Written by Jarrett Fontaine
LANGLEY, B.C. – Trinity Western's women's basketball team advanced to the Canada West semifinals for the first time in program history, as the No. 9-ranked Spartans finished off the Alberta Pandas in two games, taking Game 2 by a 70-64 count to win their quarter-finals best-of-three series Friday at the Langley Events Centre.
With the score 66-64 late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans defence put forth a gutsy effort to hold off the Pandas late push. With Kayla Gordon (Prince George, B.C.) and Tessa Ratzlaff (Abbotsford, B.C.) each knocking down a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds and with Ratzlaff grabbing a critical offensive rebound with six seconds to play, TWU held on for the victory.
TWU will now move on to play the winner of the quarter-final series between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. Prior to this year, the furthest TWU had ever advanced in the postseason was last season, when they made it to the Canada West quarter-finals before losing to Regina.
The win over Alberta also marks the first time in program history that TWU has beaten the Pandas twice in a weekend, including the regular season.
Gordon had a double-double, putting up a team-high 12 rebounds and adding 17 points. Jessie Brown (Langley) had 14 second-half points to finish with a team-high 21 on the night, while Ratzlaff (Abbotsford, B.C.) had 18 points.
Vanessa Wild led the Pandas in scoring with 21 on the night, while teammate Elle Hendershot had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
TWU shot 44.4 per cent from the field, while the Pandas shot 37.3 per cent.
Tessa Ratzlaff hit a late basket to close out a back and forth opening quarter that saw the Spartans lead 18-15 over the Pandas.
Midway through the second quarter the Pandas went on an 8-0 run to take a 23-20 lead. The Spartans responded with a steal and lay-up from Ratzlaff, which was immediately followed by 3-pointer from TWU's Brown. The teams remained tied 31-31 at halftime.
The Spartans offence surged early in the third quarter with a 6-0 run, but the Pandas fought back bringing it within two, 48-46, going to the fourth-quarter.
Midway through the final quarter, the Spartans went on a 6-0 run to go ahead 62-55. The Pandas battled back to come within two, 66-64, before the Spartans sealed the deal with four late free throws.
Head Coach Cheryl Jean-Paul
"I thought we did a great job of responding to their momentum pushes and their big shots. I don't think we ever unraveled to the point where we were out of control. Yesterday, it was about tempo and today they tried to slow us down with their press and I thought we stayed disciplined enough to take care of the press. It was nice to see some people hit some shots today that weren't dropping for them yesterday. I just thought there were really strong stretches of composure and that's what you need to win big games.
On Gordon, Ratzlaff and Brown All Having Big Nights
"Those two years when we went to split divisions, those three (Ratzlaff, Gordon and Brown) had to learn a lot of hard lessons. They had to go up against all-stars every weekend and they had to go against a ranked team almost every other weekend. I think the benefits are that now they're playing like all-stars and we're playing like a ranked team. I wouldn't change those years for anything because I think it really set the tone for what we're achieving right now.
• The Spartans await Saturday's Game 3 result between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg to determine their semifinal opponent. The Huskies won the first game of their series 76-58, while the Wesmen won the second game 93-85.
• If the Huskies win the series, the Spartans will travel to Saskatchewan for the semifinals. If the Wesmen win, TWU will host the Canada West semifinals for the first time in program history.
• Last year, TWU hosted a playoff series for the first time ever. They beat Brandon in the Canada West Play-In best-of-three series.
The Spartans will be in action next weekend in the conference semifinals. The opponent, dates and times have yet to be determined.