The Gee-Gees women’s basketball team clinched a first round playoff bye by defeating the Toronto Varsity Blues 72-61 on home court Friday night. Ranked tenth in the country, Ottawa needed a fourth-quarter comeback to pull out the win in a game which was close throughout and featured six lead changes.
After no team had pulled ahead by more than seven through the first three quarters, it was the clutch shooting of Jenna Gilbert which broke the game open in the final five minutes. Gilbert hit the go-ahead three pointer when the score was tied 54-54 as part of her 15 fourth quarter points.
The fourth-year forward totalled 24 points, her season-high, and six rebounds in her return to the line-up after missing the last six games. “We were running our offence a bit better at the end. They were easy shots, they were open shots because my team mates were getting me open,” said Gilbert, who was unsure how many minutes she would play at the beginning of the game.
With everything feeling good, Gilbert logged twenty-nine minutes and said she felt strong throughout the physical battles down low. “We knew they were a good team coming in, that they were tough and aggressive. We just tried to be the tougher team.”
“It was a funny one for us. There were a number of opportunities that went by the wayside, but Jenna was big for us,” said Gee-Gees head coach Andy Sparks.
Ottawa held a slim lead at the end of the first quarter courtesy of fine play inside by first-year centre Katherine Lemoine, who got the start in place of Maddie Stephen. Toronto opened a six-point lead with relentless transition attacks before Kayte Chase hit a long-range bucket and Gilbert hit an inside basket at the end of the quarter to put Ottawa ahead 17-15.
After a very low-scoring second quarter, Ottawa continued to lead at halftime and then opened a seven point advantage in the third before the Blues came storming back. The quick-striking Toronto attack was led by Rachel Sider, who finished the game with 21 points.
Toronto entered the final frame leading by three and although Sparks was not happy with defensive effort at the start of the fourth, the Gee-Gees picked things up with five minutes to play for two key stops which turned the tide in Ottawa’s favour.
Working with Julia Soriano at the top of the defence, Kayte Chase forced a turnover which Soriano collected and ran back the other way. Soriano and Kellie Ring made back-to-back tough transition layups off Toronto turnovers to tie the game up at 54-54.
The stage was set for Gilbert, who stepped into two of her signature three pointers to stretch the Ottawa lead to 60-55. Although Ottawa was burned once more by Toronto’s quick transition, they were able to close out the game with an amazing thirty point outburst on offence.
“We tried to bring a lot of tempo on the defensive end, and I think we had trouble controlling ourselves emotionally on the offensive end as a result,” said Sparks of the opening three quarters. “But the tempo was where we need it, that’s how we are going to play our best.”
Kellie Ring led the Gee-Gees’ rebounding efforts on the night, earning a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds along with five assists and four steals. Toronto’s Jill Stratton netted 16 as the only other scorer to hit double digits. Kayte Chase chipped in nine points off the Ottawa bench, and 5-foot-2 Julia Soriano sniffed out seven rebounds.
The win means that uOttawa can finish no worse than second in the OUA East. The team has earned a first round playoff bye and will host a playoff game on Saturday February 23. The Gee-Gees will continue to try to catch the first place Carleton Ravens when they take to the court for Saturday night’s match with the Ryerson Rams.