After losing the first game their last two trips to the USPORTS Final 8 Tournament, the University of Regina women’s basketball team is off to the semifinals after defeating Laval Rouge et Or.
The Cougars — ranked second in the nation — were able to feed off of the home crowd’s energy early and take a hold of the game in the first quarter, going on an 8-2 run.
Fifth-year player Charlotte Kot and Christine McCusker lead the way with four points apiece in the opening quarter.
The Cougars had to play much of the first quarter and all of the second without second-team All-Canadian Kyanna Giles who ran into foul trouble early.
While Giles, last year’s USPORTS Rookie of the Year, was on the bench, this year’s recipient of that same award lead the way for the Cougars.
Carolina Goncalves, who was recognized as the country’s top rookie Wednesday, was the Cougars leading scorer with 10 points in the first half.
The Rouge et Or would find ways to make things close in the second quarter, pulling within two at various points in the frame. Claudia Emond was Laval’s leading scorer in the first half with 13 points.
The third quarter would see the Cougars put some distance between them and Rouge et Or, getting up by 12 to end the third frame.
The Cougars would find one more gear in the fourth quarter and wouldn’t look back. Giles would find her game and put up nine in the fourth to finish with 14 points.
The Cougars would end up punching their way to the next round by a score of 76-56.
Head coach Dave Taylor said having the goal was to get the crowd into the game right from the start.
“The girls obviously like playing in front of a full house and it was a loud crowd, we haven’t had that all the time.”
Fifth-year player Sara Hubenig was one of the player who helped keep the crowd in it, making some key three-pointers when Laval would get on a run.
“There’s nothing better than hitting a three and the crowd going wild, I know it sounds cliche but it’s true, it literally brings so much energy to us all and it keeps the motivation going and the momentum going and it’s good for the team,” Hubenig said.
The Cougars ran more like a unit than individuals in Thursday’s game, with four players scoring double-digits.
Goncalves, who finished with a team-high 15 points, said she thrives in a big-game atmosphere.
“I like some pressure, I like to feel the adrenaline, I like big games and big challenges, I like to feel the people almost with us on the court.”
Giles, who only played five minutes in the first half, said it helps a lot to know she can count on her teammates when her game isn’t flowing.
“That helps us going down the road.”
Kot, who scored 14 points, said it was important for the team to not let up once they took the lead.
“When we build up that lead, sometimes we let up a little bit, so I thought we did a good job of holding that,” Kot said.
The Cougars earned a day off on Friday with their victory and will meet a familiar foe in the semifinals on Saturday. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies defeated the Acadia Axewomen to set up a Canada-West final rematch for Saturday.
The Cougars won the championship over the Huskies 75-55.
Taylor said it’s mixed feelings meeting a team they are so familiar with.
“It’s hard to beat a team like that again after you just beat them so, at this point really when you’re down to the last four teams in the country, it’s all tough.”
Tip-off for the semifinal game is at 6 p.m. at the U of R.