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Gaels capture East division title; qualify for CIS women’s basketball tournament

March 2, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

As they left their bench after a timeout late in their game Saturday night, the Queen’s Golden Gaels were clearly a relaxed bunch. The smiles and high fives belied the fact there were 30 seconds left in a game whose outcome remained in doubt, one that had as its prize a berth in the national championship tournament.

Down the floor, the Carleton Ravens hid their anxiety a little less well. Some looked like they were a popped paper bag away from clinging to the ceiling by their fingertips.

The juxtaposition arose from more than the fact that the Gaels had a three-point lead. The Ravens had, after all, forced overtime with a three-point shot that beat the closing buzzer by four-tenths of a second.

The Gaels were simply a more confident bunch.

In what was perhaps the defining moment of the game, Emily Hazlett stole the ball at the top of her own key and took it down the floor for a layup to grow the Queen’s lead to five points with more than a dozen seconds to play. The Gaels’ 62-58 victory as all but assured.

It was a risky play that could have backfired and wound up giving Carleton an easy three-point shot, but the confidence Hazlett displayed in attempting it reflected the calm that allowed Queen’s to score as many points in a five-minute overtime as they did in any 10-minute quarter in regulation time.

Gaels coach Dave Wilson said the seeds of this confidence were sewn one Saturday night in the fall, in a dressing room in Waterloo. The Gaels won that night, ending a three-game losing streak, and Wilson invited an old friend to speak with his players.

Jenn Robertson-Wilson was at Queen’s the last time the Gaels went to the national championship, 2003, serving the team as its mental skills coach. She later did masters and PhD study in sports psychology and now teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“She came in, just off the cuff, and talked about confidence, where it comes from, how you get it,” Wilson said. “I never know what the kids will pick up — it was after a game, they were tired — but I went to practice Monday and said, ‘What did you get out of Jenny’s talk?’

“They hit the four points she made right off the bat. It was like, ‘Really? You guys got all that?’ To me, that talk was the turning point of our season. The kids started to think about how they could believe in themselves and that’s all we’ve been talking about since then: Building little successes, just proving we’re a little bit better.”

Most of his players had never beaten Toronto in their intercollegiate careers, Wilson said. “All of them had never beaten Ottawa; all of them had never beaten Carleton; all of them never won a second-round playoff game. These were firsts for all of them, and every step of the way we just kept saying, ‘Yeah, but we’re not even at our best yet. We can do better.’

“The kids are starting to believe it.”

Saturday’s win gives the Gaels a berth in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport tournament, March 13-16. Before they go there, however, they will play the Windsor Lancers for the OUA title, next Saturday in Windsor.

With an overflow crowd in the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre watching, despite some dreadful shooting the home team held a narrow lead for most of the first half — 26-25 at halftime — but then the Gaels stumbled badly in the third quarter, as a 9-1 run had the Ravens leading by eight points midway through the period.

The Gaels got within one point going into the fourth quarter, then they grabbed the lead at 46-45 with 2:45 to play. When Liz Boag hit one of two free throws with 8.3 seconds left on the clock, Queen’s led 48-45. Carleton, which had scored just six points in the period to that point — and none at all in more than three minutes — got a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer from McKenzie Sigurdson, a line-drive shot from well beyond the stripe that couldn’t possibly have gone in if it had any less arc on it.

The teams traded baskets in the first half of overtime. Boag hit a pair of free throws to give Queen’s a 55-54 lead with 61 seconds left, Elizabeth Roach hit a foul shot to tie the score with 49.6 seconds on the clock, then Meaghan MacDougall hit a foul shot for Queen’s with 34.3 seconds left.

When MacDougall missed her second free throw, Jenny Wright snagged the rebound and put it back in for a three-point Queen’s lead. Then came Hazlett’s dramatic steal that gave the Gaels their biggest lead since early in the second quarter.

Hazlett had come into the game for good midway through the third quarter, by which time Carleton’s Elizabeth Roach had 25 points. With Hazlett guarding her, however, Roach managed one more point to the end of regulation time. Meanwhile, Hazlett scored seven points to fuel a late third-quarter rally in which the Gaels scored nine of 11 points.

“Emily is our spark plug, no question about it,” Wilson said. “She is such a tenacious defender. She’s in great shape, so she’s never tired. We know opponents hate to have her on them.

“She’s done what she did today numerous times, where at the every of the end of the play, the offence is a little bit more tired, they think they can reverse the ball, come back the other way and be careful with it, and she’ll scoot around and just take it away.”

The Ravens weren’t done, however, as Lindsay Shotbolt hit a three-point shot to cut the Ravens’ deficit to two points with 9.7 seconds left. Carleton was forced to foul, however, and when MacDougall made both her free throws, the four-point lead was finally too much for the visitors to overcome.

“We can wear other teams down. We can go at them with more players,” said Wilson, whose team is now 3-0 in overtime this year, including a game in Ottawa where the Gaels outscored the home team 14-3 in the extra period after having scored just 43 points in 40 minutes of regulation play.

“That’s a nice thing coming (into overtime),” he said. “All we talked about was this is where we play our best.”

Certainly, the Gaels weren’t at their best in the first half, when they were successful on just 23 per cent of their shots from the field, and were only 2-for-10 from three-point range. Wilson attributed the poor shooting to nerves, and to Carleton’s defence.

“They’re a grind-out, physical defensive team,” he said. “It’s hard to get good, clean looks and because they’re so few and far between, when you get one, you’re rushing it.

“That’s we talked about that at halftime. We’re a much better shooting team than that.”

Queen’s was led by Wright, who scored 18 points, five of them in overtime, and Boag, who scored 15, most of them from the free-throw line on a night when she was 3-for-19 from the field. Hazlett came off the bench to score nine for the Gaels.

Roach led all scorers with 27 points, 12 more than her regular-season per-game average. With 10 points, Shotbolt was the only other Raven to reach double figures.

Carleton will now host Laurier, 86-58 loser to Windsor Saturday night in the West division final, for Ontario’s third berth at the national championship. As host, Windsor was already assured a spot in the CIS competition and by winning its way into the tournament, opened the way for another team to have that third spot.

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