a talented Houston guard line and totaled six points and three steals.

Gustin and Smiler are captains as voted by their teammates and have started a combined 172 games for the blue Cougars. They exited the game with 22 seconds to play to a standing ovation from BYU fans and were also recognized after the game. Smiler got a big surprise because her parents and family flew in from New Zealand for the game and performed a ceremonial Haka in her honor.

“Lauren is relentless and she has a personality that loosens me up,” BYU coach Amber Whiting said. “Sometimes she’ll say something to me in practice and I just start laughing because it’s so out of left field. I like having that connection with her. She gives 100% on the court but then off the court she’s like that glue that keeps us together.

“And Smi (Smiler), you don’t really see her accolades as far as the stats like Lauren is the double-double queen, but Smi takes on the (opponent’s) best guard every night. She hustles and she’s a “help the helper” person. She’s always where she should be and she leads by example. Then girls off the court respect her tremendously.”

Freshman Kailey Woolston — fresh off opening her church mission call to Maryland — got the blue Cougars off to a great start by hitting her first three shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, for a quick 8-0 lead. Smiler dropped in a triple and Gustin scored inside to give BYU a 15-2 bulge with 4:55 to play in the first quarter.

The blue Cougars still led by nine, 18-9, going into the second quarter but suffered through a Woolson broke the spell with a 3-pointer at the 8:03 mark of the second quarter but a 6-0 run by the red Cougars brought the visitors within 23-19 with 5:52 remaining the half. Gustin had six points in seven-minute spell without a field goal as Houston’s full court press started to cause problems. the quarter and BYU took a 32-25 lead at the half.

Woolston and Gustin had 11 points each to lead the blue Cougars in the first half. Houston shot just 29% (7 of 28) from the field but stayed close by making 9 of 9 from the free throw line.

BYU extended its lead to ten, 45-35, on a layup from Gustin and a 3-pointer from Lauren Davenport with 3:43 to play in the third quarter. A 3-pointer by N’Yah Boyd brought Houston to within 47-41 heading into the final frame.

The blue Cougars started the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run. Davenport dropped in another three; Woolston made a pair of free throws earned because of a “flop” technical foul on Houston; Gustin converted an offensive rebound and Davenport fed Amari Whiting for a triple and a 57-41 BYU lead with 7:40 to play.

Houston tried to make a charge but Davenport hit another huge 3-pointer and scores from Gustin and Whiting kept the red Cougars at bay.

“I am so incredibly proud of our girls,” Coach Whiting said. “They had the sole purpose and mission of fighting for the seniors and sending them out on a good note at home. They did just that and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Woolston made 4 of 5 from the 3-point line and added 16 points for BYU.

In their previous meeting on Jan. 10 at the Fertitta Center, Houston caused 25 turnovers and scored 27 points off of those turnovers in a 79-69 victory. This time, BYU had 18 turnovers (Houston had 21) and the blue Cougars outscored the visitors 24-21 in points off turnovers.

Laila Blair led Houston (13-15 overall, 4-13 Big 12) with 18 points.

BYU (16-14, 6-11 Big 12) concludes Big 12 regular season play on Saturday at No. 3 Texas, where it will be reunited with former Cougar guard Shaylee Gonzales.



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