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Why BYU women are so thrilled about extending their season

BYU players huddles during game against Gonzaga March 6, 2023, in Las Veagas. The Cougars host Rice in a first-round WNIT game Friday night.
BYU players huddles during game against Gonzaga March 6, 2023, in Las Veagas. The Cougars host Rice in a first-round WNIT game Friday night. | Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

Following BYU’s loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas last week, Lauren Gustin, and her teammates, didn’t want their season to end.

The Cougars didn’t want it to finish the way it did against the Zags — a 79-64 setback in the tournament semifinals.

Cougars on the air

WNIT first round

Rice (22-8)
at BYU (16-16) 
Friday, 7 p.m. MDT
Marriott Center
TV: BYUtv app

As it turned out, it’s not over yet.

Coach Amber Whiting’s inaugural season continues Friday (7 p.m. MDT) when BYU hosts Rice in the first round of the 64-team WNIT.

“We are super excited to be hosting the first round of the WNIT,” Whiting said. “These women are really excited to get back out there, play another game and compete for the right to extend our season.”

The Cougars will be making their ninth appearance in the WNIT and their first since 2017, when they dropped a 72-64 decision at home to Washington State.

BYU advanced to the WNIT’s quarterfinals in 2010 and the third round in 1982, 2011 and 2013.

Rice, meanwhile, captured the WNIT championship in 2021.

As for this season, the Owls have posted a 22-8 record. They ended the regular season on a five-game winning streak before losing to UTSA in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.

Rice enjoys balanced scoring. The Owls are led by Ashlee Austin (12.5 points per game), Malia Fisher (12.1 ppg), Destiny Jackson (10.9) and India Ballamy (10.7).

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As a team, Rice averages 72.3 points per game and shoots 44.4% from the field and 32.5% from 3-point range. The Owls are limiting opponents to 66.6 points, 41.8% from the floor and 28.3% from the 3-point arc.

BYU is led by Gustin, who earned WCC Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. She led the country in rebounding (16.6) and broke the league’s all-time single-game rebounding record with 27 against USF in the WCC tournament.

Gustin, who averaged 16 points per game, also set the WCC single-season rebound record and recorded 27 double-doubles.

Gustin eclipsed two-time BYU All-American and 1980 National Player of the Year Tina Gunn Robinson for the school’s single-season rebounding record (532) and she tied the Marriott Center record for rebounds in a game (24) twice.

Meanwhile, sophomore guard Nani Falatea (15.1 ppg) earned All-WCC first team honors with Gustin, while redshirt freshman Amanda Barcello was named to the WCC All-Freshman Team.

The winner of BYU-Rice will face the winner of Friday night’s game between Oregon and North Dakota State, which will be played in Eugene. The next round is scheduled to be played between March 18-21.

Nate Edwards, BYU Photo
Nate Edwards, BYU Photo