Griffins get away from trademark strong defence in yielding Cougars' first win of season

Kayla Ivicak had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Trinity Western on Friday for her ninth double-double of the season - a new MacEwan Canada West record (Chris Piggott photo).
Kayla Ivicak had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Trinity Western on Friday for her ninth double-double of the season - a new MacEwan Canada West record (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Determined to put an end to a 13-game, season-long losing streak, the Mount Royal University Cougars set up shop outside the three-point line in the first quarter on Saturday night.

Raining down treys like fire and brimstone on the heads of the MacEwan Griffins, they gained an early advantage and gained confidence.

After that, the Cougars never trailed and closed out a 70-61 triumph that finally gets them into the win column at the conclusion of the eighth weekend of the Canada West women's basketball season.

"I think for us it's a little bit of a relief because I think they deserved this," said Cougars head coach Nathan McKibbon, whose team improves to 1-13. "Not that MacEwan didn't deserve it. Katherine (Adams) does a fantastic job with her group and they've obviously had a couple very good years with her at the helm.

"I just think our girls were due because of how well and how hard our kids have played all year. I think it's a little more of a validation of 'hey we're better than our record dictates.' "

Essentially the tale of the tape was at the three-point line – a massive 24-point swing in the contest as MRU made 10 of 33 attempts and MacEwan made just 2 of 20.

"They made shots and we didn't," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "Credit to them. They generated those and we weren't able to scramble and rotate quick enough to contest them. They made shots, which ultimately you need to do to win basketball games."

Seems simple enough, but there were some nice schemes by the Cougars going on to create open looks and ball movement. Boiled down, they regularly got the ball into the high post, attracted attention and kicked it back out to their long-range snipers.

Unfortunately for the Griffins, it wasn't just one hot shooter they needed to deal with. Six different Cougars struck from beyond the arc, led by Michelle Tiffany's four threes, en route to a game-high 16 points. Both Gala Mestres and Maria Blanco had 10 points each.

MacEwan was led by Kristen Monfort-Palomino's 13 points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes, while Kayla Ivicak recorded her seventh double-double of the season (10 points and 10 rebounds), putting her just one shy of Kelly Fagan's Canada West school record of eight set in 2014-15.

Ivicak added three steals, two of them coming during a furious fourth-quarter defensive effort by the Griffins that nearly got them back in the game. A full-court press yielded five steals in the final five minutes and helped them cut MRU's once 15-point lead to just six heading into the final minute.

But they fell short.

"It's a risk-reward what you get out of it," said Adams. "We actually got some steals and got to the free-throw line, which was good, but it wasn't enough and we weren't able to accumulate enough stops or steals in a row. And then we didn't score on them. We didn't convert when we did get the ball back and it just didn't give us an opportunity in the end to make it a game."

Again, missed shots haunted the Griffins in a game they shot 30.9 per cent overall. And the Cougars improved dramatically from a 53-49 loss to the Griffins on Friday – scoring at an 11.9 per cent greater clip. Their ball movement was so much better they looked like a different team.

"When we came into the half, we had 14 baskets and 13 assists," said McKibbon. "Thirteen assists is a good number to have at the end of the game. To have assists on over 90 per cent of your made shots, I think that's a great number. Again, it shows to the quality of basketball that we've played.

"We started to make some of the shots we didn't make yesterday. It was really nice to see a lot of those shots set up by teammates – an extra pass for the better shot. It was fun, especially that first half."

Part of their success was on the MacEwan defence, which didn't really show its tiger teeth until the fourth quarter.

"I think we've prided ourselves on being a tough defensive team so far this year," said Adams, whose squad was once leading Canada West in forced turnovers. "That's gotten away from us in the first two games back after Christmas, so we've got to find that again."

The Griffins (4-10) next head to UBC (6-8) on Jan. 19-20, while the Cougars will host Alberta (6-8) in a visit on the same dates.