Buried in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains sits LaVell Edwards Stadium, home of the BYU football team. In Provo, Utah, the BYU Cougars' pillar of athletics plays in the spacious stadium and brings in the big bucks for the athletic department.
Only a short distance away is the Marriott Center, home to the BYU Cougars basketball team. Cougar greats such as Danny Ainge, Shawn Bradley, Jimmer Fredette, and Tyler Haws have shed blood and sweat on that hardwood floor. Almost 21,000 screaming Cougar fans can fit into the Marriott Center. Add that to a number of games being played on national TV and you have a recipe for tremendous exposure.
It isn't hard to see that other sports and teams find it hard to compete with these two teams for support and attendance. But what may be lost in the hustle and bustle of BYU athletics is what may be the best kept secret at BYU: the women's basketball team.
Although the Lady Cougars play on the same floor in the Marriott Center, the attendance to their games is a fraction of the mens. In fact, the difference is almost mind-boggling. With the men averaging almost 18,000 fans per game, the women are averaging less than 700. For those that don't want to do the math, that is less than 4 percent of the attendance. In fact, the women's soccer team (2,624 per game) and the women's volleyball team (1,592) averaged more, in a smaller venue. For a fan base as passionate and supportive as Cougar fans are, how can the road attendance (1,402) more than double the home crowd?
The only thing that makes sense is that the Lady Cougars basketball team is the best kept secret in Provo. At the time of this article, the Cougars are on a six game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 12 games. They are 14-4 overall and 6-1 in conference play. The team has dynamic players on both sides of the ball and are fun to watch.
Just recently the Cougars had two players score over 30 points in the same game! That is as exciting as it can get. Of course, many fans don't realize this and they skip past BYUtv when a game is on. Many have no idea what time the women play unless they stumble across it by accident. This must change! For disgruntled BYU fans frustrated with the so-called "mediocrity" of BYU sports, all they have to do is watch the Lady Cougars in order to see a quality product.
For those looking for the high flying dunks, you will be disappointed. But for those looking for sound mechanics, intense match-ups, and quality overall play, it is hard to find better play than when the women are in the Marriott Center.
I have been guilty of overlooking them, although I have seen a few games on TV, and felt it was time that I see for myself what I was missing. So, I packed up my eight year old daughter and we paid the Marriott Center a visit on game day.
What we found was amazing, fun, and quite the eye-opener. The attendance at the game was right on the season average, but the fans made themselves heard. Don't get me wrong, it will never be the Marriott Center with 21,000 crazy fans, but it did seem like a loud 700 at times. The environment outside the game was brilliant as the crowd was treated with giveaways, video board face time, and the kids were even encouraged to join the cheerleaders on the court for a performance of the "Chicken Dance" during a timeout.
Yet none of this compared to the game that was on the court. We witnessed three pointers from stars such as Lexi Eaton and Xojian Harry, inside drives by Ashley Garfield, rebounds and hook-shots from Morgan Bailey, and even 25 points from the post players. That is something you may not see from the men all year! Even the bench for the Cougars got into the action as they put up 33 of the 84 points in the game.
After the game, the women came out of the locker room and interacted with fans, family, and friends. As my daughter stood outside the tunnel, getting the autographs of each player she caught wandering out of the tunnel, she was in heaven. At one point she even had Cassie Broadhead slip over and help her figure out which autographs she was missing.
In all the times my kids have been to the Marriott Center to see the men play, they have never been able to get more than 2-3 autographs before someone was ushering the players to one place or another. The availability of players and coaches may be one of the products of a low attendance, but at risk of speaking for coaches and players, I think they would gladly spend a few extra minutes with fans if it meant doubling the attendance.
Going into the game, my daughter loved Tyler Haws. Coming out of the game she idolizes Garfield, Bailey, and Eaton. She was devastated when she heard about the injury to Garfield, but immediately started searching her printed roster to see who would step up from the bench. Two more fans have had their eyes opened and we now will huddle in her room and pull up BYUtv on the iPad as we cheer on our Cougars.
At a school that competes nationally on a number of levels, and is consistently in the top 15 of the Directors Cup standings, why is it that one of their best teams is a relative unknown to its own fans? It can't be due to availability, because home games are on TV and ticket prices are more than reasonable. It stands to reason that it must just be the best kept secret in the valley.
Now that you know about it, take the kids to a game. Let them see the secret first hand so they can spread the word and let people see what the Lady Cougars have to offer, and help the players get the recognition that they rightly deserve.