On occasion, BYU senior post Shalae Salmon will hold a friendly conversation with an opponent or help them to their feet if they’ve fallen. She gets a look from her coaches when she does that, because they want her to be physical, an enforcer, the Cougars’ Rick Mahorn to 6-foot-7 Sara Hamson’s Rudy Gobert.
“I like to be nice sometimes, but you can still make sure you’re a lady but at the same time a bulldog,” Salmon said. “You have to balance it.”
The 6-3 Salmon is filling her role nicely in 2019-20. In last week’s 71-65 road victory at Fresno State, Salmon posted career highs in both points (16) and rebounds (11). She joined Hamson — 11 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks — and Bablu Ugwu — 10 points, 11 rebounds — in a trio of double-doubles.
“I’ve never had three bigs get a double-double,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “Shalae is by far the best post inside presence we have. She needs to be a physical player who gets inside and knocks people around. The other night (against Fresno State) she started and was really effective. She had to guard a quicker perimeter kid and she did a really good job. She used her noggin’.”
“Noggin” is probably one of those words that Salmon, who is from New Zealand, didn’t understand when she came to BYU in 2016. She had fellow Kiwi Kalani Purcell on the team to make her feel more comfortable but the transition on the basketball floor was still difficult.
“Coming here was another ball game,” Salmon said. “I felt like I literally had to learn another language. It took my whole freshman year to learn just the basics of Juddy’s system.”
Salmon’s scoring and rebounding have gotten incrementally better over her career and this season she’s averaged eight points and 4.3 boards per game. Salmon said new assistant coach Lee Cummard has had a big impact on her game.
“I’ve learned how to finish around the basic with different angles,” she said. “I remember the first time we practiced with Lee he told us to make shots without using the backboard. Everything had to be straight in. It was difficult for us but we’ll be much better for it. He’s also worked with us a lot with our ball handling. It’s completely different than what we used to do.”
Cummard said BYU’s post players — including Salmon, Hamson, Ugwu, Jasmine Moody, Signe Glantz and Malli Perri — don’t realize how good they can be.
“With all our bigs we work on just staying low and really being aggressive as far as wanting the ball down there,” he said. “A lot of people think the guards are the biggest strength of our team but I think it’s pretty balanced. Our bigs need to be more of a factor in all our games.
“Shalae, we want her to be a bulldog all the time. Against Fresno State she set the tone and was just knocking people around. She and Sara did a great job rebounding and getting us extra shots. We just pound it into them daily. We want their mindset in practice and in games to be posting up and demanding the ball.”
Salmon said the game slowed down for her against Fresno State, which Cummard said is an excellent sign.
“If the game is coming a little bit slower to her, she’s more confident down there,” he said. “She’s confident and that means she doesn’t have to shoot it every time she catches it in the post. She’s also capable of hitting the open man if the defense digs down on her.”
BYU has home games this week against in-state teams, starting with Utah State on Tuesday and ending with the University of Utah on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Salmon said. “It will be a good matchup and definitely a big challenge for us. We just really want to win both games so we can be the best team in the state.”