July 24th, 2024

Ravens edge Huskies 70-67 to defend U Sports women’s basketball title

By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on March 11, 2024.

University of Saskatchewan Huskies' Tea DeMong (4) goes up for the shot as Carleton Ravens' Jacqueline Urban (22) and teammate Tatyanna Burke (6) try to block during first half USports Women's Final Basketball Championship, in Edmonton, Sunday, March 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON – Protecting a three-point lead with one possession left in the U Sports women’s basketball title game, Carleton Ravens coach Dani Sinclair had a simple message for her team.

Do not allow any of the five Saskatchewan Huskies on the floor an easy three-point shot.

Her team responded. The ball got into the hands of Husky Logan Reider, but she was blanketed by two Ravens. She threw up a prayer of a one-handed shot that smacked the backboard, hit the front rim, and then rocketed harmlessly away from the basket.

With that, the Ravens defended their U Sports women’s basketball crown. The second-seeded Ravens won a 70-67 thriller over the top-seeded University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Sunday’s championship final at Edmonton’s Saville Centre.

“The message was to not let anyone shoot a three,” said coach Sinclair of her team’s final defensive stand. “There were multiple people on the floor for them that can (drain a three). We were just trying to make sure that nobody got a clean shot off.”

The Ravens’ scoring-by-committee effort outdid a heroic night from Saskatchewan’s Gage Grassick, who recorded 30 points for the Huskies.

After the game, a teary-eyed Grassick said she didn’t want to speak about her individual accomplishments.

“It’s more about the team effort,” she said. “You look at us as a whole, and not so much individually. I am so proud of my teammates.

“Carleton’s a great team, they’re defending national champions for a reason. We gave it our all and, at the end of the day, we came up just a bit short.”

The Huskies led 63-59 halfway through the fourth quarter, after a three-pointer from Carly Ahlstrom brought the heavily pro-Saskatchewan crowd to its feet. But the Huskies’ shooting went ice cold down the stretch.

“We base ourselves on our defence,” said Sinclair. “I thought we were a bit scattered defensively for a lot of the game. But a lot of the credit goes to Saskatchewan.

“Gage Grassick, my gosh, she did a great job against us tonight and got us out of rotations and got us caught, and we left a lot of people open. So, I thought, finally, in the last three minutes we kind of settled in. “¦ I’m just really proud of the performance we had in the last three minutes.”

A field goal from Tatyanna Burke gave Carleton a 64-63 lead. Burke’s field goal to give Carleton a five-point lead with just 47 seconds left was the dagger through the Huskies’ collective heart. She finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Ravens guard Kali Pocrnic, who had been held to just four points in the first half, heated up in the second. She led the Ravens with 18 points. Pocrnic had been the Ravens’ star in the lead-up to the final, scoring 22 points in the semifinals and 25 in the quarterfinal stage. She was named tournament MVP.

“What does the MVP mean for me? At the end of the day, as long as I get a win for my team and we’re doing it all for each other, it really doesn’t matter,” said Pocrnic. “If I didn’t get it, I didn’t get it. It is what it is. I’m happy I got it, but at the end of the day, good for my team.”

The game brought together the two dominant programs in women’s basketball over the last decade. Going into the game, Saskatchewan and Carleton accounted for four national championships over the past seven years.

Despite the geographical divide between the two teams, Pocrnic said that Carleton and Saskatchewan measure themselves against each other.

“They’re always neck-and-neck with us, the number 1 or number 2 ranking in Canada. We always hear stuff about them, we see posts about them, how they’re destroying people on their side. I guess there’s a little competition there, and it’s always fun to know there’s tougher teams to look out for.”

Carleton and Saskatchewan had only lost one game each heading into the final.

Grassick committed two fouls early in the first quarter, but coach Claire Meadows elected to keep her in the game. It was the right call, as her 30 points and five assists together accounted for more than half of the Huskies’ offence.

Despite being a smaller team than the Huskies, the Ravens won the rebounding battle by a 45-42 margin. They were led by Jacqueline Urban’s 13 boards. She was injured late in the second quarter after a collision with Saskatchewan’s Courtney Primeau, but returned after the half with a taped right knee.

BASELINES: Despite being the No. 1 and 2 seeds in the Final 8, Carleton and Saskatchewan didn’t get a player on U Sports’ season-ending all-Canadian First Team. Grassick (Saskatchewan) and Pocrnic (Carleton) were on the Second Team. “¦ Laval won the bronze-medal game 76-62 over Queen’s, led by 25 points from Léa-Sophie Verret. “¦ The host University of Alberta Pandas lost the fifth-place game 65-62 to the St. Mary’s Huskies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2024.

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