Provo • On top of preparing for finals and taking time off for the Thanksgiving break, BYU women’s basketball is also in the middle of one of their biggest weeks of the season.
This year, the Cougars are playing two in-state rivals in one week. After taking care of Utah State and beating the Aggies 67-50 on Tuesday, BYU will welcome the Utes on Friday.
Junior guard Paisley Johnson was excited entering this week, especially because it’s during Thanksgiving. While she won’t be able to serve herself that second plate or stuff herself as much as she’d like, Johnson’s family came in from Washington last weekend for the holiday and will attend both games.
“I love having my family here with me, being able to watch me play,” Johnson said. “I get to see my sister and her kids I usually don't get to see, so it's just a good family atmosphere where I can also be around them. It's not all just basketball.”
Over the last few years, BYU and Utah have traded wins, with each team winning on their home court. Senior Brenna Chase Drollinger still remembers those road-game losses her freshman and junior seasons and would like to cap off her career with one more win over the Utes.
“These games are fun for me,” Drollinger said. “I'm just hoping to stay undefeated here.”
BYU coach Jeff Judkins knows the Utah game will be a tough one, but hopes the Cougars can get a leg up with the home field advantage. The Cougars will also have a little more size than the Utes.
BYU has seen in increase of production out of 6-foot-7 center Sara Hamson.
Last year, Hamson was juggling volleyball and basketball, and would be seen wearing the occasional knee brace. This year, the junior is focusing solely on basketball and hasn't needed the brace.
Judkins said Hamson is in the best shape she's ever been.
“It's like she's more assertive,” Judkins said. “She played really, really well the other night. Her height and her length affected Fresno State big-time.”
As the only Utahn on the Utes’ roster, freshman guard Kemery Martin is looking forward to a rivalry game she describes as “fun, super competitive.”
As a highly recruited player from Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Martin is adjusting to college basketball through six games. She’s averaging 5.0 points and 1.8 assists in 19.5 minutes and shooting 31.4% from the field.
“She's figuring it out,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said. “She has a way of making things that are not easy look easy; she's just that kind of smooth, graceful athlete. We're trying to get her to play at the intensity and pace that it takes to play in the Pac-12. And she's figuring it out, and she's improving.”
Martin averaged 21.7 points and 4.8 assists last season, leading Corner Canyon to the Class 5A championship game. She was capable of taking over games, as illustrated by her outbursts of 47 and 36 points in region play.
In college, she's learning that “you can't go one on five, especially in the Pac-12,” Martin said. Utah's system is “definitely more structured, which is good.”
Brynna Maxwell, another prized recruit from Washington state, has adjusted more quickly. Her primary job is outside shooting, a skill that easily translates to a different level of basketball. More is asked of Martin as a ball-handler and passer.
“She's really coachable, wants to be great, wants to be pushed,” Roberts said. “She's getting pushed; we're challenging her. She hasn't come close to how good she's going to be.”
UTAH AT BYU
At Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • Friday, 7 p.m. MT
TV • BYUtv
Livestream • BYUtvApp
Records • Utah 3-3; BYU 3-1
All-time series • Utah leads 66-41
Last meeting • Utah 78, BYU 67 (Dec. 8, 2018)
About BYU • BYU is coming in the winner of three-straight games after taking down Utah State (67-50) earlier this week. … The Cougars had their three bigs (Sara Hamson, Shalae Salmon and Babalu Ugwu) score double digit points against Fresno State. … Senior Brenna Chase Drollinger scored a season-high 21 points against Utah State on 8 of 14 shooting.
About Utah • Utah has won three straight games after an 0-3 start. … The Utes beat Texas Southern (61-52) and Texas-San Antonio (91-45) in predetermined games in a tournament in Honolulu last weekend. … Freshman guard Brynna Maxwell leads the Utes with a 13.5 scoring average, having posted 22 points against UTSA. … Freshman forward Lola Pendande is averaging 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, shooting 71.4% from the field.