BYU women’s basketball gears up for last season push

With six games remaining in the regular season, BYU women’s basketball currently sits at 12-11 to open the Amber Whiting era in Provo, with an important February stretch ahead for the Cougars.

Looking to this year’s final six contests, BYU will face familiar foes in Santa Clara, Portland and Gonzaga, already having suffered losses to each team all by at least nine points. Gonzaga and Portland are currently tied for first atop of the WCC standings with 12-1 marks each.

After major changes to the roster in the offseason and the retirement of longtime head coach Jeff Judkins, plenty of questions arose regarding the identity for Whiting’s squad going forward. Less than a year into Whiting’s tenure, it’s clear BYU’s identity is all about defense.

“We have learned to stick together through hard times, especially in the early season,” Whiting said of her team. “They could have gone their own separate ways and just chalked it up, but they’ve stuck together, and we’ve found our identity in defense, and we’ve been playing for each other which helps a lot.”

Junior forward Lauren Gustin feels this defensive identity is due to Whiting and her example of grit.

“Amber coming and taking this role, she’s shown a lot of toughness through it all,” Gustin said. “She’s really emphasized … fighting through the adversity and being tough. The games that we aren’t doing well, it’s because we’re playing soft.” 

For Whiting, “just bringing it” is the key to round two against BYU’s upcoming opponents. “Going in with that mindset— finish the weekend, play each game, just one game at a time is what I’m trying to keep (the team) at.”

Looking into the future for the Cougars includes the WCC tournament in Las Vegas. “I feel like Vegas is always a whole new season, anything can really happen,” Gustin said. “It’s a big deal so we have to come in extra focused, extra dialed in. I think that’s the time more than ever that we have to come together and hopefully put together all the things we’ve learned from the losses and wins to help us win it all.”

Gustin’s dominant performance throughout the season has seen her garner consideration for prestigious awards such as conference player of the year as well as All-American status, which Whiting believes will all come down to how the rest of the team can support Gustin.

“We’ve got to win to help her get (awards),” Whiting said. “Obviously she’s killing it that way, so as long as she stays that way and stays consistent, I feel like she has really good odds.”

Even as questions have been answered throughout the first part of the season, some still remain. Time will tell if the Cougars can put all the pieces together as they finish out the season against the WCC’s elite and head to Las Vegas and beyond.

“It’s all about togetherness,” sophomore guard Nani Falatea said. “If one person isn’t connected with everybody else … then it’s not going to work, so being put together, our team is going to be huge.”

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