With 9:32 left to play in the game, the Badgers trailed the Windsor Lancers by 19 in a one-and-done quarterfinal match-up. Yet for the first time in eight years, the Badgers women’s basketball team is heading to the OUA Final Four.
The whole ‘rust vs. rest’ debate was tested several times throughout the course of this game; the Badgers came out of the gate hot, getting out to a quick 13-0 lead and holding the Lancers to just three made field goals in the first quarter. They led 16-9 after the frame.
The next two quarters were ugly. After the 13-0 start, Windsor went on a 51-19 run, spanning the end of the first and the entire second and third quarters. Melissa Tatti and Sam Keltos, who have been the Badgers two best players all season long, combined for five points in the first half. Keltos had zero.
For a moment, it looked bleak. The Badgers had put together one of the best regular seasons in program history; only the 2006 and 2013 teams finished with more regular season conference wins in the program’s 43 year history.
The Badgers clawed their way back and cut the lead to eight with 2:46 left in the third. It seemed that the rest of the quarter would dictate the final outcome; if Brock could cut it to, say, four, or even make it a one-possession game, they would have a fighting chance to win in the fourth. Instead, the Lancers responded with an 11-0 run to end the frame.
“I think we just fell asleep a little bit,” said Badgers head coach Mike Rao. “Our rotations weren’t good and I thought we were just lacking in a lot of areas.”
The Lancers are coached by Chantal Vallée, who is one of the best coaches in the country. She became the CEBL’s first and only female head coach this past summer, and led the Lancers to five consecutive national championships from 2011-2015. From 2009-2015, she led the program to a combined record of 143-8 over those seven seasons.
Going strictly off math, teams with a 19-point lead with 10 minutes to play have a 98.3 percent chance of winning. Now add the fact that the Lancers are coached by one of the winningest coaches in Canadian basketball history, and the comeback becomes even more improbable.
The Badgers had cut the lead to 11 with 4:41 to play when the game turned for good. Jessica Morris, one of two seniors (along with Tatti) who, for a moment, looked to be playing her final minutes as a Badger, had three clutch offensive possessions that flipped the script for Brock.
Kaylee Anagnostopoulos, the Lancers fifth-year starting point guard, fouled out after committing a bad foul on Morris as she was shooting a three. Anagnostopoulos had 12 points, 11 rebounds and five assists at the time and had been running the Lancers offence all night. Morris made 2/3 free throws.
The next trip down the floor, Tatti found Morris on the wing who hit a three to cut the lead to six. Two possessions later, Morris was fouled on yet another three point attempt, this time by Eve Uwayesu, who also fouled out on the play. She made all three free throws this time around. In a span of 87 seconds, the Badgers cut the lead from 11 to three, while the Lancers starting backcourt fouled out in identical ways — fouling a three-point shooter, a coaches’ nightmare.
“They were being very aggressive and it finally caught up with them at the end,” said Rao. “We caught our breath a bit, I thought we were getting beat up a lot inside but we showed a lot of resolve.”
After Olivia Osamusali of the Lancers and Morris traded baskets, Melissa Tatti came down and tied the game at 57 with a deep three.
“As soon as it got to six points, and Jess got fouled and made her free throws, I was like, ‘I’m taking this next three.’ I hit that and was like, ‘this is ours,’” said Tatti. “We knew that losing by 19 to that team wasn’t the way we were going to go out. I didn’t think we were going to come all the way back, but we dug deep and our heart just outdid theirs.”
Tatti then stole the ball from the Lancers’ Harriet Carey and found Kristin Gallant who scored in tight to give the Badgers a 59-57 lead. The last time the Badgers led in the game was with 3:56 left in the second. Another Tatti steal sealed the win, as she knocked down both her free throws to put Brock up 61-57 with seven seconds to play. Fittingly, it was Tatti who picked off a Lancer pass as time expired.
“We just huddled when there were eight minutes left down 16 and I just said, ‘that’s eight minutes, that’s so much time, we were up 13-0 in the beginning so we can make that back,’” said Tatti. “It started on defence and boarding, because we were getting outrebounded like crazy. They’re huge, especially Olivia [Osamusali] — who did an amazing job on the boards. We just said ‘one defensive stop at a time, one make at a time and we’ll be right in this game.’”
“I can’t say enough about Tatti and Jess, they’re the heart and soul of this team,” said Rao. “It was a lot of people, though; Kristin Gallant really started to play hard, Tatti always plays hard and then Sam was mad at herself too. I think it was a combination of everybody and then they went crazy. Then they just played hard, they were rebounding, they were doing everything. It’s been a lot of fun.”
With all that out of the way, the fourth-seeded Badgers will now travel to London to take on the one-seeded Western Mustangs in the OUA Final Four tomorrow night.
“[Western] is a tough match-up,” said Rao. “I think we have got to keep them off the boards, especially on the defensive boards.”
The two-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees and the three-seeded Ryerson Rams will play in the other Final Four match-up, with the winner of each game facing off for the Critelli Cup on Saturday.