Griffins honour graduating seniors in season finale, but fall to playoff-bound Spartans

Paige Knull drives on Trinity Western's Breanna Cabuco in the last game of her five-year university career on Saturday night (Chris Piggott photo).
Paige Knull drives on Trinity Western's Breanna Cabuco in the last game of her five-year university career on Saturday night (Chris Piggott photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – A night of reflection on the past and the future followed the final women's basketball game of the 2017-18 season in the David Atkinson Gym on Saturday night.

The visiting Trinity Western Spartans reflected on lessons that can help them in the future after they closed out the regular season with a 68-54 win over the MacEwan Griffins that secured them a bye past the first round of the Canada West playoffs.

The home side, meanwhile, bid farewell in an emotional post-game ceremony to graduating seniors Paige Knull and Kerilynn MacLennan, reflecting on the finest moments of their illustrious university careers that both began in 2013.

Both left it all on the court in their final game as Knull had 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal, while MacLennan scored eight with four boards and two steals in her final game.

"They did and I would expect nothing less because they're competitors," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams. "Success isn't counted in wins and losses. We wanted to have a good performance today and feel good about how we ended our season. That's exactly what I expected from them."

The Spartans book-ended their season in Edmonton, starting it at Alberta and finishing it at MacEwan, piling up a ton of victories in between for a 16-4 record that, pending final RPI calculations, appears to lock them into third place. The top four seeds get byes past the play-in round next weekend.

"It's still just about one game at a time," said Spartans head coach Cheryl Jean-Paul. "With the RPI and everything, we've been able to look at the stats after every weekend and say now we could potentially finish here. Now it's official.

"It's just really been about staying in the process as much as possible. Every weekend we've had an opponent that has showed us something that we have to continue getting better at. We try to stay in (the process) regardless of (who we're playing). I think because of that we've found ways to get better.

"I think it's just been an incredible journey and we hope we still have a few more weeks left of basketball."

MacEwan will finish out of the playoffs with a 4-16 record, but they, too, pushed the Spartans, who had to adjust to the Griffins' defensive intensity.

"They came out with a lot of intensity yesterday that we didn't match, so the theme for us today was to be able to match the push," said Jean-Paul. "For us, we have playoffs to look forward to, so there's an intrinsic motivation for us to make sure we're continuing to get better every single time we step onto the floor.

"Like I said yesterday, MacEwan is a very tough team defensively and made us work very hard, had a great fourth quarter to finish the season off. We're just really happy to get out of here healthy and with a win."

In contrast to Friday's contest, where they spotted MacEwan an early 10-0 lead, the Spartans started hitting shots right from the tip-off on Saturday and set the tone early. It seems no matter what the Griffins did, they couldn't really get closer than 10 points behind.

"That's a good team who hits shots," said Adams. "I thought we had some possessions where we'd play pretty good D and they'd hit a tough shot. That's the best we could do.

"But you get to a point where you can't keep trading baskets. You have to get to that point where you put together consecutive stops and we just struggled with that today."

TWU leading scorer Tessa Ratzlaff had a terrific first half with 16 of her game-high 22 points. Kayla Gordon chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Jessie Brown added 12 points and Sarah Buckingham was the hot hand from beyond the arc, going 3-for-6.

"She's just such a great athlete," Jean-Paul said of Ratzlaff. "It's hard to stay with all of the different things that she can do. We talked about just making sure we are a threat at all times. I think she really took that upon herself to make sure she's a threat and challenged whoever was defending her."

Besides the solid performance of their graduating seniors, MacEwan was led by fourth-year guard Kayla Ivicak, who had 14 points and six rebounds a night after setting the school record with her ninth double-double of the season. Rookie Mackenzie Farmer bucket 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench.

Farmer and others represent a bright future for the Griffins and a building season like the one they went through can only serve as a stepping stone.

"Right now, it's experience and it's learning, and we won't see the benefits of it until we step back onto the court next year, but our veterans really did a great job in showing them the way and showing they can compete in this league," said Adams.

The Griffins now head into the off-season, while the Spartans will await a yet-to-be-determined foe to emerge from the Play-In games this weekend. They will host a best-of-three series in Langley, B.C. on the Feb. 15-18 weekend.