The Dogs take on provincial rival and undefeated powerhouse University of Regina Cougars in their last match of the regular season Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Physical Activity Complex in Saskatoon.
While the match means nothing on paper, the game will be the Huskies’ most difficult test of the year.
Regina, sporting a 19-0 record, has been the no. 1 ranked team in Canadian Interuniversity Sport this entire season. They easily secured a Canada West home playoff date and they will finish in top spot in the conference’s prairie division standings regardless of if they win or lose Saturday.
When the two teams met on Nov. 5 in Regina to kick off their 2011-12 seasons, the Cougars won 79-68 — a closer finish than even the Huskies expected.
Now, however, the Huskies are hot.
No. 3 ranked Saskatchewan is riding a 10-game winning streak and has only lost one game since starting the season with three-straight losses. Their current 15-4 record, which guarantees their second-place finish in the prairie division standings as well as a home playoff date, comes in a season that was declared a rebuilding year by head coach Lisa Thomaidis.
“We really have come along nicely and faster than I expected,” said Thomaidis. “A lot of the new players, whether they be rookies or transfers, have stepped in and played a huge role for us.”
Sophomore point guard Kabree Howard, who took over the position this year following Canada West first-team all-star Jill Humbert’s graduation from the team last year, said the Huskies are much more confident now than they were at the start of the season.
“Before, we were just hoping to win,” she said. “Now there is that expectation every night to go in and win.”
In order to do that, the Dogs will have to be much stronger on defence than they were against the University of Manitoba Bisons Feb. 10 and 11 — their previous regular season games.
The Bisons, who concluded their season against the Huskies that weekend and will finish seventh of eight teams in the prairie division, nearly upset Saskatchewan in close 73-62 and 76-67 matches.
Thomaidis said that the Huskies were lucky their weak defence didn’t cost them a win.
“We left three-point shooters open and they were able to stay in the match. Thankfully we [made] some shots in the end and we were able to secure the victory.”
“We had a tough time with defensive match-ups” against Manitoba, added Howard. “Defence has to be our go-to every weekend.”
Against the Cougars, Saskatchewan will need its defence to pressure Regina’s strong outside shooters including Michelle Clark and Carly Graham — the Canada West’s highest scoring three-point shooters.
The Huskies will also have to focus on their own ball control and limit the amount of turnovers they surrender to the Cougars, as Regina scores a lot of their points on fast breaks.
Saskatchewan’s men’s basketball team will also take on Regina that night at home following the women’s game. The Cougars men’s team sports a 5-14 record and sits in seventh in the men’s prairie division while the Huskies are guaranteed to finish first with their current 15-4 record.[box type=”info”]Tip-offs for the women’s and men’s games are set for 6:15 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., respectively, at the University of Saskatchewan’s Physical Activity Complex Feb. 18. Both Huskies teams will open playoffs the following weekend, Feb. 24-26, at the same venue.[/box]
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf