BYU plays Santa Clara on Valentine’s Day

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Dates will have to wait for members of the BYU women’s basketball team as they play Santa Clara this Thursday in the Marriott Center.

BYU (16–7, 7–3) is looking to get back on track after dropping to third place in the West Coast Conference. The Cougars lost 64–52 to the St. Mary’s Gaels on Saturday in a battle for second place. Santa Clara (13–11, 5–6) will be looking for its second road win in a row. The Broncos won 69–64 at San Francisco on Saturday.

“Right now we’re playing for a lot,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “We’re playing (to win) conference and to try and win a championship, but also to try and get seeded high to have a chance to win the tournament like we did last year. We’re playing for a postseason… There’s a lot at stake for the next 6 games. That’s what you work for. That’s what as a team you strive to have those opportunities.”

BYU and Santa Clara have already played each other once this season. The Cougars came away with the 65–48 road victory. The two BYU seniors and co-captains led the team in the win. Guard Haley Steed led all scorers with 17 points while also dishing out six assists. Forward Keilani Unga scored 13 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.

BYU’s Haley Steed leads the nation in assists per game (Photo by Elliott Miller)

“We just barely played at Santa Clara, so we’re pretty familiar with them,” Steed said. “They’re a scary team. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”

In the Broncos’ loss to the Cougars, Ruta Zurauskyte had a double-double to lead the team with 10 points and 10 rebounds. BYU hopes to contain Zurauskyte with its tough defense that has brought success to the team.

“When this team plays defense, we’re really good,” Steed said. “It definitely sparks our offense.”

The Cougars are hoping to improve off of the lessons learned in the loss to the Gaels. In that game, BYU was outrebounded 41–29. Although BYU’s shooting percentage (40.4 percent) was better than St. Mary’s (37.9 percent), St. Mary’s was able to make hustle plays and have a better second half. BYU’s defense was not as good as it has been.

“Our defense didn’t play all 30 seconds,” Unga said. “Those little things I think we need to work on and recognize it early in the game so we can change it and have a better outcome.”

A game in the Marriott Center will be good for BYU. The Cougars are 11–0 at home this season and do not want to break that record with only three home games left this season.

“I think we hold ourselves to a higher standard when we play at home,” Unga said. “We know we’ve been playing well here and I think that gives us a little bit of a confidence boost.

Even though the game is scheduled on the holiday celebrating love, Steed isn’t worried about missing a special Valentine’s Day date night with her husband, Bo Steed.

“I think a basketball game is a great Valentine’s Day activity!” Steed said.

BYU hosts Santa Clara on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. MST in a Valentine’s Day “pink” game promoting breast cancer. Fans wearing pink can get in for free.

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