It's March, and as any basketball fan knows, that means that it's time for March Madness. No, not NCAA, we're talking about the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union. Yep, our very own University of Calgary women earned a spot to participate in Nationals for the second straight year. The Dinos represented the Canada West Conference as the third seed in an eight-team tournament that put them up against the sixth-ranked Dalhousie Tigers. This is a single-elimination competition which means every game is a must-win situation.
The U of C did not want to take the Tigers lightly so they went into the game with a lot of confidence in their ability--but they were by no means cocky. The Dinos were right to expect a good game as they took a two-point lead into the locker room for half time. Natalie Hudec was the spark plug from the perimeter as she went three-for-three from long range during the game to end up with 11 points and Leighann Doan was unstoppable throughout the game as she paced the Dinos to a 74-67 victory over the Tigers while pouring in 28 points and pulling down 11 boards. Anna Bekkering gave a solid performance as she chipped in 11 points and four assists.
The eighth seed--and host--University of Alberta Pandas were matched against the number-one team in the country for the opening round and handed Laval Rouge et Or a defeat in impressive fashion by a score of 79-64. The Pandas eliminated Laval from medal contention with this win, led by Diane Smith's 23 points. This was good news for Calgary because Laval was the only team in the tournament the Dinos had played and not defeated at least once.
With the number one team and favourite for the gold medal eliminated this gave the U of C a great chance to win the gold; they just had to get by the Regina Cougars first.
This was easily the most exciting game of the tournament and many Headline Sports and TSN analysts dubbed it the actual gold medal game. Coach Harle has had her team playing their best ball of the season and they came out on fire Friday afternoon against the Cougars, jumping out to a nine point half time lead. There was a reason why the Cougars were the second seed in the tournament and they showed it in the second half as they clawed at the Calgary lead. A Sarah Williams three ball late in the game brought the Dinos back to within two points of the Cougars. After a Regina free throw, the U of C trailed by three and they were on their way to a game tying shot when the Cougar defence forced the Dinos to turn the ball, and eventually the game, over. The final score was 71-67. The Dinos were led by Doan once again as she put up Chris Webber-like numbers with 25 points, 14 rebounds and two assists. Williams had a big shooting game, going 3/4 from beyond the arc and ending with 13 points.
Coach Harle was well aware of the reason the Dinos just couldn't execute in the second half.
"I don't think we played our best ball in the semi-final," she said. "We struggled offensively against their zone defence, and we weren't able to get the ball reversed. We played quite tentatively."
Calgary was eliminated from gold medal contention but they weren't done yet. They still had the chance to bring home the bronze with a victory over the Queen's University Golden Gaels. The Dinos weren't about to take this game as if it meant nothing, and they came out with a vengeance. Calgary jumped out to a 18-2 lead and never looked back. The Dinos defence was absolutely stifling throughout the game as they completely shut down the Golden Gaels on their way to an easy 82-60 win and the bronze medal. Coach Harle managed to rotate every single player into the game for a good portion of minutes. The game's high scorer was Doan with 19 points. Jennifer Goldade had a huge game as she scored 12 points and dished out 10 assists. Hudec and Williams provided the long range threats as usual and Jen Elford contributed defense as well as six points.
The bronze medal wasn't the only award the Dinos came home with. Doan won her second straight CIAU Player of the Year award and was named a first-team All-Canadian for the fourth straight year.
"It was a no-brainer," coach Harle said of Doan's number one ranking. "It's well deserved; she had an outstanding year. She led this team to a conference championship."