The Cougars’ perfect record receives its first blemish
Some people thought it couldn’t be done, but UBC has slayed the dragon.
The No. 1-ranked University of Regina women’s basketball team was pinned against the No. 3-ranked UBC Thunderbirds in a playoff battle royale to determine the best team in Canada West. Although the Cougars were riding a 20-game win streak, UBC defeated the Regina beast 79-58 in an epic showdown at the Centre for Kinesiology, Health and Sport on Mar. 3.
“You know, in a way I think we needed a loss,” said Cougars first-year post Alyssia Kajati. “Just because, when you have a perfect record, there [are] no flaws. Now it is a motivation for us to do better next weekend and to go into nationals strong.”
To advance to the final, the Cougars and Thunderbirds needed to win their respective semifinal matchups on Friday. Regina faced the Fraser Valley Cascades and UBC battled the Saskatchewan Huskies, with Regina receiving the home-court advantage.
The Cougars took their game by a final score of 72-56. The Thunderbirds finished off U of S by an eerily similar score in their earlier semifinal bout, notching a 72-55 victory.
“Carly [Graham] simply took the game over for us in the third quarter,” said Cougars head coach Dave Taylor. “That’s the benefit of having so many quality veterans that can step up for us.”
Regina was the victim of a slow start on Night 1 in its semifinal, something the team has regretfully become accustomed to over the course of the season.
The Cascades jumped out to an early 8-0 start, but Regina, in true Cougar fashion, immediately bounced back, scoring 23 out of the game’s next 27 total points.
Although this hasty momentum swing put the Cougars up by double digits midway through the second, the Cascades weren’t about to say “uncle” just yet.
By the halfway point, the Cougars held just a four-point lead over the Cascades, which was before Carly Graham entered the office. Graham did what she does best, and began raining down threes like nobody’s business, hitting four treys in just five minutes during the third quarter. The outside shooting by fifth-year Graham helped propel the Cougars to a 15-point lead heading into the final quarter and they never looked back.
UBC’s semifinal was less than dramatic as the Huskies trailed UBC by 10 points for the majority of the game and were never able to overtake the Thunderbirds, partly due to Kris Young’s amazing 28-point performance.
With the Cougars and Thunderbirds victors of their semifinal matchups, the time came for an epic bout on Saturday night.
The gym was finally packed for the first time in a long time. Game staffers were even passing out “noisemakers” at the door with the hopes that the fans could be the extra force in Regina’s victory. Let’s be clear – the noisemakers were just thick pieces of paper that you were supposed to fold up and hit against your leg. How that’s any better or louder than clapping is, um, unclear.
Whether it was the noisemakers or the full house, the atmosphere in the new gym was unreal. For rookie Kajati, the moment she stepped onto the court in the Canada West final is a feeling that she will never forget.
“It was pretty indescribable,” she said. “There was so many fans, it was a huge adrenaline rush. It’s really exciting, it’s a fun atmosphere to play in and as soon as you hear the crowd going your like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’ The crowd is a big factor.”
Although the Cougars had the crowd behind them, and UBC only had its own players on their side, the crowd can only do so much for a team; the rest is up to the players on the court.
The Cougars did what they usually do – they got off to an extremely slow start. Normally the Cougars can deal with these slow starts, having basically gotten away with them all season, but now that the swamp donkeys had been weeded out, there was not as much room for error as there used to be.
To say that UBC got off to a fast start would be an understatement. In the opening quarter the Thunderbirds went 13-for-18, racked up 32 points, and somehow had a shooting percentage of 72.
That insane percentage helped UBC build up a 16-point mountain for the Cougars to climb, but the No. 1 team in the country proved it has the heart to battle back.
Regina outscored the Thunderbirds 14-2 in the second to cut the visitors lead to just four heading into halftime.
Whatever Taylor said during the break appeared to have been gold as the Cougars came out quick and tied the game up with back-to-back buckets from Brittany Read and Lindsay Ledingham.
Things were looking up and it appeared that the Cougars would continue to build off of their momentum, get a lead, and keep it, but that is not how the story would go.
Suddenly, with next to no warning at all, the offensive power that the Cougars are accustomed to almost completely stopped.
The Cougars went scoreless for an astounding five minutes, which felt like hours to fans that were in attendance. Regina was able to pull within seven points of the Thunderbirds in the fourth, but an 11-1 run by the visitors made the deficit too large to overcome.
As the final minutes wound down, the noisemakers were silent. Some fans, unable to take the pain of watching the inevitable outcome, left the arena altogether.
Eventually, the Cougars lost the game, 79-58.
Although this is not the outcome that the team wanted, Kajati – who had 10 points in the game – put a positive spin on the loss, admitting that the team was no longer feeling the pressure of an undefeated season.
Despite what some people may have been confused about, the loss on Saturday night does not eliminate the Cougars from competition and does not put a halt to their dreams of a national championship, it just puts a small detour into their journey.
Because of the loss, the Cougars will now travel to Saskatoon this weekend to take on the Huskies as part of a four-team CIS West Regional.
In order for the Cougars to reign supreme this weekend, Kajati doesn’t feel like many changes need to be made to the Cougars style of play; after all, they didn’t go 20-0 during the regular season by fluke.
“I just think that we need to do what we have been doing all season,” she said. “We need to play as a team. Individually, sometimes we get a little caught up in that but I think we need to play strong as a team and we have no worries if we can come out and do that.”
Joining the Cougars and Huskies at the CIS West Regional tournament will be Brock and Concordia. Regina was announced as the No. 1 seed at the tournament, and will face off against Concordia on Friday at 8 p.m.