CIS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: FINAL 8 PREVIEW

OTTAWA, CIS – All eyes will be on the University of Windsor Lancers this weekend in Regina as the reigning two-time CIS women’s basketball champions will look to become only the fourth team in history to claim the Bronze Baby Trophy for the third consecutive year.

Championship website

The 42nd CIS women’s hoops championship gets underway on Friday at the University of Regina and concludes Sunday at 4 p.m. local time (6 p.m. ET) with the gold-medal final, live on The Score Television Network.

All 11 games from the competition will also be webcast live on www.CIS-SIC.tv.

In addition to the top-seeded and OUA champion Lancers, the teams still in the running for the 2013 Bronze Baby Trophy are the second-ranked Saint Mary’s Huskies (AUS champs), No. 3 and tournament host Regina Cougars (Canada West champs), No. 4 Carleton Ravens (OUA finalists), No. 5 Calgary Dinos (Canada West finalists), No. 6 McGill Martlets (RSEQ champs), No. 7 Fraser Valley Cascades (Canada West bronze medallists) and No. 8 Ottawa Gee-Gees (OUA bronze medallists).

Friday’s schedule sees Windsor kicking off its title defence against Ottawa in the tourney opener at 1 p.m., Calgary facing Carleton at 3 p.m., McGill battling host Regina at 6:30 p.m., and Fraser Valley taking on Saint Mary’s at 8:30 p.m.

To say the Lancers are red hot going into the Final Eight might be an understatement. Since suffering back-to-back defeats at the Concordia Tournament in Montreal during the holiday break, including an embarrassing 72-41 loss to Carleton on December 30, the defending national champions have racked up 17 straight wins, including a 56-51 victory over the Ravens in last Saturday’s OUA final.

Windsor is back at the CIS tourney with most of its formidable lineup from a year ago. Leading the way are Jessica Clemençon, a 6-foot-3 forward from France, and Miah-Marie Langlois, a 5-foot-8 guard from Windsor, both in their fourth campaign with the team.

Clemençon, a two-time all-Canadian and former CIS player of the year, once again led the Lancers in scoring (17.9 per game) and rebounding (7.3) in league play. Langlois, the MVP of the last two national tournaments, had an OUA-best 6.0 assists per contest (second in CIS) and is up for a second straight CIS defensive-player-of-the-year award later this week.

Third-year guard Korissa Williams joined Clemençon and Langlois as an OUA all-star this season. The former junior national team member, who represented Canada at the 2011 FIBA under-19 world championship, contributed 15.1 points per match as Windsor ran the table in conference play with a 21-0 mark.

The Lancers, who were the top offensive (76.8) and defensive (52.2) team in the country during the regular schedule, faced first-round opponent Ottawa once this season, on Nov. 10, and easily prevailed 71-47 on home court.

Windsor hopes to join Winnipeg (1993-1995) and Victoria (1980-1982) as teams to capture three straight Bronze Baby Trophies, while Laurentian holds the all-time record of five consecutive triumphs from 1975 to 1979.

“We are excited to be back at the national championship again this year,” said eight-year head coach Chantal Vallée. “We are fortunate to have a very experienced team having been here in each of the past five seasons and we’ll be relying on that experience to hopefully bring the Bronze Baby back to Windsor again this year.”

Ottawa has the unenviable task of trying to stop Windsor in the quarter-finals.

The Gee-Gees achieved the best result in program history a year ago when they claimed CIS bronze. Despite the loss to graduation of post Hannah Sunley-Paisley, last year’s CIS MVP, Ottawa enjoyed a solid season and finished atop the OUA East standings thanks to a 16-4 record.

The OUA bronze medallists head into the 2013 Final Eight as more of an underdog than last year’s squad. Still, head coach Andy Sparks feels well-prepared for the challenges that await.

“Last weekend we played against very good guards, this weekend we have a strong post player to deal with. It’s nice to know that when we compete on a full time basis, we are right there.”

On the same side of the bracket, the Carleton-Calgary quarter-final will pit the Ravens’ second-ranked defence (52.4) against the Dinos’ fourth-ranked offence (74.2).

Playing in her last competition as a Raven, Alyson Bush is the undisputed leader of the OUA finalists. The fifth-year guard from Ottawa averaged a team-high 14.2 points per game in league play and was named OUA East MVP and defensive player of the year.

Leading the way for the Canada West runner-up Dinos is Jessica Franz, a fifth-year forward from Surrey, B.C., who was the team’s best scorer (16.0) and rebounder (7.7) this season.

“Our team is looking forward to competing this weekend in Regina,” said Taffe Charles, who, in his fourth campaign at the helm two years ago, led the Ravens to their first-ever Final Eight appearance. “It is a great honour to be able to have the opportunity to win a national championship. Hopefully we can put it all together this weekend.”

“We’re excited about the opportunity to fight for a national title with seven other worthy basketball clubs,” said Damian Jennings, who moved to Canada from his native Wales last summer to take over the Dinos program. “We go in focussed to play our best basketball and look forward to the challenges presented by our opponents, starting with Carleton on Friday.”

The other side of the draw is comprised of three teams looking for their first Bronze Baby triumph, as well as a one-time champion who would love nothing more than to break an 11-year drought in from of its home fans.

It had been 36 years since second-seeded Saint Mary’s had won the AUS banner to advance to the national championship. No player contributed more to the Huskies’ resurgence than East Preston, N.S., product Justine Colley.

The fourth-year guard has been nothing short of phenomenal since she arrived on the Halifax campus in the eve of the 2009-10 campaign. This season, she claimed the CIS scoring crown for the third straight year thanks to a remarkable average of 28.2 points per game and once again proved her worth at last weekend’s AUS championship when she averaged 26.5 points and 9.5 rebounds on her way to tournament-MVP honours.

“It is exciting to get to go and compete in the tournament with the best teams in the country,” said Scott Munro, the AUS coach of the year. “Every game will be tough and the familiarity with your opponent is usually not there once you get out of conference. I know we will be playing a very tough UFV team on Friday night. We look forward to getting to Regina and hopefully playing a very good opening game.”

Saint Mary’s quarter-final opponent, Fraser Valley, has even less experience than the Huskies at the Final Eight as the team from Abbotsford, B.C., gets set to make its first-ever appearance at the event. To their defence, the Cascades only joined CIS from the college ranks seven years ago.

UFV had been knocking on the door for a couple of seasons but was eliminated in the CIS regional tournaments each of the past two years. The Cascades finally got over the hump thanks to a 68-57 win over Alberta in last weekend’s Canada West bronze medal game.

“We definitely have a monumental challenge in our first round opponent. Saint Mary’s defends, rebounds and scores with the best teams in the country and they have the leading scorer in Canada in Justine Colley, who is just a great, veteran player,” said Al Tuchscherer, who has been patrolling the Cascades’ sidelines for 11 seasons. ‘We will need to bring our best effort to defeat the number two seed. I know our team is excited about the challenges of this week and we are looking forward to get things going against a very good team.”  

No one will accuse Regina head coach Dave Taylor of neglecting his team’s preparation this year, even though the Cougars were assured a berth in the CIS championship as the host team. Over the course of the season, the Canada West champions faced each of the seven squads they have a chance to meet this weekend, going 9-4 overall against their Final Eight foes, including a lopsided 70-30 victory over McGill on Oct. 20 in Montreal.

The Cougars have been waiting a whole year for a chance at redemption after being upset 75-66 by Calgary as the top seed in the opening round of the 2012 tournament. The last time the CIS competition was held in Regina, in 2009, the local favourites returned to the final for the third time since their lone Bronze Baby triumph in 2001, but lost 68-62 to Simon Fraser.

“We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to host the CIS Championship,” Taylor said. “It’s an extremely deep field and we know we will have to be at our best in order to advance each night.”

Regina’s opponents on Friday, the RSEQ champion Martlets, hope to improve on their showing from a year ago, when they went 0-2 in their first national championship appearance since 1996.

Landing top recruit Mariam Sylla has already paid dividends for head coach Ryan Thorne as he hopes to take his troops to the next level. The 6-foot-1 power forward who hails from Conakry, Guinea, took the Quebec league by storm in her university debut as she was named the conference rookie of the year and a first-team all-star after leading McGill in both scoring (14.6) and rebounding (9.8), finishing third and second in the RSEQ in those statistical categories.

“We are definitely looking to improve on last year’s finish. Our first-round matchup will be a significant challenge as Regina not only has a formidable team but will also feel quite comfortable as they have the hometown crowd on their side,” said Thorne. “I believe we are a pretty balanced team that can find scoring inside the paint or on the perimeter. Our depth is much improved from last year, which will help a great deal.”


CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE (all times LOCAL TIME)

Thursday, March 14

  • 7:30 pm All-Canadian Awards Reception (Casino Regina Show Lounge)

Friday, March 15

  • 1:00 pm Quarter-final #1: No. 8 Ottawa vs. No. 1 Windsor
  • 3:00 pm Quarter-final #2: No. 5 Calgary vs. No. 4 Carleton
  • 6:30 pm Quarter-final #3: No. 6 McGill vs. No. 3 Regina
  • 8:30 pm Quarter-final #4: No. 7 Fraser Valley vs. No. 2 Saint Mary’s

Saturday, March 16

  • 1:00 pm Consolation #1: Loser QF #1 vs. Loser QF #2
  • 3:00 pm Consolation #2: Loser QF #3 vs. Loser QF #4
  • 5:00 pm Semifinal #1: Winner QF #1 vs. Winner QF #2
  • 7:00 pm Semifinal #2: Winner QF #3 vs. Winner QF #4

Sunday, March 17

  • 11:00 am 5th place
  • 1:00 pm Bronze medal
  • 4:00 pm Championship final