When their arch-rivals from Edmonton stopped in last weekend, the members of the Dinos women’s basketball team weren’t expecting an easy playoff series, but they didn’t get one. The University of Alberta Pandas were already guaranteed a spot in the national tournament because they are hosting it, and they seemed pretty intent on getting a higher seed.
On Friday, the Dinos jumped out to a quick lead, with Leighann Doan scoring the home team’s first eight points, but the Pandas came back, making it 37-25 in their favour after 20 minutes. After the half-time break, the Dinos started to pick away at the visitors’ lead and tied the game 59-59 in the last minute. Laura Jablonski, always reliable from the free-throw line, sank a pair of foul shots to give the Dinos the lead, and Linnae Bee added two more to ensure the 63-59 win.
Doan scored 20 points and added 13 rebounds. Bee, who played all but five minutes of the game, was second with 11 points and led the team with six assists.
"We didn’t put two 20-minute halves together," concluded forward Alison McGinn, who was kept off the scoresheet on Friday. "The defense wasn’t where we needed it to be."
"I think we dodged a bullet," added coach Shawnee Harle.
Saturday’s game saw the Dinos come out a little better prepared to take the lead and hold on to it. Doan poured in 19 points in the first half as her team took a 42-35 lead, nearly making it 21 at the buzzer. Doan matched her first half total over the second 20 minutes, and when she fouled out with 49 seconds remaining and her point total was announced, she received a standing ovation. The Dinos held on to their seven-point lead through the second half, winning 91-84 and sweeping the playoff series. McGinn came back from her disappointing Saturday game to tie Cathy Payne with 12 points. Doan grabbed 10 rebounds and Bee had nine assists.
"We played pretty well," Harle admitted. "I still think we have the ability to play better. I thought we had too many defensive lapses."
"We managed to put two 20-minute halves together," said McGinn. "We were strong defensively. In the last minutes of the game, it was defense that kept us in the game."
As for her own performance, McGinn said she, "just felt good. I played within myself. I did what I’m capable of doing."
The Dinos did a good job of shutting down Panda stars Jackie Simon and Sara Armstrong, although Cathy Butlin was a surprise force, scoring 51 points over the two games. For most of the season, the Dinos have been able to limit opposing teams’ stars (see Winnipeg’s Erin Soroko or Regina’s Corrin Wersta), but no one has been able to do the same to Doan.
"I’m not sure why," said Doan, in specific reference to Saturday’s game. "They allowed me to catch it in the middle of the key, which is where I like it."
Harle has more of an explanation.
"The main reason is because when Leighann puts her mind to it, it doesn’t matter what you do on defence, it’s not going to work" she said. "The second reason is that [the Dinos] are doing a better job of getting her the ball."
This weekend, the Dinos will put it all on the line when they travel to the University of Victoria for the Canada West final. The Vikes don’t have an offensive star like Doan, but their balanced attack finished the regular season with an 18-2 record.
"They’re going to be great games," said Doan. "They’re a great team, and they’ve shown that by being number-one in Canada all year."
"The team that plays the best defence is going to win that series," Harle emphasized. "We need to do two things: play tough individual defence and great collective team defence.
The Dinos lost both games in the two-game series they played against UVic in November, but there’s no shortage of faith that they can win this time, because of how much the team has grown since then.
"Everybody’s more comfortable with what their role is," said Harle. "Three months ago, we were a very new team. We have six new players this year."
The Vikes have had three months in which to grow together as well, but Harle thinks the Dinos have put the time to better use.
"I don’t think [the Vikes’] need to grow was as great as ours. They were pretty full grown in November."
"This is an awesome opportunity," enthused McGinn. "Last time we played UVic we were a different team. We’re definitely peaking at the right time. The difference [between November and now] is that we believe in ourselves now. We believe we’re good."