Hard to believe it's already been a year since the Gees wins at the 2020 Capital Hoops Classic. Image: Parker Townes/Fulcrum
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2020 was first time in history Gee-Gees won both games

The historic rivalry between the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and cross-town rival Carleton University Ravens has forever been the pinnacle of university sports in Canada’s capital. 

May it be on the field, the ice or the court, the competition is fierce. Students from both institutions flood OC Transpo’s busses and LRTs to cheer on their classmates and walk away with bragging rights.

In recent years, Capital Hoops fever has grown immensely. And on Feb. 7, 2020, for the first time since its inception in 2007, the Gee-Gees won both games.

For the one year anniversary, the Fulcrum spoke with representatives of both the women’s and the men’s basketball teams to relive the historical night. 

The women took to the court first at TD Place arena and after the first 10 minutes, the Ravens led 18-12. A big second quarter push from the Gee-Gees cut the deficit to three.

Looking back on the game, head coach Andy Sparks admits his side didn’t start off on the strongest foot. The key, however, was the Gee-Gees veteran experience. 

“I don’t think we played our best game from a defensive perspective, certainly,” said Sparks. “But we did have some veteran players. Angela Ribarich, obviously stepped up.” 

The senior at the time, who now plays professionally in Denmark, had a game-high 24 points and helped the Gee-Gees claim back-to-back titles with a 77-75 win.

As the clock wore down, former player Tyra Blizzard mentioned that the ability to stay calm helped the Gee-Gees come out on top. 

“A calmness [came] among all of us once the final two-minute mark hit. We could have easily become frantic and allowed our anxiety to take over, but we all collectively relaxed our shoulders and trusted each other,” she said. “It felt amazing to win the title with my amazing teammates, especially as a fifth year player.”

Another key factor in the victory was the crowd. In previous years, Capital Hoops had been held at the Canadian Tire Centre, but in 2020 it was held at TD Place which holds less spectators but creates a “pretty phenomenal” atmosphere.

“Often what happens [in the] first half of our games, the crowd’s really just arriving,” said Sparks. 

Tyra Blizzard. Parker Townes/The Fulcrum

“By the second half, everybody’s in and I think that the game had so many ebbs and flows to it that the crowd really got involved in it and probably set up our men’s game really well with the excitement level that our game finished with.”

And it did. After the first U of O victory, the men’s game saw the atmosphere fill with double the energy as more students piled and filled the garnet and grey seats.

But before hitting the court, head coach James Derouin emphasized the wide range of emotions felt by his team before facing off with their arch rivals. 

“We play 22 league games a season and you try your best to make it as routine and keep everything the same and tell your players, ‘It’s just a league game’ but it reaches a point where everyone knows that it’s not just another game,” he said. 

“There’s an anxiety just playing Carleton on a regular night [which is] good enough to get you excited. Leading up to it, you just do your best to try to keep the players level.”

“You have to really talk about the crowd and the stadium and the rivalry and then work backwards in terms of making sure everyone’s just calm and ready to perform, despite all the distractions.”

Calvin Epistola. Parker Townes/The Fulcrum

Former player Calvin Epistola, was playing in his last Capital Hoops as a senior, he remembers the atmosphere as one of a kind.

“The amount of people, the amount of noise, the lights, everything that just came with it was amazing,” he said. “Truly nothing compares to it. I remember going to the national finals at the same venue and even the game we had against Carleton was a lot more lively than that.”

Right from tipoff the men’s game went back and forth all night and at halftime the scoreboard read 34-34.

As the clock counted down, the crowd grew anxious as both teams battled on. The turning point for the Gee-Gees was when they limited the Ravens to just 10 points in the third.

The Ravens made a big push in the fourth and with just seven seconds left, Carleton led by one. That was until Epistola was fouled and stepped up to the line to bank two free throws and make it 68-67 for Ottawa.

In the dying moments, the Ravens had time for one more play and had a man advantage after a Gee-Gees player was tripped up. Both benches looked on in awe as the ball bounced in and out of the hands of the Ravens as they tried for not one, but three rebound attempts. It didn’t fall.

The reflexes from Guillaume Pépin then went on to save the Gee Gees as he regained possession and secured Ottawa’s first Capital Hoops victory in four years and handed Carleton their only loss of the season.

Guillame Pépin. Parker Townes/The Fulcrum

“It came right down to the final play. And I can tell you I couldn’t hear anything … I felt with the time running down that we were in a good spot to win the game,” said Derouin.

[But] when I saw Marcus (Anderson) get it, I was like, ‘Wow, we’re gonna lose at the buzzer … point blank, after such a great game.’ And sure enough, that ball bounced on the rim three or four times. To this day, I have no idea how it didn’t go in.”

[They were] a foot from the basket, standing under the basket, you couldn’t get any closer and that’s just the way that night went.There’s nothing strategic, there’s nothing to explain how what happened. It’s just maybe a little bit of fate, maybe a little bit of luck.”

While the university waits for student athletes to return to action, both Sparks and Derouin are confident that the performances from last year’s event will have an impact on the future. 

“They were both obviously awesome games for University of Ottawa, but I think just for basketball in general in Ottawa,” said Sparks. 

“The entire basketball community finds a way to get to that game and that’s what makes it just so awesome,” added Derouin. [On] a special night, we were able to get a win.”