Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – In a scene reminiscent of watching your sibling open up that Christmas gift that you wish was yours, the Winnipeg Wesmen glumly observed the MacEwan Griffins celebrate their first win of the Canada West women's basketball season against them on Friday night.
But, much like finding the same gift under the tree a little later, their sadness turned to joy on Saturday. After a string of five-straight losses to start the season, the Wesmen finally got in the win column with a 75-34 blowout of the Griffins to earn a weekend split.
"Wow. It's been a tough stretch and it takes a toll on a team," said Wesmen head coach Tanya McKay. "Just like for them last night – they hadn't won a game and that was a big win for them. We didn't play well, but they played very well.
"We've been kind of waiting for ourselves to connect and I think we're finally going in that direction where we're connecting."
It all started from a ferocious defensive game plan that cut off MacEwan's passing lanes, forced them into 26 turnovers and kicked the Wesmen out into transition where they had some success.
"That's what defines us. We play tough D," said McKay. "We're so athletic, but we're a different team from last year. We're still trying to find our bearings with a new point guard.
"We have six returning (players) and six new and we're trying to find our way. We lost two kids to knee surgery, so it's been a very interesting stretch."
MacEwan buckled under that defensive pressure and their shooting went ice cold. In three of the four quarters, they failed to reach double digits for points, ending the game with a 23 per cent success rate from the field.
"Credit to Winnipeg," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "They came out and really pressured us and got us on our heels early. When you get in that situation, sometimes it's tough to gain our momentum back and be confident in the shots you're taking.
"Winnipeg did a great job in that regard. We knew they'd come out hard with the way things went yesterday, but I think some of our inexperience showed in being able to handle that pressure and respond accordingly."
The Wesmen had four players in double digits in a total team effort offensively. Both Faith Hezekiah and Jessica Dyck had 16 points, while Farrah Castillo chipped in 12 points and four steals, and Lena Wenke bucketed 10.
"Last night hurt," said McKay. "MacEwan's a good team and they played hard last night, and we didn't. We couldn't match their intensity last night.
"So, the kids wanted to challenge them today and come in and show that we can raise the bar. And we did."
MacEwan didn't have a single player in double digits in their coldest offensive performance of the season. Darian Mahmi led the way with nine points, while Mackenzie Farmer had seven. Besides another game with way too many turnovers, two other particularly glaring stats stand out: The Griffins shot just 2-for-26 from the three-point line and only took 11 free throw attempts.
"A big part of the shots and the shooting percentages is we weren't getting quality looks," said Adams. "We weren't moving the ball as well and working together well to generate the scoring opportunities. I think it shows in our free throw attempts. We just didn't get to the line as much. We weren't getting the ball inside to collapse the D to create the opportunity and get those easy looks outside.
"Really, really good lessons for us moving forward and something I hope we can learn from and grow."
Both teams are now 1-5 in the standings. The Griffins will next host UFV on Nov. 16-17, while the Wesmen head home to host Saskatchewan on the same dates.