Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — Despite not hitting the hardcourt for five weeks, the University of Alberta Pandas showed absolutely no signs of a holiday hangover Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Vanessa Wild sent the Manitoba Bisons in for a wild ride leading Alberta with 24 points in an 87-67 dismantling over Manitoba.
The fourth-year guard also chipped in with five rebounds and four steals, but it was a complete team effort in the dominant win.
Emma Kary scored 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists, while Jenna Harpe chipped in with 11 points, and Lauren Earl had eight points and seven rebounds. In total, 10 players found the scoresheet for Alberta in the win.
Claire Harvey led Manitoba with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
"I thought it was a great growth from this group. Last year we came out flat after Christmas in our first game back and this year, we're just fitter and stronger," said Pandas head coach Scott Edwards.
"We held a mini training camp over the last eight days, and they put in phenomenal work. To see them come out with that performance tonight isn't surprising."
The Pandas extended their win streak to seven games in the victory and despite being a young team, they're finding their groove as the second half of the Canada West season begins.
The victory improves their record to 9-2, while the loss is Manitoba's sixth straight and drops the Bisons below .500 at 5-6.
Right from the opening tip, Alberta was on a mission. They jumped out to a commanding 10-2 lead and after another steal from Wild and a easy lay up, the Pandas led 21-7.
"Vanessa (Wild) hit three three's in the first four or five minutes, and it completely relaxed our team. She's had such a phenomenal season, and it's been a treat to watch her play, and tonight she really gave our team a lot of confidence and they could just go out and play," said Edwards.
"In years past, she would have those games where she'd put up 18-21 points and the next night put up eight. I've really enjoyed watching her evolution as a player for us."
After the offensive outburst in the opening quarter, Alberta started to lock it down defensively and while Manitoba did a good job rebounding, they really forced the Bisons into making some tough shots.
"The first half of the season we really had to depend on making our shots and when you struggle and go 1-for-10 in the first half, our flow isn't there and we question things. We have to grind things out and continue to work hard," said Bisons head coach Michele Sung.
"We have to look at this as one game at a time. We learned a valuable lesson last year in the playoffs that it becomes a one-game season real quickly and we have to play with that mentality in the second half of the season.
Not only were the Pandas making it difficult on the Bisons shooting fortunes, it was just an outright tough shooting night for Manitoba.
The usually dependable Taylor Randall was 3-for-8 from the field and held to just eight points, and Nicole Konieczny was 2-for-11 from the field and limited to eight points, too.
Overall, Manitoba shot 34.7% from the field and just 15.8% (3-of-19) from beyond the arc.
"I just thought we didn't believe when we shot the ball. I think when we shot the ball tonight we don't miss 10 open lay ups, and I felt we didn't have the confidence it was going to go in, and that's so tough at this level when you don't have the belief."
One of Manitoba's biggest strength is their rebounding and Alberta went toe-to-toe against the Bisons all night long. Offensively, Alberta was rolling and they out rebounded Manitoba 49-39, including 33-21 on the defensive glass.
"We pushed the tempo in the first quarter and we scored 27 points, and I thought in the second and third quarters we settled down defensively. They're a tremendous rebounding team and I thought we did a better job keeping them off the glass," said Edwards.
"Our goal is every night to take away that one thing that our opposition likes to score with and force them into another option and I thought we did a good job of that."
Alberta will look for their fourth-straight series sweep and eighth straight win Saturday night against Manitoba. Tip off is 5:00 p.m.