By Ryne Bondy & Earl Zukerman
Fifth-year point-guard Dianna Ros of Montreal, scored a team-high dozen points and All-Canadian Mariam Sylla knocked down the winning bucket as No.3 McGill rallied to edge second-seeded UBC 59-57 in a semifinal overtime thriller at the CIS Final Eight women’s basketball, held at the PEPS Centre, Saturday.
The Martlets (2-0) advance to today’s CIS national final for the first time in school history, where they will meet the top-seeded Windsor Lancers (2-0), a team that defeated McGill 55-48 in Windsor over the Christmas holidays. The Lancers are looking for their fifth straight Bronze Baby trophy in a 1 p.m. (Eastern) tipoff that will be both televised and streamed live on Sportsnet 360. McGill’s previous best result at Nationals was a bronze medal finish at the 1996 tourney, which was also held in Quebec City.
McGill overcame a 50-44 deficit with six minutes remaining in regulation time in a game that featured 12 lead changes.
“It was exciting, we were playing against a really disciplined team,” said McGill head coach Ryan Thorne, recently named as the RSEQ coach of the year, for the fifth time. “It was like a heavyweight boxing match. We got up, they fought back, then they got up, we fought back. This is what happens when there are two really good teams out there.
“We fell asleep a few times and when you do that, a team well-coached that executes as good as UBC will make you pay for it. That’s what kind of got us into that overtime situation.”
Two-time Canada West conference MVP Kris Young had a chance to tie the game in the dying seconds of the extra session but her contested shot came up short. Young also had a chance to win the game late in regulation but Marika Guerin, a freshman from Sorel, Que., stole the ball as the UBC star drove to the basket with a few seconds left to play.
Ros, who was named as McGill’s player of the game, played all 45 minutes and was the only Martlet to reach double digits in scoring. The 5-foot-7 co-captain also dished out six assists, snagged three rebounds and had one steal.
“In the RSEQ they grab and are a lot more physical,” said Ros, a 23-year-old master’s student in physical therapy. “Today I had a bit more space to work with and that gave me the energy needed to play the whole game.”
A large factor in McGill’s success was from three-point range, where they connected on 31.8 per cent, making seven of 22 attempts. By comparison UBC only went 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“We have a great inside presence,” added Thorne, whose troops had a 41-36 advantage in rebounds. “So if we are able to play good inside-out basketball, a lot of girls will get open looks and I think that is why we were fairly balanced today.”
McGill’s attack included nine players who made the scoresheet and gave them a 21-2 advantage in scoring off the bench.
Montrealer Alex Kiss-Rusk, a 6-foot-4 junior playing with a sprained ankle, shot 4-for-7 and was a basket away from a “double-double,” posting eight points and 12 rebounds. Jennifer Silver, another Montreal native, had eight points of her own.
Sylla, the two-time RSEQ conference MVP, struggled before her winning basket made the score 58-54 with 80 seconds remaining. She only scored six points – on 2-for-13 shooting – but controlled the glass with 10 boards and was 2-for-2 from the line late in the game.
Rounding out the scoring for the Martlets was Carolann Cloutier, Gabriela Hebert and Stephanie Blais with six points apiece, while Marika Guerin had three and Marie-Love Michel and Marie-Pier Bastrash each sunk one basket.
McGill, which struggled to make their shots in the first half, finished with a 33.3 per cent success rate from the floor and went 6-for-8 from the foul-line, while UBC dropped just nine of 16 from the charity stripe.
Fifth-year forward Harleen Sidhu, who won player-of-the-game honours for UBC, collected a game-high 20 points, shooting 8 of 16 from the floor, including a 4-for-6 performance from downtown. Adrienne Parkin also reached double figures for UBC with 10 points.
Young, who was coming off a stellar 40-point performance against Ryerson in the quarter-final, came out on yet another mission for the Thunderbirds scoring 13 points in the opening half. McGill, however, was able to keep her in-check after the break limiting her to just one point.
The Martlets, who committed only 16 turnovers, managed to force 21 UBC miscues, eight of which were steals. They also kept the Thunderbirds shooting under wraps, holding them to 39 per cent from the field and 28.6 from three-point range.
“They play beautiful basketball,” noted Ros. “They run their sets, move the ball and everyone can shoot. We wanted to make it a bit more scrappy and our style of game.”
The hard-nose defensive style of play dominated the first half. Offence was so limited that after six minutes of play both teams scored a combined five points. The Martlets kept grinding and fought their way to 12-11 lead after 10 minutes of play.
The match intensified once the second quarter started, capped off midway through when Cloutier put the Martlets up 22-17 with back-to-back threes. UBC, however, clawed back and for the rest of the quarter, exchanged lead changes with the Martlets. Heading into the halftime break, McGill led 27-26.
UBC came out strong after the intermission and managed to put together an extended run, taking a six-point lead, the largest of the game for both teams. McGill showed its resilience, erasing the deficit to take a 42-40 lead, heading into a wild fourth quarter.
With under two minutes to play, Ros gave McGill a 53-50 lead after a steal by Kiss-Rusk. But UBC’s Parkin hit a trey with 1:30 to send the game into overtime at 53-53 as neither team could find the basket down the stretch run. The Martlets had a 6-4 edge in overtime, with Kiss-Rusk both making jumpers, while Ros sunk two of four freebies.
The Thunderbirds will battle for third place against Saskatchewan at 10 a.m.
Championship schedule for Sunday, March 15
10 a.m. Bronze-medal game: No. 2 UBC vs. TBD (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
1 p.m. Gold-medal game: No. 3 McGill vs. TBD (Sportsnet 360 / www.CIS-SIC.tv) *
* The English webcast of the finals are on pay-per-view basis. The French webcast is free.