It was a frenzied weekend of basketball for the Huskies men’s and women’s basketball teams — and neither disappointed.
While the women were busy taking care of business at home, securing their second Canada West title in school history, the men were on the West coast at UBC locking up another trip to nationals. Both teams accomplished their feats in dramatic fashion.
If you weren’t at the Physical Activity Complex Saturday night you missed a memorable night; over 2,000 spectators filled the PAC to watch the Huskies win a thrilling Canada West Final. The Huskies beat their provincial rivals, the University of Regina Cougars, 77-74 to secure their place at Nationals.
University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon was leading the calls of support, seated right behind the Huskies bench. Students had bells, whistles and horns. The usually reserved confines of the gym now resembled a madhouse. The atmosphere was electric, rabid and palpable. And the game delivered non-stop entertainment.
Early on the teams traded scores, racing back and forth and feeding off the emotion of the crowd. As the teams approached halftime Regina had momentum on their side thanks in part to the strong play of Gabrielle Gheyessen and Lindsay Ledingham. The two combined for 33 Cougar points. While the game started with high intensity it slowed to a grind late into the first half. The usually sharp-shooting Huskies were missing routine shots and found themselves down 32-30 at halftime.
Knowing they would need a heroic second half to overcome a first half deficit, the Huskies key players rose to the occasion down the stretch. Led by veteran players Marci Kiselyk, Kim Tulloch, Jill Humbert and Katie Miyazaki, who were all double-digit scorers, the team in green and white made their charge. But as time expired to end the third quarter a buzzer beater three-point shot by Regina’s Joanna Zalesiak gave Regina a 56-53 lead heading to the final frame; it also shocked everyone in attendance.
The fourth quarter was the most riveting basketball I’ve ever seen. Just when it looked like the Cougars were poised to pull off the upset the Huskies would make key shots. Just when it looked like the Huskies would cruise to the win late in the game, the Cougars would step up. And with just 1:03 left in the game, the Huskies Tulloch hit a three-point that put the Dogs up for good, 73-70. The scene that ensued after that was spine tingling.
The crowd rose spontaneously, and stayed there for the agonizing last minute of the game. They were so whipped into a frenzy it was hard to hear the person beside you. When the game ended fans rushed the court; it was how university basketball should be played. The excitement was contagious.
“This is the highlight of my coaching career here,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis. “This crowd was great and I couldn’t be more proud of my team right now.”
Just a night earlier the Huskies men’s team was in search of a win at the Canada West Final Four to secure a berth to Nationals. The defending champions were in tough, though, going up against the upstart Trinity Western Spartans. While the two offensive foes struggled to find their tempo all game, it made for a remarkable finish. Down as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, it looked as though the Huskies were all but done. But much like last year’s Cinderella story run, they found a way to win.
Led by Jamelle Barrett and Rejean Chabot down the stretch, the Huskies erased a 10-point deficit with four minutes remaining; a buzzer-beating shot by Barrett with 1.8 seconds left gave the Huskies an improbable 80-78 win. After the game Barrett couldn’t say enough about how the team came together.
“I love this gym. I wasn’t here last year but you get the sense that the guys feel there’s something magic that happens here,” said Barrett. “We just have to keep focused on the ultimate goal.”
The Huskies now head to Halifax for the National Championship ranked No. 3 in the nation. They open in defence of their title Friday night against Dalhousie University.
The women’s team will no doubt be ranked No. 1 in the country when they head to Nationals two weeks from now.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the best basketball program in the country.
image: Pete Yee/The Sheaf