The MacEwan University Griffins held the visiting UNBC Timberwolves to just a single point in the opening quarter of their Friday night match and staved off a late rally to post a 58-50 win at the David Atkinson Gym.
“Defensively, we came out with a real focus,” said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. “They have three players who have really been dominant for them so far (Vasiliki Louka, Maria Mongomo and Madison Landry) and we said, ‘we don’t want to let them beat us.’
“We know they’re excellent players, we know they’re going to get scores, but we want to make them work for everything they get. I thought it was a really great team effort to make that happen.”
The 6-foot-3 Louka, who hails from Athens, Greece, came into the contest averaging 16.9 points and 12.0 rebounds a game, but the Griffins double teamed her early and often, holding her to just seven points and eight boards in 38 minutes.
As a team, UNBC shot just 21 per cent from the field in the first half as they tried to adjust.
“It’s a very different style,” said Timberwolves head coach Sergey Shchepotkin. “MacEwan played very tough, (gritty) basketball. So, we weren’t really ready. We knew that they were playing tough, but we didn’t expect (it to be so) tough, so it’s a good lesson for us.”
Had MacEwan shot better than 17.6 per cent in the opening quarter, the game might have been all but over at the break. As it stood, even with middling shooting, the Griffins led 27-15 at the half and built a seemingly insurmountable 21-point lead midway through the third quarter.
But hold your horses. Led by Mongomo who went 4-for-10 from three-point land, the Timberwolves started hitting from behind the arc and put forth a zone defence that forced MacEwan into mistakes and misses offensively.
Riding a gradual, but overwhelming wave of momentum, the T’Wolves erased the big deficit with bucket after bucket and offensive rebound after offensive rebound, and were down just two with 1:31 remaining.
“Of course, when we are playing to our game, it’s much easier,” said Shchepotkin. “When we are frustrated, it doesn’t work like we expect. Three points are always good.”
But just when it seemed UNBC, who never held a single lead in the contest, was going to steal one, the Griffins found someone who could put the ball in the bucket.
Enter Kayla Ivicak. The fourth-year guard’s jumper with 1:15 left made it a four-point game and when she stole the ball off Louka and drained a three-pointer with 44 seconds remaining, it effectively sealed a win for the Griffins.
“As always, Kayla really leads us in so many ways,” said Adams. “They always say your best players have to be your hardest workers and I think she exemplifies that. There’s no one on the floor who works harder than she does. It’s a great example for our younger players and it’s a great example for the rest of our team to follow.”
Ivicak narrowly missed her fifth double-double in seven games this season when she recorded 23 points and nine rebounds, adding a game-high six steals.
Kristen Monfort-Palomino, who made two late clutch free throws, chipped in 10 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists.
With the result, the Griffins improve to 2-5, while the Timberwolves fall to 3-6.
The only complaint on the night for the Griffins were too many missed shots, especially from the perimeter as they went just 3-for-17 from behind the arc.
“We’re getting some good looks,” said Adams. “They mixed things up defensively, which we struggled with at times to see kind of what was in front of us. It was a little bit blinded by ‘this is what we’re trying to run’ and not seeing what the defence is giving us. There’s definitely some things to look at for tomorrow.”
The Timberwolves were led by Mongomo’s double-double – 20 points and 10 boards as she really caught fire late in the contest.
It’s possible UNBC found the right formula in the fourth quarter, but Shchepotkin is reserving judgment on changes for Saturday’s rematch (5 p.m., Atkinson Gym).
“We’ll see,” he said. “It’s a good job from MacEwan. They played really tough and really good defence and offence. A lot of credit to them.”