Basketball Women headed for CIAUs

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

Canada West women’s basketball fans found out last weekend when the Dinos went west to visit the University of Victoria Vikes.

The Vikes. represented the immovable object; the defending Canada West champions had locked the top spot in the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union rankings since the season opened in October. The Dinos were the unstoppable force; ranked eighth as recently as January, they steadily climbed the rankings to second spot, breathing down the Vikes.’ necks.

With the 2000 Canada West title on the line, the Dinos and Vikes. tipped off in Victoria’s McKinnon Gymnasium. The score was kept close early in the game, but the Vikes. used their plethora of talented offensive players to take a 39-31 lead at the half. The Dinos were unable to recover, despite a few moments when it looked like they would be able to rally. The Vikes. won 63-51.

Leighann Doan, shooting a well-below-averge eight-for-22, led the Dinos with 18 points, while Linnae Bee came through with 12. Doan and Alison McGinn had 10 rebounds apiece, while Anna Bekkering pulled down seven, more than any UVic player. Three Vikes. scored in double digits; Janet McLachlan (16), Kim Johnson (15) and Emily King (10).

A determined Dinos team returned to the gym on Saturday, and the 30-or-so Dinos fans in attendance were convinced they would return for a Sunday matchup. The Vikes. opened the game with a 7-0 run, but by the end of the half, the Dinos had pulled within three. Cathy Payne, in a desperate display of defense, almost singlehandedly prevented the hosts from taking a bigger lead in the last minute.

In the second half, Doan led the Dinos as they closed the gap. The lead continually changed hands in the dying minutes until the Dinos took a six-point lead that appeared to be definite. The Dinos missed three of four free throws and UVic’s Johnson sank two three-pointers to tie the game 66-66.

Overtime was a disaster for the Dinos as they were outscored 14-2. The Vikes. captured the Canada West title for the third year in a row.

Doan shot 15-for-21 and finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds. Payne, with 11 points, was the only other Dino to hit double digits. Johnson led the Vikes. with 23 points, while Megan Dalziel added 19, Lindsay Brooke contributed 12 and McLachlan had 10.

Prior to the series, Harle talked about the difference that defense was going to make in the matchup of two of the country’s top offensive teams. The Dinos did a great job in their own end, holding the Vikes. below their scoring average in regulation time.

Immediately following Saturday’s game, disappointment hovered in the air outside the Dinos’ locker room.

"On a scale of 1-10, this is probably an 11 [in terms of disappointment]," said Dinos coach Shawnee Harle. "But I would take this feeling any day over the feeling I had last night when we lost by 12. Tonight we gave our heart and soul… and as long as we leave everything on the floor, win or lose, I’ll always be proud of this team.

"When I walked into the [locker room after the game,] there was a very sad group of players. The first thing I told them was how proud I am of them. They played like warriors. Even though we lost, they showed a tremendous amount of heart.

"The loss hurts, but I can live with it, because they gave everything they had."

Vikes. coach Kathy Shields, under whom Harle served as both a player and assistant coach, was also impressed with her opponents’ effort.

"The Dinos played their hearts out," said Shields. "We played our hearts out. It was a tremendous game. We were lucky to hit those big shots to get into overtime."

"We outplayed them in regulation," said Harle. "I think they dodged a huge bullet. I knew we would be in tough coming into overtime. There was a complete shift in the last 15 seconds."

As the players exited the locker room, the disappointment was still evident, but talk of a wild-card berth at the national tournament had surfaced, improving the mood.

"It feels brutal right now," admitted guard/forward Anna Bekkering. "But we know we’ll have another chance at nationals. We’re excited for the chance to play [UVic] again.

"It feels better to lose a close game like we did. It’s a better feeling than yesterday, when we beat ourselves."

The Dinos had to wait until Sunday night to find out if they would be awarded the wild-card berth. All parties questioned expected the Dinos to go.

"If they don’t, it will be the biggest crime ever committed in basketball," said Shields.

"I’ll be shocked if we don’t get it,"

said Harle. "[But] we wanted to play into nationals."

At 7 p.m. on Sunday, Harle got the call confirming the Dinos’ appearance in Edmonton. The Dinos will be the third seed in the eight-team tournament, and will meet the Université Laval Rouge et Or in the first game of the tournament, at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

"I’ve always thought there’s no such thing as an easy game at nationals," said Harle. "Laval will be a tough team. They have a very good post player and three players who can knock down a three-pointer."

In her fifth year of eligibility, Dino Cathy Payne will be closing her career at the national tournament ("Don’t remind me.") Payne is the only Dino who is guaranteed not to be back next year, and wants to finish big.

"What a fantastic way to go out," she said. "I couldn’t ask for more. I’m excited."

Payne is confident her team can challenge for the national title.

"We have to go out there and work our butts off and play three great games. Everyone has to play within themselves. A lot of teams are going to be blown away, as long as we stay focused on what we’re there for."

Leighann Doan was named CIAU women’s basketball player of the year at a ceremony on Wednesday morning in Edmonton.

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