Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — Kendall Lydon stepped to the free throw line with two seconds left and the game in her hands.
The first shot clanked off the front of the rim.
But her second one was right in the heart, giving the Griffins the most important point they would need in a 73-72 upset of the No. 1-ranked team in the U Sports ranks, the Regina Cougars.
"I felt calm," she said after hitting the crucial free throw with all eyes in the City Centre Campus gym on her. "I just knew we had to get a stop and game over. Our team bore down on defence right there, so it was good. If she would have hit that last shot, I would have felt horrible, but I love that kind of pressure."
Regina's Kyanna Giles put up a shot from the middle of the key at the buzzer, but it rolled off the rim, glass and out. Game over.
There will be many confused faces around the country after the Griffins, not given any respect in the Canada West preseason coaches poll (voted 15th of 17 teams), took down the best team in not only the conference, but the country.
"I'm sure people will take note and maybe be a bit surprised to see that result tonight, but it's in the back of my mind," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams, who is in her first year at the helm of the Griffins after serving as an assistant coach with Calgary. "It's not something we think about or talk about. It's about competing and letting the cards fall where they may."
The Griffins proved they can don the work boots as well as anyone as they put on a clinic of determined defence in the second half.
"I really challenged them in the second half," said Adams. "I didn't think we had the same grit and fight that we had yesterday."
MacEwan outplayed Regina in the third quarter when their aggressive defensive machine cranked up the intensity level. Brielle Wise blocked Avery Pearce's three-pointer attempt and then drove under the hoop and scooped it in to pull the Griffins within five late in the third.
In the fourth quarter, the Griffins were even better as they started to believe they could win. Juhee Thompson led at both ends of the floor, but even when she was subbed out after taking her fourth foul with 6:33 left, MacEwan's effort didn't wane.
"We got into foul trouble, so the exciting thing was we did it with a lot of our rotation and not our starters," said Adams, who also had starter Paige Knull on four fouls from the middle of the third quarter on. "So that proves well for the future that we've got lots of kids that can come in and step up."
When Wise hit a three with a minute left, the Griffins took their first lead of the second half at 70-69. Pearce answered with a three of her own as the Cougars regained the lead, but Lydon tied it up by hitting two free throws with 29 seconds left.
In the ensuing scramble after a Regina miss, Lydon was fouled and sent to the line again, this time for the game-winning shot.
"We knew coming into this weekend it was probably going to be the biggest competition we've seen yet," she said. "Yesterday we came out on fire and had a little lapse in the second half.
"Today was probably our greatest team win that we've had all year. We had so many girls stepping up. Brielle stepped it up. Juhee stepped it up. And Kayla (Ivicak). It felt like today was a huge team win. It sounds cheesy, but we did everything together. We were a cohesive unit the entire game. That's how we want to win."
Juhee Thompson led the Griffins with 14 points on 3-for-4 three-point shooting, adding six assists and two steals, while Lydon chipped in 13, and both Ivicak and Wise had 11.
The Cougars, who were without leading scorer Charlotte Kot, who was injured on Friday, were led by Pearce's 15 points, while Kyanna Giles chipped in 14 and eight rebounds. Sara Hubenig added 12 points and seven boards.
The Griffins (2-2) will next host Victoria (1-2, prior to Saturday) for a pair of games Nov. 18-19, while Regina (3-1) gets a weekend off before heading to Trinity Western (2-1, prior to Saturday) on Nov. 25-26.