Katherine DeClerq | Fulcrum Staff
FOR THE FIRST time ever, the University of Ottawa women’s basketball team brought back something shiny from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Final Eight championships. A bronze medal was the result of a long weekend in Calgary, where the Gees faced tough competition from across the nation. Their final game against the University of Calgary Dinos resulted in a win for the Garnet and Grey with a score of 79-73.
On the road to bronze
The Gees entered the Final Eight competition with a third-place seating, facing the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in a battle that went to overtime, with Ottawa taking the win by three points.
The first half saw the Huskies take a significant lead, 38-22. Fifth-year guard Teddi Firmi drove the Gees to an early start, with fifth-year Elisabeth Lennox turning the play over with some defensive rebounds. The strong start wasn’t enough, as the team allowed the Huskies to shoot at 58 per cent compared to Ottawa’s 37.5 per cent.
The Gees grabbed an 11-point run in the beginning of the second half, with Firmi on the defensive and fourth-year forward Jenna Gilbert picking up the offence and bringing the Gees within 10 points of the Huskies.
The Gees’ picked up their game in the fourth quarter, with Lennox hitting a face-up jumper and assisting Gilbert who converted the shot. Ottawa continued to hit back at every turn, resulting in a tied game at the end of regulation time at 59 points.
“I think we knew that as soon as we picked up our defence the shooting would come. Everyone played aggressive and that helped us come back,” said Gilbert to Sports Services about the team’s ability to battle back from a difficult second quarter.
The Gees won their overtime battle with the collective effort of Gilbert and fifth-year centre Hannah Sunley-Paisley, who scored 20 points and six rebounds in the game. Overtime ended with the Gees ahead 73-70, allowing them to move on to the CIS semifinal round against the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds.
Ottawa took to the court on March 19 against the Thunderbirds for the chance of making it to the CIS gold-medal match, but took a tumble in the fourth quarter that stole the opportunity away from the wishful Gees, 59-51.
The aggressive nature of the game was immediately apparent, with Ring only playing 18 minutes due to foul trouble against the skilled UBC Thunderbirds. Defensively, the Gees made their mark, with Sunley-Paisley capturing 17 rebounds and Lennox taking nine. But, their defensive wasn’t enough.
“A tough semifinal loss for sure,” said head coach Andy Sparks. “Ring only playing 18 minutes had a big impact on the game. Looked like we were in good position, up 47-42; however, we had a couple of defensive breakdowns and some key calls went the other way.
“The tough defensive style of play that we use did not go over as well with the refs as we would have hoped.”
By the fourth quarter, the game was tied 50-50, when first-year forward Maddie Stephen took a shot from under the basket for the lead. With 42 seconds left on the clock the UBC Thunderbirds stole possession of the ball for some key three-pointers, giving them the leading score.
“The advantage we had going into the last five minutes was [that] we were in pretty good shape physically,” said Sparks. “But it seems like we got a bit deflated when we lost our point guard. We still had very good opportunities … We definitely had six or seven good looks and we didn’t make any of them.
“Full credit to UBC, because they had an excellent year and when you get to that level, it’s so close between the teams that a few things going wrong is enough to sway the game.”
Motivated for a win
The Gee-Gees weren’t going to give up without a fight in the CIS bronze-medal matchup against the University of Calgary Dinos. The game was a defensive battle, each team desperately trying to limit the number of scoring opportunities available to the other. Ottawa had the upper hand with three veteran players who saw this game as their last opportunity to get on the national podium—fighting valiantly to a 79-73 win by the end of the fourth quarter.
“The bronze-medal game, it was a tough game to play in, said Sparks. “Our expectation was that we had enough potential—that the gold medal was within our reach. With the semifinal loss, there were a few disheartened players, but we tried to turn it around as best we could and get into a positive. The girls managed to recollect themselves pretty well.”
The game began with the Dinos scoring five points within the first 45 seconds. This lead was enough to get the Gees to pick up their game, with Firmi taking some mid-range shots, and Gilbert and Lennox teaming up in retaliation from under the net.
In the second quarter, Gilbert and second-year forward Tatiana Hanlan opened the scoring with a few three-pointers. Sunley-Paisley took a left-handed shot from the centre of the key while surrounded by double Dino defenders, helping the Gees gain a 10-point lead. Calgary was able to make a comeback and keep the Gees in a defensive standstill, finishing the first half within striking distance, 43-38.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle, with each team scoring one after the other. Ring and Sunley-Paisley teamed up to put 12 points between the two squads, but the Dinos retaliated yet again, closing the gap by five points.
“We played a very determined home team from Calgary and led pretty much start to finish,” noted Sparks of the Gees play.
With the board being too close for comfort, Ring and Sunley-Paisley finished the game with a pair of layups and a conversion for the bronze medal win 79-73.
While they didn’t get their national title, Sparks was proud of the Gees for getting so far.
“Being the Ontario University Athletic champions and getting a bronze at nationals—I mean, the basketball program is 43 years old and they’ve never even been to the Final Four, so we went where no Gee-Gees team has ever been before. It was a great year and I’m really proud of the girls.”
The University of Windsor Lancers claimed gold in their matchup against the UBC Thunderbirds.