After winning their semifinal matchup against the UPEI Panthers earlier today, the Badgers women’s basketball program is set to play for a national championship tomorrow evening, where they will take on the No. 1 Saskatchewan Huskies for the top prize in the country. This marks the first Finals appearance in program history.
The Badgers beat the Panthers by a score of 69-55, largely thanks to a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter. Brock allowed just seven points in the final frame. They had their hands full for the first three quarters, though, as both Jessica Morris and Sofia Croce each picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, all drawn by National Player of the Year Jenna Mae Ellsworth. Ellsworth led the Panthers with 19 points and 10 rebounds, one of just two Panthers to score in double figures.
The turning point for the Badgers was a two-minute stretch early in the fourth, when Melissa Tatti poked the ball loose from Ellsworth and drew an offensive foul in the process, before coming down the floor and draining a deep three. Kristin Gallant then drew another offensive foul on Ellsworth which led to yet another Tatti jumper, forcing the Panthers to call a timeout.
Tatti was relatively quiet for the first three quarters; she had taken just six shots and had five points through three, but, as per usual, took over in the fourth. She finished with 13 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a beautiful feed inside to Croce after ripping the ball away from Panthers guard Reese Baxendale.
“I had an assistant coach who used to tell me, ‘read the game in the first half and get it under control as a point guard, and then, when your team needs you in the fourth, do what you can do,’” said Tatti on her characteristic fourth quarter performance. “That’s kind of what I was trying to do in the fourth. We needed a couple extra points to get going, so I just shot the ball and it went in. I’m a fourth quarter girl for some reason, it’s just the way it is.”
Sam Keltos dominated the Panthers on the inside, finishing with 23 points off 10-20 shooting to go along with 17 rebounds and five blocks; she is averaging 29.6 points and 11.3 rebounds over her last three games.
The addition of Keltos has been a success in every way imaginable — she has given the Badgers the luxury of having a big who can stretch the floor and protect the rim with the best of them. While head coach Mike Rao was determined to add some size to his team in the offseason, it was Keltos who reached out to Rao first.
“[Sam] was down in the States last year and she gave me a call and said, ‘what do you think’, and I said, ‘we’d love to have you on board,’” said Rao. “That’s not a tough one, it’s pretty easy, it fell right in our lap and she has really progressed and improved from day one to today. Thank god it happened.”
Additionally, in 2017-18, the season before Rao took over the program, Tatti was set on transferring to Ryerson.
“Tatti wasn’t there when I came on board either, I had to kind of beg her to come back to play,” said Rao. “Give me one practice, give me a couple workouts, so we were lucky.”
Keltos called it perfect timing.
The Badgers will have their work cut out for them tomorrow night, as the Huskies have been the No. 1 ranked team in the country for 13 out of the past 14 weeks and won the Canada West title in the process. They had an overall record of 28-2 this season and boast the nation’s best offence and defence, averaging 83 points per game while allowing a staggeringly low 49.5 points against.
The Huskies beat Laval in their semifinal game by a score of 76-57; they led by double digits virtually the entire game.
“We’ll definitely be watching a lot of film tonight and tomorrow,” said Huskies centre Summer Masikewich, who was named a Canada West First Team All-Star. “Just trying to know [Brock’s] sets and kind of know how they’ll play us. Just a lot of preparation on that end.”
While the Huskies opened the tournament as the odds-on favourite to win the title, Masikewich says the team doesn’t feel too much pressure.
“We’ve never really put a lot of weight on the rankings,” she said. “We’ve just gone into every game knowing that we have to play our way and knowing that we have to play as a team.”
The national championship game will take place at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow night at the TD Place in Ottawa. Fans can tune in on CBCSports.ca, the CBC app or across the Brock University campus.