Facebook Twitter

Lauren Gustin driving BYU women’s basketball

Cougars star picked up where she left off last season — even though she’s playing for a new coach

SHARE Lauren Gustin driving BYU women’s basketball
BYU forward Lauren Gustin grabs during game against Gonzaga at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 8, 2022.

BYU forward Lauren Gustin grabs the ball during WCC championship game against Gonzaga at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Lauren Gustin is full of gusto and plays basketball as hard as she chews her gum.

The BYU star brings tenacity to rebounding that the program hasn’t seen in 45 years, and the fact that she is on the floor at all is a tribute to her commitment to the Cougars.

She is proof that not everyone leaves.

Push the calendar back a few months and the 6-foot-1 junior must have thought she was in “The Twilight Zone” when she walked into fall practice. Her team that went 26-4, won the West Coast Conference regular-season championship and reached the NCAA Tournament just months earlier, was long gone.

There was no Shaylee Gonzales, Paisley Harding, Sara Hamson, Tegan Graham or Maria Albiero. Those five veterans amassed most of the points, steals, blocked shots and assists. Even the winningest coach in program history that recruited her to BYU, Jeff Judkins and his 456 victories, was gone.

Standing in their place, with a whistle around her shoulder was Amber Whiting, a spirited new head coach without a single Division I victory and a roster defined more by youth and optimism than by talent and expertise.

Gonzales, a former high school teammate of Gustin’s and a two-time WCC Player of the Year, had already bolted to Texas. The buzzards circling above the transfer portal were licking their chops, sensing the Cougars were too young to keep Gustin as well.

To her credit, she stayed — and she’s dominating as the nation’s leading rebounder.

AP22067784367278.jpg

Gonzaga forward Melody Kempton grabs for a rebound against BYU forward Lauren Gustin during first half of championship game at the West Coast Conference tournament Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in Las Vegas.

John Locher, Associated Press

The Salem Hills High product is also shooting 50.2% from the field and leads the team in points (15.9), rebounds (15.4) and minutes played (37.6). She is second in blocks (13) and assists (33) and her free throw percentage has climbed to 60.7%.

The productivity is especially impressive when you consider Gustin is at the heart of every opponent’s game plan with the goal of forcing her outside to shoot and boxing her out on the boards.

San Diego knew exactly what she was capable of before last Saturday’s game in Provo and despite the preparation, Gustin still scored 21 points and pulled down a historic 24 rebounds. The last player at the Marriott Center to grab 24 rebounds in a game was All-American Tina Gunn in 1978.

At one point, Toreros veteran coach Cindy Fisher, who has 378 career wins of her own, threw her hands up in the air in frustration. BYU didn’t need Gonzales, Harding, Hamson, Graham, Albiero or Judkins to beat her Toreros — because they had Gustin and the power forward outrebounded San Diego by herself 24-23.

Adding to her arsenal is the ability to set brick-wall screens for her teammates. She plays the low post like it’s a search and destroy mission. Opponents who have been beaten down over the course of four quarters show their concession by backing out of the paint altogether.

Gustin’s physical and vocal presence on the floor is a dream come true for Whiting, who freely admits that her first big recruiting victory was convincing her to stay. The first-year relationship between the two has been so productive that it might lead to a second season together next year.

If Gustin stays, and with the addition of four-star recruits Amari Whiting and Jennah Isai, along with the return of an improving Nani Falatea, BYU will have a formidable lineup for the Big 12.

For now, Gustin has powered the Cougars back to an 8-8 record (3-2 in the WCC heading into Thursday’s game at LMU). She may be cooking up double-doubles as efficiently as In-N-Out Burger with 15 in 16 games — but it’s her gum that pays the ultimate price.

merlin_2913740.jpg

BYU forward Lauren Gustin battles Gonzaga’s Yvonne Ejim (15) during the championship game of the 2022 WCC Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.