A positive COVID-19 test within Utah Valley University’s women’s basketball program created the opportunity for Southern Utah University and Brigham Young University to square off for the first time since 2018. SUU took home the victory last time, 67-64.
BYU was initially set to take on UVU on Wednesday, December 15, but the game was canceled right before tip-off. SUU was slated to take on the Wolverines three days later, but COVID-19 had other plans.
Losing the UVU game meant both teams had an opening in their schedule, and the two athletic departments came together and decided to play each other on Friday at 12 p.m. in the America First Events Center.
SUU looks to build off of two wins last week, both astonishing in their own right.
Against William Jessup University, SUU won by a margin of 28 points, 74-46. The T-Birds were led by Big Sky Player of the Week Liz Graves, who scored 18 points while snagging seven rebounds.
Junior Cherita Daugherty had a break-out game as well, scoring15 points and pulled down 11 boards.
SUU followed up their dominant performance with a statement win against then undefeated Grand Canyon University.
Senior Darri Frandsen, Graves and Daugherty combined for 63 points as the T-Birds beat the ‘Lopes by one in the final seconds of the game.
Head coach Tracy Sanders and her crew found a way to break GCU’s full court press. Daugherty, the primary ball handler, broke the press often and only registered one turnover for the game.
SUU also shot 85% from the free-throw line, including eight straight makes to take them over the top as the fourth quarter wound down.
BYU Scouting Report
The Cougars currently sit at 3-1 on the season, with wins against Louisiana State University, Utah State, and Montana State.
Sophomore guard Shaylee Gonzales leads the team with 20 PPG while shooting 56% from the field and 54% from deep. Sophomore forward Lauren Gustin and senior guard Paisley Harding round out their scoring threats, both averaging around 12 PPG.
BYU is a 3-point shooting team, shooting 40% as a team on 95 3-point attempts through four games. The Cougars also refuse to leave points at the free throw line, shooting 85% as a group.
Gustin is a strong rebounder, leading the Cougars with 11.5 RPG. The Cougars excel at snagging defensive boards, but struggle to get second chance looks, posting just 33 offensive boards through four games.
They’re not an overwhelmingly tall team, either. Senior Sara Hamson stands at 6’7” but only plays about 11 minutes per game. She’s usually replaced early in the first half by Tegan Graham, who stands at 6’0”, making the 6’1” Gustin the tallest player on the floor for the bulk of the game.
The Cougars tend to commit more turnovers than they force. Gonzalez plays an average of 33 minutes in each game and commits 4.3 TOPG. Gonzalez turned the ball over 10 times against LSU.
As a whole, BYU only steals the ball 5.5 times per game, while allowing their opponents to steal the ball close to eight times per game.
Overall, the Cougars game plan revolves around offensive attrition instead of defensive relentlessness. They don’t block shots, steal the ball, or force turnovers. Instead, they attempt to outscore opponents with outside shooting and free-throws.
Three Keys to the Game
- Who will guard Gonzales?
It’s no secret Gonzales is BYU’s facilitator and scorer. It remains to be seen who Sanders sticks on her to start the game defensively.
Daugherty matches up at the point guard slot, but Sanders might use Daugherty’s quickness to match up against the smaller Harding.
Sophomore guard Madelyn Eaton might draw the assignment, but gives up two inches to the 5’10” Gonzales.
Sanders could choose to put length on Gonzales to attempt to bother her. If that’s the case, look for Graves to take on the defensive assignment. At 5’10”, Graves matches up height-wise against Gonzales.
However, moving Graves down to take on a guard leaves the smaller Eaton or Margarita Santini/Dayla Ballena to guard the 6’1” Gustin, which could prove fatal in the post.
Prediction: Daugherty draws the defensive assignment on Gonzales, leaving Graves in the post where she will be needed to snag rebounds against the Cougar frontcourt. Eaton will chase Harding, while Santini/Ballena split time taking on BYU’s smallest guard.
- SUU needs to continue to hit free throws
The T-Birds shot 85% against GCU, a number that became a huge advantage at the end of the game.
However, BYU is extremely clever at avoiding fouls. As a team, they only foul an average of 17.5 times per game, and not a single Cougar player has fouled out of a game this season.
With that said, Hamson has finished two games with four fouls, as has Gonzales.
If Graves and her T-Bird teammates can find a way inside and draw fouls, that could really bother BYU head coach Jeff Judkins’ rotation, considering how skilled SUU is at the free throw stripe.
- Can SUU take care of the ball?
BYU likely won’t force SUU to make too many mistakes offensively, so it’s up to Sanders’ squad to stay sound on that end of the floor.
Against GCU, SUU committed 23 turnovers, with Eaton and Graves responsible for 13.
Daugherty and Ballena will see more of the ball handling duties against the Cougars because they no longer have to fight the full court press of the ‘Lopes.
Ballena and Daugherty are secure with the ball. In Saturday’s game, Ballena had four assists and just one turnover, while Daugherty had three assists with just one turnover.
Keeping the ball secure will prevent BYU from getting free transition buckets, something the T-Birds were unable to do against GCU where they gave up 23 fastbreak points.
When, Where, and How?
The T-Birds and the Cougars will face off Friday at 12:00 p.m. inside the America First Event Center. The game will be streamed live on PlutoTV channel 1055.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz