Veteran BYU women’s basketball players logging heavy minutes — because they have to

Lauren Gustin has played four 40-minute games, while Nani Falatea and Kaylee Smiler have each played multiple where they are near 40 minutes.

Provo • Lauren Gustin grew accustomed to working out almost every day.

The BYU women’s basketball junior forward prides herself on her physique. Ask anyone on the team about her and it won’t be long before they mention how hard she works in the gym. She calls it one of her “outlets.”

But this season, Gustin isn’t doing as many extra deadlifts, squats or bench presses. That’s because she’s relied upon so much to play every possible minute that she can for a young Cougars team still finding its way.

Gustin is averaging a team-high 37.8 minutes per game. In four of the team’s 12 games, she’s played all 40 minutes. She ranks fifth in the country in minutes per game.

Gustin isn’t the only player logging heavy minutes for BYU. Sophomore guard Nani Falatea is averaging 35.3 minutes per game, while junior forward Kaylee Smiler is averaging 30.7. Falatea has played five games of at least 37 minutes. Smiler has one 40-minute game, and two games of at least 38 minutes.

“I want to win,” first-year coach Amber Whiting said after losing to Oklahoma last month and playing Gustin, Falatea and Smiler at or near 40 minutes. “I’m sorry. When it comes crunch time, I’m not going to start [thinking], ‘Oh, how many minutes have they played?’”

The extended minutes are serving a purpose. BYU lost almost all its offensive production from last season via graduation and the transfer portal. And with the team featuring a host of new players, it needs to be anchored by those with experience.

At 15.6 points and 13.5 rebounds, Gustin is BYU’s leading scorer and rebounder. She’s recorded a double-double in 11 of 12 games so far this season.

(BYU Athletics)

Falatea is averaging 12.8 points, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals. Although she’s only a sophomore, it was expected that she’d take on a bigger role this season.

Smiler has been in and out of the starting lineup due to a nagging knee injury. But she shoots the 3-pointer at a 41.4% clip, which is third on the team.

With how much the Cougars need them, some players have had to make sure they’re as fresh as possible for games. Gustin, for example, went from working out five or six times a week to two or three days.

“At first it was hard, but I feel a lot better — more energy,” Gustin said of adjusting to fewer extra workouts. “And I think right now basketball is the most important thing, so I just have to put that first.”

Gustin and Falatea both said they are prioritizing sleep more. Falatea has even changed her diet, saying she is cooking for herself more and eating cleaner after a year of eating out due to moving away from home.

Smiler said there have been conversations among the bench players pertaining to finding ways to give their captains rest in games. That means making sure that when they enter the game, they’re locked in and keep the same flow and energy.

“Our team is young, so there’s a reason why Nina and Lauren stay on the court so much — because they’ve been here longer, they have the experience,” Smiler said. “But just like every athlete, the cardio comes in, they get tired. Forty-minute games back to back, day by day, it gets long and your body starts to break down.”

Gustin and Falatea have played all 10 games this season and have had no injury concerns. Gustin did say she currently has “a little bit of agitation” in one of her knees, but did not seem worried.

Whiting said she manages her high-minute players during practice by listening to team trainers who say which ones need rest or should not participate. She added that there have been “a couple of practices” where she has given players who played 25 minutes or more in the most recent game the day off to focus on recovery.

“We just try and manage it that way,” Whiting said. “We’re not very deep, we’re not very experienced. So we have to go with what we have.”