Arron Lai, Pronghorn Athletics
LETHBRIDGE, Alta - In their first home playoff game since 1994, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns overwhelmed the University of Manitoba Bisons 99-60 in one of four Canada West women's basketball play-in games, earning a berth to the Canada West quarterfinals.
This victory represents the Pronghorns women's basketball programs' first playoff victory since February 15th, 2002, when they defeated the University of Regina on the road.
"I'm really happy with our performance tonight," explained Pronghorns interim head coach Dave Waknuk on his team's play tonight. "I thought we did a great job as a team from start to finish. We executed our defensive plan really well and moved the ball on offense. I couldn't ask for a better team performance, and I'm really happy with how we played tonight."
Entering tonight's matchup as the sixth seed thanks to a 12-8 regular season campaign, the Pronghorns took full advantage of home-court, riding the energy of a near capacity crowd to the historic victory.
The 'Horns showcased a full team effort tonight, with 10 players finding the scoresheet. The Pronghorns were led by Kacie Bosch (17 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds), Amy Mazutinec (17 points, 5 rebounds, on 6 of 9 shooting), and Kathryn Hankins (16 points, 6 rebounds). Asnate Fomina, Danielle Fritzke, and Jessica Zarowny also scored in double digits. The 'Horns recorded 26 assists in the game, while holding Manitoba to only 22 made shots on 81 attempts in the game.
When asked on his team's 26 assists, Waknuk noted: "I think it [speaks] to how unselfish this team is - with 26 assists it means we moved the ball really well. It's not surprising as we've played this way all year, that's just the character of this team - very unselfish."
The Bisons were led by Nicole Konieczny (17 points, 8 rebounds), Addison Martin (15 points, 7 rebounds), and Taylor Randall (15 points).
"We were obviously disappointed," said Bisons head coach Michelle Sung on the result. "We knew we needed to shoot the ball well tonight coming into this gym, and we did not do that. We put ourselves in a really tough position and put a lot of pressure on our defense to get stops. [The 'Horns] played pretty hard for 40 minutes and took advantage."
Both teams started the game with jitters, struggling to find their stroke. It would not be until the 7:30 mark of the first quarter before the Pronghorns would register the first field goal of the game after both teams started the game 0 for 13 from the field. The Pronghorns would be energized from that point on, scoring 4 of their next 6 baskets en route to a 12-0 run.
Lethbridge would overwhelm Manitoba in the first quarter, holding the visitors to only 3 baskets on 22 attempts. An impressive quarter on the defensive end would see the 'Horns take a 30-10 lead into the second quarter.
With playoff nerves seemingly gone from either side, the second quarter would move at a frantic pace with both teams pushing the ball up and down the court. The Bisons seemingly would find a solution to the high-octane 'Horns offense, using an aggressive man defense to stifle the rhythm of the Pronghorns. Whereas the 'Horns would shoot at a 45% rate in the first quarter, they would be held to only 36% shooting in the second on 5 of 14 shooting. The Bisons would record six steals in the quarter, holding the 'Horns to only 16 points in the quarter. Despite this, an equally impressive showing from the Pronghorns defense would see the home side bring a 46-25 lead into halftime.
The Pronghorns started the third quarter resembling the team in the first ten minutes of the game, finding open shooters and lanes en route to a 12-3 run in the quarter's first few minutes. Interim head coach Dave Waknuk's halftime adjustments would seem to pay off, as the 'Horns would nullify the Bisons' man pressure defense with creative screens and looks. The Pronghorns would shoot a game best 58% in the frame, while doubling their assist total from 9 at the half, to 18. The home side would take a comfortable 75-38 lead into the final quarter.
The 'Horns would outscore Manitoba 24-22 in the final frame to take the game 99-60.
"We just got to keep trying to improve and get better as we go," said Waknuk when asked about next week's quarterfinal matchup. "We don't know the opponent yet, we know we will be on the road for a best of three, we will get ready for that. For us, it is just staying healthy this week and continuing to improve on the little things we have been working on since Christmas."
With the victory, the Pronghorns will move on to the Canada West quarterfinals where they will face either Saskatchewan, Calgary, Regina or, Alberta. These teams earned an opening round bye thanks to a finish within the top four in the Canada West standings, and will play host to the 'Horns, and the other three winners of the Canada West play-in games.