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BYU sharpshooter Shaylee Gonzales taking aim at the record books

On pace to become BYU’s all-time leading scorer, talented guard prefers focusing on team success

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BYU’s Shaylee Gonzales drives against Utah’s Kennady “Lightning” McQueen at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Dec. 4, 2021. McQueen, the former Deseret News’ Ms. Basketball in 2020, leads the Utes into the 2022 Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament on March 2, 2022.

BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales drives against Utah’s Kennady McQueen at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Shaylee Gonzales is taking aim at BYU’s top Gunn.

Tina Gunn Robison has sat at the top of the Cougars’ offensive rifle rack since 1980 when she finished her career with a whopping 2,759 points in just 101 games.

Breaking the school record may be a long shot, but when you are a shooter, there’s always a chance — and Gonzales is a shooter.

The sophomore is already No. 18 on BYU’s all-time scoring list with 1,349 points and is climbing the list quickly. In just the last two weeks, Gonzalez moved up five spots from No. 23 and could reach the midway point in her quest to catch Robison this weekend.

If she can maintain her 18.9 points per game average and her health, Gonzales will break the longstanding record before the 2023-24 season is over.

“It will be a huge accomplishment If I can do it. But team accomplishments are way more important to me than individual ones. As long as the team is doing well and we are nationally ranked, then we’ll see what happens down the road.” — BYU guard Shaylee Gonzales on the possibility of becoming BYU’s all-time leading scorer

“It will be a huge accomplishment If I can do it,” Gonzales said. “But team accomplishments are way more important to me than individual ones. As long as the team is doing well and we are nationally ranked, then we’ll see what happens down the road.”

BYU is 16-1 after Monday night’s 70-48 victory against San Diego, extending its home-court winning streak to 25 games. The Cougars are No. 16 in the AP Top 25 — matching the highest ranking in program history. They have also been ranked for nine straight weeks, which ties the 2006 team for the longest stretch in program history.

Gonzales is leading the way and piling up the points, combining for 49 in just the last two games.

“She can score in so many ways — on the drive, on the pull-up and on jump shots. She gets offensive rebounds and putbacks and defensively, she makes steals and layups,” said BYU coach Jeff Judkins. “If she stays for the next two years, I think she will break the record.”

The key to her success is her style of play.

“I try to be super aggressive,” Gonzales said. “My motor makes me go. When the team sees me getting aggressive, they get aggressive.”

Paisley Harding is in her third season playing alongside Gonzales.

“She never stops moving,” Harding said. “The energy follows the ball and there is a magnet on the ball that attracts Shaylee. She is such a special player. If she doesn’t break the (scoring) record, I will be shocked.”           

Down and out

“I heard a pop in my knee, and I knew it was bad.”

Gonzales’ march up the scoring list has not been a walk in the park. Following her freshman season, where she led the Cougars averaging 17 points per game and earned All-WCC first team honors, she set her sights on making the USA Under-19 World Cup roster.

But during a practice she injured her right knee. The diagnosis was a torn ACL and lateral meniscus — and so began the worst experience of her life.

“It was so hard, both mentally and physically,” Gonzales said. “But it made me into a better player. I practice each day like it’s my last practice. I play each game like it’s my last game.”

Gonzales missed the entire 2019-20 season, but still found a way to stay in the game. At the recommendation of her mother and high school coach, Candice, Shaylee got up from the end of the bench and sat down next to Judkins and his staff and started coaching her teammates.

“I think she saw some things that could help her, especially during those times in the game when things aren’t going right,” Judkins said. “Sitting, watching and doing a little coaching helped her better understand the mental side of game.”

A second health scare came last February in a game at Saint Mary’s. Gonzales tweaked the same knee. She tried to play through it, but the pain continued, and she feared the worst.

“It freaked me out,” Gonzales said. “It was the same knee, and I knew something wasn’t right.”

An MRI the following day revealed a partial tear in her repaired ACL. As a result, Gonzales wears a brace on the knee and will continue to wear it for as long as she plays basketball.

Five days later, Gonzales scored 16 points in BYU’s 61-56 upset of No. 16 Gonzaga at the Marriott Center.

“There is not a kid that plays harder than she does,” Judkins said. “As a coach, I know I’m going to get everything she has every game. She’s special that way. She just cares about the team. She’s more worried about winning than anything else.”

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BYU coach Jeff Judkins calls out to his team during game against Arizona in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the UTSA Convocation Center in San Antonio, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Says Judkins of his star guard Shaylee Gonzales, “There’s not a kid that plays harder than she does.”

Michael Thomas, Associated Press

Gunn’s firepower

Tina Gunn arrived on campus as a 17-year-old Presidential Scholar from St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1976. Prior to joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and meeting and marrying Scott Robison upon graduation, she was all basketball.

At the end of her BYU run, there was no one better.

“As a player I never considered records. I played because I loved it,” Robison said. “It wasn’t until years later when the records were accumulated that I thought, ‘Oh, those are pretty good numbers.’”

The 6-foot-5 post player finished her senior season ranked No. 1 in the NCAA with 967 points, No. 1 with a 31.2 points-per-game average, No. 4 in rebounding (14.1) and as a Kodak First Team All-American. 

In addition to the overall scoring record, Robison’s 56 points against UNLV on Feb. 27, 1979, remains unmatched in program history for a single game performance. She is also BYU’s all-time rebounding leader with 1,482.

“I just loved playing the game,” she said. “Jackie Beene McBride played with me. We often would have 50 points a game between the two of us. We ran. We didn’t slow down for anything. I never perceived it as being dominant, but we were successful.”

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Tina Gunn Robison, right, with her husband Scott and daughter Kate, smile as they look up at footage of her playing days at BYU. Robison was honored with her jersey being retired at the Marriott Center Jan. 31, 2004.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Robison rightfully decks the halls of fame at both BYU and the West Coast Conference and McBride’s jersey hangs next to hers in the Marriott Center.

“Tina had such a great touch and was just a dominant player,” said former Cougar Danny Ainge. “She put up huge numbers every night. It was a lot of fun.”

Big stars, different era

While Robison was putting the finishing touches on her scoring record, Ainge was in the middle of amassing his own.

Robison scored her last basket at the end of the 1980 season, just as Ainge was finishing up his junior year. None of her 2,759 career points or any of his 2,467 came from the 3-point line. It didn’t exist until 1987.

“I played in an era where your best shot was the one closest to the basket,” Robison said. “Unless it was a buzzer shot, I wasn’t launching anything beyond 15 feet.”

To Robison’s credit, her scoring record has already withstood 35 years of 3-point shots.

Ainge wasn’t so fortunate.

First, Jimmer Fredette passed him in 2011 with 2,559 points, including 296 3-point shots. Tyler Haws passed both Ainge and Fredette in 2015 with 2,720 points. Along the way Haws made 162 3-pointers.

“I think a bigger factor than the 3-point shot was the shot clock,” Ainge said. “We had a lot of games where teams slowed things down and ran the clock out.”

The shot clock entered college basketball at the start of the 1985-86 season. Initially it was 45 seconds but was reduced to 35 in 1993 and reduced again in 2016 to the current 30-second clock. The idea was to create more offense by forcing teams to shoot more often.

Ainge would have benefitted greatly by both the 3-point shot and the shot clock, but he didn’t mind watching Fredette and Haws march right past him.

“It was exciting,” he said. “It was great for the fans.”

When it comes to scoring records, with the 3-point line, the shot clock and longer seasons, history is on the side of the present and if Gonzales knocks Robison off her perch, those factors will have a lot to do with it. Already in her young career, Gonzales has made 108 3-pointers and played in 76 games.

In addition, the sophomore is also benefiting from a free COVID-19-year that, although miserable and difficult, did not count against her four years of college eligibility. She is getting an extra season. Whether that warrants an asterisk next to her name can be debated later. Gonzales still has a lot of shots to make before it even becomes an issue.

“I saw (Shaylee) play as a freshman and fell in love with her basketball IQ,” Ainge said. “She is shooting better since coming off her injury. She shows a lot of toughness and is fun to watch.”

Gunn Robison’s No. 44 jersey was retired and hoisted into the east rafters at the Marriott Center in 2004, one year after Ainge’s No. 22 was honored in the west rafters in 2003.

No matter what comes, their names will be on display as proud reminders of BYU’s past, even as their individual achievements become history.

“Records were meant to be broken, that’s why you record them,” Robison said. “I’m hoping these ladies now are having as much fun as I did, because it was such a great experience.”

Supporting cast

“Final Four!”

Each time BYU breaks a huddle they all trumpet — “Final Four!”

That’s the goal and it’s a big one, especially for a program that has reached the Sweet 16 only once in Judkins’ first year as head coach in 2002.

“Last year we should have defeated Arizona in the NCAA Tournament and then we watched them reach the finals,” Gonzales said. “That game helped us realize we can get there too. The Final Four is our goal.”

Gonzales anchors a team that is arguably the best Judkins has had in his 21 seasons, and depending on their postseason run, could end up as the best in school history. The roster is tailor-made for victories and in the case of Gonzales — points.

Four seniors are each playing a key role in her march toward the scoring record.

Harding is No. 8 all time in scoring at BYU with 1,688 points and requires a constant defender, if not two. She is on pace to finish just outside the top five in points production. Maria Albiero has 304 career assists. Tegan Graham, a grad student, is No. 2 in the WCC shooting 40% from the 3-point line and Sara Hamson (Pleasant Grove High) is No. 2 all time in career blocks with 431.

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BYU’s Shaylee Gonzales kisses the trophy after BYU defeated Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference championshop Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Las Vegas.

John Locher, Associated Press

Those departures will be significant, but Gonzales’ biggest asset will also be returning next year. Sophomore Lauren Gustin (Salem Hills High) is ranked No. 3 in the nation in rebounding with a good chance at leading all of college basketball by this weekend.

Gonzales and Gustin played one year together in 2017 at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, where they finished 31-1 and won the program’s first state title in 20 years.

Providing a glimpse into the future, Gonzales scored 21 points in the championship game while Gustin pulled down 21 rebounds. Following the season, Gustin’s family moved to Utah County. The two players reunited at BYU in 2019.

“You are lucky as a coach to have a kid like this. In my 20 years of coaching, you might only get one or two and I’m really lucky.” — BYU coach Jeff Judlins on Shaylee Gonzales

Together, they make a one-two punch that will knock out a good number of future opponents and allow for Gonzales to knock down a lot of shots.

“Shaylee will have to score more and look to score more next season because we are losing Paisley (to graduation),” Judkins said. “She has become a better player every year and I think she’ll continue to get better.”

Also returning next season is 6-4 freshman Emma Calvert (Fremont High), who will provide additional scoring and strength in the paint. The emergence of freshman Nani Falatea (East High) at point guard and the outside shooting of sophomore Kaylee Smiler will also provide opposing defenses with just enough trouble for Gonzales to get open shots.

“You are lucky as a coach to have a kid like this,” Judkins said. “In my 20 years of coaching, you might only get one or two and I’m really lucky.”

She’s special, like Jimmer

Time will tell whether Gonzales becomes BYU’s all-time leading scorer. What is for certain, no matter what happens, her story will be told across social media platforms like none other in program history.

Gonzales is building an empire with 210,000 followers on TikTok, 130,000 subscribers on YouTube, 79,000 followers on Instagram and 3,250 on Twitter.

Her brand is as hot as the Arizona desert in July. Gonzales hails from Gilbert and is the oldest of Josh and Candice’s five children, and she is finding ways to represent her family and her faith on and off the court.

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BYU’s Paisley Harding embraces teammate Shaylee Gonzales (2) after defeating Rutgers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the University Events Center in San Marcos, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021.

Chuck Burton, Associated Press

“I wasn’t expecting anything when I started. I was just posting videos and taking pictures and it just blew up,” Gonzales said. “The reason I do it is to inspire others. As college athletes we have a unique opportunity to influence others. I think watching me go through my ACL rehab inspired a lot of people.”

With the name, likeness and image freedoms granted by the NCAA, Gonzales is cashing in. Some online projectors estimate her net worth is between $1 million and $5 million.

“I have no idea,” she said with a smile. “I Googled that too. I don’t believe it.”

Today her net worth to Judkins and the Cougars is 16 wins this season and 18.9 points per game, with potential for so much more.

“She’s a very popular player and so good with people,” Judkins said. “She’s one in a million. Special. Jimmer was that way.”

Supplanting Gunn Robison’s scoring record hasn’t been done in 42 years. Gonzales is on her way. Can she get there? The challenge is huge, and the defenses will be better when the Cougars join the Big 12 before her senior season.

It may be a long shot, but if history has taught us anything when it comes to basketball, it is this — when you are a shooter, there is always a chance — and Gonzales is a shooter who is taking aim at BYU’s top Gunn.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.