Keilani Unga’s triumphant senior year

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The tumultuous career of BYU women’s basketball senior Keilani Unga is coming to a close, but not without a bang.

The 6’2” forward has been dominating on the court recently. Unga has started every game this season, shooting 49.7 percent from the field. In the past six games, she has averaged 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds.

When you’re a senior and your career is coming close, you focus more,” BYU coach Jeff Judkins said. “It means more to you. You’re more sharp in the things that you’re doing. I think Keilani’s finally figuring it out. I’m really happy for Keilani. This is why she came back: to come and be on a team and have a chance of doing well and playing well.”

Keilani Unga preparing to take a free throw in a game against San Diego. In that game, she had 17 points and seven rebounds. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

 

Unga has not been on the BYU women’s basketball team since 2010. That year, she and Harvey Unga, former BYU football standout, withdrew from BYU after an honor code infraction. After three years, a marriage to Harvey and two children, Keilani Unga is finishing her education and her basketball career, a feat she was not sure she would be able to accomplish at first.

“It was hard, I was never planning on coming back for basketball,” Unga said. “After two kids, I thought it was going to be harder. Ever since we left, I wanted to come back and finish school. After thinking about it … I knew that if I didn’t play basketball my last year, and had the opportunity to, I would regret it because it’s just one year (and) it goes by so fast. You never get this opportunity again.”

Unga’s two children, Jackson (2) and Lei La (1), and her mother are at every home game to support her and watch her play. Unga’s mother, Lose Moeaki, moved to Utah from her hometown of Chicago to help watch the children as Keilani finishes her degree and plays basketball. Jackson and Lei La are always in the crowd, cheering on their mom.

“It comforts me to know that they’re there and have them watching me and to get to see them after,” Unga said. “Game day is an-all day event. I like to see them because I haven’t seen them all day.”

As hard as this experience has been for Unga, she is glad that her family is there to support her at the home games, but she is more excited that one day her children will be able to learn from their parents.

“I’m more excited for them to see the positive out of what Harvey and I have gone through,” Unga said. “And the example that we’ll (be) for them and just to have them know that even through the hard times we’re still a family. I want them to see that they were, and still are, so important to us.”

Unga has learned a lot over the past few years, but the lesson she has taken to heart the most is living in the moment and enjoying every second.

“The frustrating moments of it can really overtake and overwhelm you because you just forget about why you’re really here …  especially for me because I want to play how I used to play,” Unga said. “I think just enjoying every single moment with the team, with the coaches, at practice even though it sucks. This is what I think when (Coach Judkins) says get on the line and we have to run at the end: ‘I’ll never do this ever again.’ So I just enjoy even the brutal parts.”

Looking back on her career, Unga had a hard time picking out a highlight. She eventually settled on the season she worked the hardest for, her final season, which has been full of new and challenging experiences. The last time Unga played, BYU was still in the Mountain West Conference. Since then, the Cougars have joined the West Coast Conference, full of teams that Unga has never played against.

“I think this whole season has been a highlight,” Unga said. “I’ve gotten to play new opponents, new teams, which I really like because you get to travel to California. This year has been so great because it’s new everything. New for me, new slate, and then new team. This whole year has just been a highlight because I’m so grateful.”

The senior season of Keilani Unga is not over quite yet. The BYU women’s basketball team has two more WCC games left to play, both of which are away games. After that, the Cougars hope to play well in the WCC tournament to have a shot at a longer postseason. At the rate Unga has been fighting for each game, the Cougars are hopeful for success. No matter what happens, Unga will be enjoying every second of it.

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