BYU women’s basketball season ends after heartbreaking 71-67 NIT loss to Rice

BYU women’s basketball hoped to keep its season alive in the women’s NIT, but those hopes were dashed in a 71-67 loss to Rice at the Marriott Center Friday.

The Owls came out of the gates firing on all cylinders as they built an early 10-0 lead, but the Cougars didn’t surrender. BYU continued to fight to keep the game within reach.

At one point in the third quarter, Rice had extended their lead to 13, but once the fourth quarter came around, BYU began their attempt to tip the game in their favor.

The Cougars went on a 7-0 run with just under five minutes remaining to bring themselves within three, but a couple of missed three-point attempts from Arielle Mackey-Williams and Nani Falatea in the final seconds were the final nails in the coffin.

“Its pretty hard to (chase a 10-0 deficit), but I look at some positives, ” head coach Amber Whiting said. “I challenged (my team) at halftime as far as who had went off (for Rice), and they didn’t score in the second half. We out-rebounded them and our turnovers were our season-low, so we did some good things”

While BYU did lose the game, they totaled nine more rebounds, three more assists, and two more steals than the visiting squad, but the slow start held them back throughout the entirety of the contest.

The loss didn’t stop the usual players from doing their thing for the Cougars. Falatea finished 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Lauren Gustin also showed up to play and finished with her 27th double-double of the year tallying 20 points and 20 rebounds.

The early tournament loss was extra painful for Gustin as she was most likely only one game away from breaking the NCAA record for rebounds in a single season.

“It would have been awesome to hit (that mark), but I just wanted to get the win at the end of the day,” Gustin said. “There’s always next year.”

The end of the 2022-2023 campaign is also the finish to Whiting’s first season under the helm in Provo, and she looks back on this game with a sense of pride in her team.

“I’m really proud of my girls [and] how they finished that game. We got down 10-0 and they could’ve folded and turned on each other and they didn’t. That says a lot about their character and a lot about what we are building here,” Whiting said.

BYU ends the season with a 16-17 record, but Whiting is looking forward to continuing to build upon the foundation of this team as she looks to the future.

“This is a big building year and we got to the postseason,” Whiting said. “It’s not the postseason that we wanted so next year, the goal is the (NCAA Tournament). The goal is to always be higher and better than what we have right now.”

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