Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — If there is such a thing as a 'Knock Em Down, Drag Em Out' old-time basketball game, Saturday's match at City Centre Campus between MacEwan and Winnipeg would have filled the bill.
From bodies flying all over the place to contested balls to aggressive lane slashes … this one had all the elements of as hard-fought an affair as you'll see in the Canada West women's hoops ranks.
Winnipeg managed to match MacEwan's tenacity and made a few more buckets to scrap out a 68-59 affair that enhances their national ranking and improves their record to a Canada West-leading 15-1.
"Great, physical game," agreed Wesmen head coach Tanya McKay. "Both teams, I thought, played pretty tough. MacEwan's fighting for their lives to get into the playoffs, so they were tough."
Although the Griffins fall to 4-12 in the standings as the vice continues to squeeze when it comes to their playoff chances, they were full marks in this one. They shot much better than Friday night (31.8 per cent), despite having most of their shots either contested or taken under duress.
"We talked a lot about turning down good shots to get great shots," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "I thought we did that today, even to the point where I said 'now you've got to be more selfish because we're turning down great shots.'
"We got to the free-throw line 29 times tonight, which is, I think, our season high," she continued. "So it was just that determination of 'I'm going to try to make something happen.' That was really good to see."
Kendall Lydon led the Griffins with 17 points – including going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe – even though she sat for much of the third quarter after getting into foul trouble. Paige Knull chipped in 14 points, while Kayla Ivicak had a warrior's game with 10 points and eight rebounds.
"There was a noticeable difference in our spirit of play from yesterday to today," said Adams. "We came out to compete.
"Winnipeg's a great team and we knew we were going to be in a battle from Minute 1 on Friday night – 80 minutes of basketball is tough to get through. And I was really proud today of how our girls didn't back down.
"You're down and you do your best to claw back and try different things. I know we didn't win on the scoreboard, but for us it was just a good effort and a good way for us to continue into this next crucial part of our season."
Winnipeg had moments of fantastic defensive basketball as they played a disruptor's role to MacEwan's attack. Ending with 18 total steals – including a game-high six from Megan Noonan – the Wesmen contested nearly everything. The scary thing is that McKay thinks their D can be even better.
"I thought we had moments where it was really good," she said. "I think we had moments where we broke down. We tried to get a lot of different lineups in there, so it gives us a good opportunity to see how those lineups do. There was a lot of teaching moments, which was good."
Offensively, the Wesmen were led by Antoinette Miller, who juked, spun and drove her way to a 20-point night, adding five rebounds and four steals. Noonan was fairly unstoppable herself, bucketing 17 points, highlighted by her strong use of the stop-and-drop jumper from the top of the key. Taylor Thorkelsson chipped in 13 points.
"I liked our energy. We were ready to go from the hop," said McKay. "When you're on the road and you're not sleeping in your bed or eating your food at home it's tough on you. But I thought the kids gritted it out, came in here and did what they needed to do."
Next up for the No. 8 nationally-ranked Wesmen is a home series against No. 2 Regina (14-2) on Feb. 3-4. On the same nights, MacEwan will welcome UBC-Okanagan (3-13. Both Friday games will feature annual Shoot for the Cure promotions.
Adams feels the Griffins can build off their effort against Winnipeg as they aim for one of the final Canada West playoff spots. They're two points out with four games to go.
"It's a nice way to garner momentum into the next week of training going into our last weekend of play at MacEwan (this season)," she said of Saturday's final home game of the regular season when the Griffins will honour their graduating seniors.