What a longtime broadcaster had to say about BYU women’s basketball’s first season in the Big 12

BYU forward Lauren Gustin (12) and Texas forward DeYona Gaston (5) battle for a rebound during a game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, March 2, 2024.

BYU’s women’s basketball season came to an end Thursday with a loss to Santa Clara in the first round of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament.

Although the Cougars finished with a 16-17 record, one longtime broadcaster believes BYU acclimated rather well to the Big 12 in its first season.

“It’s hard to jump into a new conference at all, period, but then to elevate into a Power Five level conference,” Brenda VanLengen told the Deseret News. “If you look at the scores, BYU beat Baylor, they pushed Kansas State to (a) one-possession game, they played tough against Iowa State, against Kansas. I mean, they came in and really had a good first season in the Big 12 and I’m sure learned a lot from a recruiting standpoint, from a competition standpoint, and it’s only going to get better.”

VanLengen has covered women’s college basketball for nearly 30 years, calling games for ESPN, the Big Ten Network, SEC Network and Fox Sports. She was on hand for this year’s Big 12 tournament.

How does BYU women’s basketball fit in the Big 12?

VanLengen said she has considered BYU a good program since its victory over Iowa State in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

“BYU has had a lot of success for a lot of years,” she said. “I’ve been aware of how good the BYU women’s basketball program has been for over 20 years, and the fact that they are now in the Big 12, I think is really exciting because (Lauren) Gustin, with her rebounding ability this year, fit right in. There’s some really talented players up and down the roster.”

BYU will be joined by Utah next season as the Utes move over to the Big 12, following the demise of the Pac-12, and VanLengen sees that in-state rivalry as a nice addition to the conference.

”With Utah joining in the Big 12 next year, that creates that rivalry within a conference,” she said. “I think it will add a really fun, regional competition to what the Big 12 has, but I think it will help to just elevate the conference overall. I think there’s a lot of excitement building around the new teams that are in (the conference) and BYU’s certainly a big part of that.”

How can BYU women’s basketball improve next season?

BYU’s success next season comes down to head coach Amber Whiting’s recruitment “of players that can continue to elevate the program,” VanLengen said. She believes Whiting’s experience and the Cougars’ new conference will help BYU’s recruiting.

“Amber has had tremendous success as not only a high school coach but also (as an) AAU club coach, so she knows the level of competition to compete within the Big 12,” she said. “What are they going to need to do? They’re going to need to continue to recruit at a high level now that they’re competing in the Big 12. They can use that to say, ‘You can come and compete for Big 12 championships. You can elevate your game and be seen on a national audience basis and so forth.’”

BYU will have to replace seniors Gustin and Kaylee Smiler and freshman Kailey Woolston, who will be leaving in May for an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I stand by what I said: I think to get better, you have to recruit great players and find your way to fit your system and your style of play into a very diverse conference and do what you can to move up,” VanLengen said. “I think they had a really good first year and have an opportunity to just get better.”

The Big 12′s “geographical diversity” will allow Whiting to build the program according to her desired style of play, VanLengen said.

“There’s going to be a lot of different styles of play, and you have to find what’s going to work year in and year out,” she said. “I think coach can do a great job with that because of her experience and her competitiveness with what she wants to do with the program.”