Fighting off a Viking invasion

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Cougars women’s basketball team beat Victoria Vikes to advance to Canada West Final

Autumn McDowell
Sports Writer

The University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team began the playoffs last weekend, hoping to advance to the Canada West Final Four tournament and not say goodbye to their season.

Game one in a best-of-three quarterfinal on Friday against the visiting Victoria Vikes got off to a bit of a slow start, which is something the Cougars have been struggling with all season.

It was a low-scoring affair as Regina led 2-1 four minutes into the game. Although the team had many strong individual efforts throughout the first quarter, the team cohesion just wasn’t there early on. 

Even with the help of a long three from Lindsay Ledingham at the buzzer, Regina still found themselves trailing Victoria by three heading into the second.

The Cougars’ inconsistency continued throughout the second, as they seemed unable to fully execute a play and began to pile up the turnovers. As buckets continued to drop for the Vikes, they managed to earn a two-point lead over the home team at the break.

The Cougars came back from the break ready to play and were able to regain the lead with nine unanswered points. Victoria was never able to cut into the lead in the third as Regina was able to hold an 11-point lead heading into the final frame and ended up earning a 66-55 victory.

“I was happy with how we played in the third quarter” offered head coach Dave Taylor on the victory in a statement, “But we struggled with turnovers yet again.”

Danielle Schmidt was one of the standouts for the Cougars, as her 15 points and seven steals helped Regina secure the victory and take a 1-0 lead in the series.

In all, the Cougars committed a hideous 31 turnovers, but made up for it by having four players scoring in double digits. Megan Chamberlin registered a double-double for Regina with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

However, it was the strong defensive, not offensive, play of the Cougars that allowed them to secure the win on night one.

“I was also pleased with our half-court defence” said Taylor. “At this time of year, any win is good – pretty or not pretty.”

Desperation was in the air on Saturday as Victoria would have to come out on top in order to force a Game 3 on Sunday.

“We had a much better effort (on Saturday), which was much needed because Victoria was also better,” said Taylor.

Night two was a fast-paced game that could only be described as a back-and-forth battle. There were a total of 21 lead changes in the game, with the greatest deficit being a nine-point lead that Victoria held over the Cougars in the third quarter.

The Cougars were able to overcome the deficit by scoring 11 unanswered points, but the Vikes were not about to give up on their final four dreams. 

The two teams found themselves deadlocked at 67 apiece with just one minute 13 seconds left on the clock. Joanna Zalesiak was sent to the line but couldn’t connect on either free throw attempt. However, Zalesiak was able to make up for the missed points by finishing off a layup and putting the home team up by two.

Carly Graham was also sent to the line with just 11 seconds left in the game. Graham went one for two to give the Cougars a three-point lead.

Victoria had one final possession, but the buzzer beating shot from beyond the arc didn’t fall and the Cougars were able to get a well-deserved “W” by a final score of 70-67.

“Joanna (Zalesiak) played like an All-Canadian in the second half and we made two key defensive stops late when we needed them.” explained Taylor, regarding Saturday’s game.

Zalesiak finished the night off with 24 points while Ledingham pitched in with 15.

The Cougars now have a place in the Canada West Final Four, which runs Friday to Sunday in Saskatoon, and will take on the Alberta Pandas in a conference semifinal on Friday. The Cougars will automatically earn a spot at the CIS championships if they win the conference. Even if they don’t finish first, the three teams who don’t win in Saskatoon will get a chance to qualify at a CIS regional tournament next weekend. Consistency and fast starts will be keys if the Cougars are going to be named national champions. 

Oddly enough, even with the loss, the Vikes still have the opportunity to advance to the nationals, as one of the 12 slots will go to the recipient of an at-large berth, but it is far from guaranteed.

Regina vs. Alberta

The Cougars and Pandas split two meetings in Edmonton during the regular season. Regina won 77-74 in one game and Alberta topped Regina 81-58 in the other.

Regina finished third in the conference with a 19-5 record, while Alberta finished fourth at 17-7.

Alberta is coming off a sweep of the UBC Thunderbirds (17-7).

Regina met Alberta in the Canada West Final Four tournament last year in a semifinal, topping them 86-77.

Joanna Zalesiak is the Cougars top scorer with 16.2 points per game. The Pandas counter with Marisa Haylett (15.8).

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