Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON — With clutch baskets late in the fourth quarter, the MacEwan University Griffins finally warded off a pesky challenge from the visiting UBC-Okanagan Heat to snap an eight-game losing streak with a 61-50 win on Friday night.
Not only did the victory give the Griffins some much-needed life after not celebrating a win since Nov. 25, it moves their record to 5-12, improving their chances of nabbing one of the final Canada West playoff spots.
"It's pretty crucial," said third-year guard Kayla Ivicak, who put the Griffins on her back with a gritty double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds). "It's a confidence boost for ourselves and it's needed."
Ivicak and fellow St. Albert product Paige Knull, who had 17 points, seemed to have the answers at the right time for a Griffins team that suffered through a very uneven offensive outing. MacEwan's offence had its fair share of cold spells in the game – such as a five-minute drought in the first quarter and a three-minute one in the third that conceded a 12-1 run.
But the key is they overcame.
"It certainly wasn't our prettiest game of the year," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams. "We just gritted it out.
"Shots weren't falling; we'd give up an easy one. We'd have a rebound and it would get knocked out of our hands. But we just found a way to get a crucial stop and come down and score at the other end in those critical moments when we needed it.
"We found a way to get it done."
UBC-Okanagan, which falls to 3-14 after the defeat, started about as slowly as a team possibly could, shooting just 7.7 per cent (1-for-13) in bucketing three first quarter points. If not for MacEwan missing several open shots, the Griffins might have taken a much larger lead than the 10-point advantage they enjoyed going into the second quarter.
But the Heat chipped away, gaining their legs before half-time, and started dominating the inside game.
"We had a slow start and I thought my girls responded well," said Heat head coach Claire Meadows. "At the end of the day when you don't shoot the ball well, it's hard to win basketball games. We missed some good chances and MacEwan was the better team."
The Heat were still gaining momentum in the third quarter, going on a 12-1 run that was punctuated by a steal and lay-in basket by Claire Elliott to give them their first lead of the game – 34-33 at 3:05.
That's when Adams called a TSN turning point timeout. The animated coach implored her squad to find the defensive effort that gave nationally-ranked Winnipeg fits last weekend. They listened and never trailed again in the contest.
"I think we just stayed the course," said Adams. "Both teams were tired at the end and we had some great back cuts at the end of the clock that resulted in some easy shots for us. At the other end, we dug in and contested their shots. For them, that made it a little bit tougher."
The Griffins even endured another three-minute offensive drought in the fourth quarter before Ivicak broke it with 4:18 left. She wasn't the only Griffins player with key plays down the stretch – Alex Lauber had nine rebounds, Kendall Lydon had a quiet offensive night but managed seven assists, and Kristen Monfort-Palomino had two key steals late.
"We work together as a team. We came together. I wouldn't have been able to create all that myself," Ivicak said of the double-double. "It was the team distributing the ball and seeing me at the right time. And the effort. Everyone putting effort in.
"I think that's something I like to pride myself on is effort. I never give up. It's just a mentality that I have that helps me to succeed."
Chloe Kennedy was the only Heat player in double digits, leading her team in scoring with 12 points.
The teams will meet again on Saturday (5 p.m. City Centre Campus) for Senior Night. Graduating fifth-year Griffins Lydon and Lauber will be honoured after playing their final home regular-season game.