Brenna Seeman | Posted: 17 Mar 2023 | Updated: 20 Jul 2023

Cougar comeback comes up short in WNIT loss to Rice

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Lauren Gustin guards the inbound pass in a game against Rice in the WNIT Round of 64.
Emma Calvert Nani Falatea Lauren Gustin

PROVO, Utah – BYU women’s basketball ended its 2023 season Friday evening with a 71-67 loss to the Rice Owls in the WNIT Postseason Tournament at the Marriott Center.

“I am really proud of my girls for how they finished that game”, head coach Amber Whiting said. “Being down 10-0, they could have folded and turned on each other, but they didn’t. That says a lot about their character and about what we are building here at BYU.”

Four Cougars ended the night in double-digits: Gustin (20), Nani Falatea (18), Kaylee Smiler (10) and Arielle Mackey-Williams (10). Falatea also contributed four rebounds and five assists, and Emma Calvert posted seven rebounds for the Cougars.

Despite the loss, BYU outrebounded Rice 43-35, led by Lauren Gustin’s 20-rebound game. Gustin also led the Cougars in scoring on the night, with 20 points, marking her fourth 20-20 game of the season and her 27th double-double.

With her 20 rebounds in tonight’s game, Gustin has tallied 552 rebounds on the season, the second-most in a single season in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history. She finished the season just 12 rebounds shy of the all-time record of 563 held by Natalie Butler of George Mason set in 2018.

First Quarter

Rice University jumped out to an early lead in the Marriott Center, going up 10-0 in the first three minutes of the game. After a four-minute scoring drought, Smiler hit a three-pointer to put the Cougars on the board. 

With a group of layups by Gustin, Emma Calvert, Falatea and Smiler, the Cougars brought the game within five, ending the first quarter trailing the Owls, 18-13.

Second Quarter

Rice opened the scoring in the second quarter with a layup, followed by a two-minute scoring drought. In that time, the Cougars scored two driving layups of their own by Gustin and Mackey-Williams to bring the score to 20-17 with the Owls still in the lead.

Despite drawing within six, the Owls continued to push ahead on the court. Rice knocked down a three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, heading into the locker room ahead of the Cougars by 11 points, 38-27.

Gustin led the Cougars in scoring and rebounding in the first half with 11 points and 10 rebounds, earning her 27th double-double of the season. The Owls went into halftime shooting 45.7 percent from the field, while the Cougars shot 37.5 percent in the opening half. 

Third Quarter

The Owls saw the first points of the second half, but defensive stops from BYU led to a three-minute Rice scoring drought. A couple of layups and a Mackey-Williams three brought the Cougars within nine, 44-35.

Another shooting slump followed for the Cougars before Gustin knocked down two free throws and Falatea scored back-to-back driving layups to bring BYU within five. A block by Smiler on the defensive end of the court brought the energy back to the Marriott Center, forcing a Rice turnover in the final seconds of the third quarter.

With a buzzer-beater by the Owls, Rice held a seven-point lead over the Cougars, 48-41 heading into the final 10 minutes. 

Fourth Quarter

BYU opened the final quarter with a three-pointer by Rose Bubakar. The Cougars went on a 7-0 run in the following minutes, led by back-to-back buckets by Mackey-Williams to bring the game within three, 58-55.

The Cougars continued to chip away at the deficit with Falatea connecting on her second 3-pointer of the game. Calvert and Gustin connected in the paint for a driving layup, bringing the Cougars within three with two minutes remaining in the game.

Despite the late run in the fourth, the Cougars couldn’t overcome the Owls, losing 71-67.

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