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Delaying their national road trip

Huskies top Cougars women’s basketball team 77-74 in Canada West Final Four championship game

The road to a national championship just became a little bit tougher for the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team.

After earning themselves a spot in the Canada West Final Four, the team headed to Saskatoon last weekend with hopes of coming away with a conference title and, more importantly, an automatic berth in the CIS championships. However, they did not reach their goal.

The Cougars started the tournament off on the right note, as they were able to register a victory against the Alberta Pandas by just a four-point margin.

“Other than the second quarter, we really limited our turnovers, which enabled us to run an effective offence,” Cougars head coach Dave Taylor wrote in a statement posted to reginacougars.com.

This effective offence that Taylor alluded to allowed the Cougars to stay ahead on the scoresheet for almost the entire game, but due to the fact that the lead was never greater than 10, it was by no means a runaway victory.

As Alberta kept working away, they suddenly found themselves in a tie with Regina going into the fourth quarter. Alberta was then able to get their first lead of the game when Katie Arbuthnot hit a pair of free throws to put the Pandas up by a slim two points.

The small lead wouldn’t last long, as Lindsay Ledingham put the Cougars on her shoulders and managed to rally off eight consecutive points to put her team back on top.

Alberta kept trying to claw their way back into the game, but with time ticking down, the victory slipped out from the Pandas’ paws and into the strong grip of the Cougars by a final score of 72-68.

“Our usual suspects in Ledingham and (Joanna) Zalesiak were good, but in the first half Megan Chamberlin stepped up and (Gabrielle) Gheyssen did the same in the second,” offered Taylor.

Ledingham was able to rack up 21 points on the night, with Zalesiak adding 16 and Gheyssen and Chamberlin pitching in with 15 and 10 points respectively. 

With the semifinal win, the Cougars were set to take on the host team, the Saskatchewan Huskies, in the conference final on Saturday night. A win on Saturday would mean an automatic place at nationals, while a loss would send the team down the conference ladder, but not out of national contention.

Game 2 had a similar feel to Game 1 in that the Cougars were able to stay on top for most of the game, but never by a margin greater than nine.

Carly Graham did what she does best and sank a three to put the Cougars up by four with seven minutes to go in the final quarter.

However, the home-court advantage really came into play, as the Huskies were able to register 10 consecutive points to take the lead away from the Cougars.

The Cougars replied with a six-point run of their own, but the five minutes they went without scoring would prove to be costly.

With the game now tied at 70 points apiece, Huskies player Kim Tulloch stuck the nail in the coffin for the Cougars as she hit a three-pointer with just over one minute remaining on the clock.

After trading free throws, Zalesiak’s final effort for a game-tying three hit the rim. As a result, the Cougars fell to the Huskies by a final score of 77-74.

Saskatchewan advances to nationals with the victory, while the Cougars loss means that the Regina fans will get to see a little more Cougar action at home, as they will host a four-team CIS West Regional tournament on March 11-12 at the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport.

Other teams participating in the tournament will include the Laurier Golden Hawks, Universite du Quebec à Montréal Citadins, and the Victoria Vikes, who were named the recipient of an at-large bid.

The winner of the four-team tournament will receive a place in nationals, which take place March 18-20 in Windsor, Ont., while the three other teams will see their seasons come to an end. The other regionals taking place are the Central Regional in Ottawa and the East Regional in Fredericton, N.B. The Huskies, Windsor Lancers, Laval Rouge et Or, and Cape Breton Capers have already booked their trips to nationals.

The Cougars will be in action on Friday at 6:15 p.m. as they take on Victoria, while UQAM and Laurier will face off in the other semifinal directly following the Cougars game.

The winners of those two matches will then square off in the final on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. 

Although the Cougars are now forced to play an extra two games in order to reach nationals, the extra playing time is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the Cougars have only been named conference champions once in program history, so having to take the tougher road to the finals is what the Cougars know best.

Another Viking invasion

Regina and Victoria are preparing to meet in a semifinal this weekend, with the winner keeping their hopes for nationals alive.

However, this will not be the first time each team has met in the playoffs this season.

In a Canada West best-of-three quarterfinal in late-February, the Cougars (19-5) knocked off the Vikes (15-9) in two games. However, each game was close. Regina won by 65-55 and 70-67 counts. The Cougars trailed many times in each game. Regina surrendered 31 turnovers in the first game and in the second game things went right down to the wire.

With Victoria out for revenge, and the recent close games, expect things to go right down to the wire in this win-or-go-home affair.

UQAM (10-6, RSEQ) and Laurier (15-7, West Division) are to meet in the other semifinal.

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