By Earl Zukerman
Gabriela Hébert, a sophomore from Chicoutimi, Que., came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points as the sixth-seeded McGill University women’s basketball team waltzed to a convincing 71-50 victory over Ottawa in the consolation round final at the CIS Final Eight championship to finish fifth overall.
Not a bad result for the Quebec conference champions, who did not crack the CIS weekly Top 10 national poll once throughout the season.
“It was a great win for the program and our conference,” said Ryan Thorne, in his 10th year as head coach of the Martlets. “When we left Montreal last Wednesday, we just wanted to be playing on Sunday. To win on Sunday would’ve been a great step forward and that’s what happened, although we would have preferred to be in the gold medal game.”
Windsor (3-0), under the guidance of former McGill assistant coach Chantal Vallee, won the CIS banner for the third straight season with a 66-57 win over Regina (2-1) in the gold medal game. Saint Mary’s (2-1) claimed bronze with an 83-73 decision over Calgary (1-2).
Hébert played a large role in McGill’s victory, shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor, including a 3-for-3 effort from three-point range. The 5-foot-8 forward also made two of her four free-throws to go along with a pair of steals, one rebound and an assist.
“Gabby played awesome today,” said Thorne of the second-year physical education major who didn’t start in any of the three tourney games but ended up leading the Martlets in scoring with 36 points over the weekend. “She’s a very streaky shooter and she was feeling hot, so when you get that kind of situation, you just got to go with it and that’s what we did. What was different about it this time was that her teammates were looking for her. They understand that she was hot and they were trying to get her the ball. Her shot selection was very good too, they weren’t forced shots.”
The Martlets jumped into an early 13-2 lead, then stretched the spread to 14 points before Ottawa’s Jenna Gilbert settled the losing side down somewhat with a three-pointer to finish the quarter at 21-10.
“We wanted to take command from the get-go,” explained Thorne. “We were pushing the ball and looking inside. We had an advantage inside (the key), where our post players were stronger. For the most part, their posts played a perimeter game and I thought we were going to be able to pound it inside… I was definitely pleased with what we were doing.”
The second quarter was no different as McGill opened up a 39-21 advantage before taking a 40-24 lead into halftime.
“Being up by as much as we were, we still knew that the game wasn’t over because we saw Ottawa make a huge comeback (erasing a 19-point deficit) against Carleton yesterday. That was something… that everybody understood – the game was 40 minutes long – and we had to make sure we competed hard until the end.”
The Gee-Gees then outscored McGill 16-12 in the third stanza, narrowing the gap to 52-40 but McGill pushed the pedal to the metal and won the final quarter by a 19-10 margin.
“We were peaking at the right time,” said Thorne, whose troops opened the tourney with a 68-53 loss to Regina, followed by a 70-52 victory over Fraser Valley. “We’ve really come around on understanding our offence and where to get good shots from. Defensively, we understood a little better about what we needed to do and we saw that down the stretch (in the conference playoffs) where the scores where pretty low because we played each other so often and knew what to expect.”
Mariam Sylla, a 6-foot-1 post who was named earlier in the week as the CIS rookie of the year, was the only other member of the Martlets to reach double figures in scoring. She had 14 points to go along with a game-high eight rebounds. Sylla ended up as the team’s second-leading scorer over the weekend with 34 points and a team-high 28 rebounds.
Anneth Him-Lazarenko, a fifth-year education senior who is the only player expected to graduate, finished with eight points and seven rebounds. The 5-foot-10 power forward completed her brilliant career with 1,545 points and 858 rebounds in 118 games overall, ranking eighth and fourth, respectively, among McGill’s all-time leaders.
“It was great for Anneth to finish the way she did,” said Thorne of his five-time all-star who was an All-Canadian two years ago and won the CIS Tracy MacLeod Award in 2010 for overcoming adversity. “When she came into the program five years ago, she really gave us a lift and brought some toughness on the interior and was able to score down there. For her to come back (unexpectedly) this year, when she was banged up with injuries and to contribute the way she did, it was a good indication of the tremendous love and respect she has for the program and wanting to see it succeed. I am really proud of her commitment and achievements.”
Other leading scorers for McGill included team captain Francoise Charest (8 pts.) and Helene Bibeau (7).
Kim Cupid, who was named as Ottawa’s player of the game, paced the Gee-Gees with 10 points and pulled down five rebounds.
McGill, which had a huge 29-17 advantage in turnovers, shot a sparkling 46.3 per cent from the field (25/54), 22.2 from the arc (4/18) and 63.0 from the line (17/27), compared to Ottawa, which shot 29.8 (14/47), made 4 of 13 treys and went 18-for-23 from the charity stripe.
The Martlets finished their campaign at 21-12 overall, including a 21-10 mark against CIS opponents and a 13-3 first-place finish in the RSEQ conference. The team is scheduled to land at Trudeau airport on Monday at 8 p.m. Next on their agenda is the annual Friends of McGill basketball awards banquet on April 13 at the Holiday Inn Midtown on Sherbrooke Street.