Rams charge back from 22-point deficit to win Critelli Cup

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By Armen Zargarian

The Ram’s women’s basketball team defeated the Brock Badgers 72-70 in the Critelli Cup Final on Saturday afternoon to become OUA Champions for the first time since 2016.  

The Rams trailed the whole game, but made a furious fourth quarter push that forced the game into overtime where they were able to edge out the Badgers. 

“We just talked about believing, trusting who we were [and] never quitting, which has been the MO of this team all-year,” said Rams head coach Carly Clarke.

The game started with the Rams controlling the tip and Jama Bin-Edward converting on a smooth reverse layup. That 2-0 lead was the first and last the Rams had in regulation time. 

The Badgers answered with a 9-0 run of their own, scoring mid-range jump shots, grabbing offensive rebounds for buckets and cashing in on driving layups. Rams head coach Carly Clarke called a timeout with 4:26 left in the first quarter to try and regroup. 

Bin-Edward was the most consistent offensive player for the Rams, scoring 10 points in the first half and finishing with 23 points en route to being named the game’s MVP.   

Brock took a 19-10 lead into the second quarter, but the Rams responded by forcing the Badgers into three straight turnovers.  However, Ryerson was only able to convert two points in that stretch of suffocating defense. 

Clarke pleaded with her team to move onto the next play and keep the “one possession at a time mentality” as her squad continued to trail. 

“We were tight for like three and a half quarters, off-balance [and] missing weird ones,” said Clarke. 

Mackenzie Robinson was instrumental to the Badgers’ strong first half, scoring 12 points, adding 10 rebounds and two assists. Third-year forward Rachel Farwell was a force on the defensive end for the Rams, picking up two blocks and two steals in the first half.

But the Badgers were much better from three-point land, shooting 5-11 from three while the Rams failed to make a single three in the first half. 

The opening 20 minutes concluded with the Badgers holding a 36-25 lead. 

Coming out of the break, the Rams missed a handful of easy opportunities to score, including multiple layups. Brock’s defence was intent on forcing the Rams to score from outside the paint. 

The Badgers’ tactics appeared to work as the Rams stayed cold from three-point range, shooting 1-24 after three quarters. 

The intensity turned up another notch in the third quarter, both teams often on the ground battling for possession. 

Madalyn Weinert was ready for the battle. Weinert was a critical piece of the Badgers’ offensive potency, hitting mid-range jumpers, driving to the basket and finishing the contest with 25 points on 11-15 shooting. 

The third quarter ended with the Badgers extending their lead to 16, with a score of 52-36. 

Before the fourth quarter, the Rams huddled and fourth-year forward Stefanija Mrvaljevic reiterated that “the game isn’t over.”

“We knew what we wanted to do,” Mrvaljevic said.

Brock piled on to start the fourth, with Jenneke Pilling hitting a corner three to push the home team’s lead to 20 points. 

Following a timeout from Clarke, the referees gave the Badgers an early in-bound that caught the Rams off guard. This led to an open fast break layup for the Badgers. 

Clarke was incensed, voiced her frustraiton and earned a technical. 

The Rams started to press full-court, double-team and trap the Badgers in hopes of forcing some quick turnovers, which they did. 

Two minutes into the fourth quarter, the Rams forced a travel, a trio of live-ball turnovers and a charge in a three minute stretch. 

Led by Bin-Edward, Farwell and Kyia Giles, the Rams suddenly started to click offensively, and went on an initial 13-2 run to cut the deficit to nine with 4:53 left in the game. 

Badgers head coach Mike Rao was forced to call a timeout and regroup his team, but the Rams continued pressing and forced two more consecutive steals after the timeout. 

The defensive pressure from the Rams didn’t let up for the rest of the quarter, forcing steals and drawing charges, which frustrated the Badgers.

A pair of triples from Mikaela Dodig and Farwell cut the lead to just five points, 67-62 with only 2:19 to play.

After another Rao timeout, the Rams forced a 24-second violation and then answered with a Farwell and-one and a Dodig triple. 

Suddenly, the Rams had rallied back to tie the game 67-67 with 1:30 left to play. Neither team scored for the remainder of the game, and the contest headed into overtime. 

“We never quit. We never give up. If things aren’t going our way it doesn’t matter, we are going to ride-out for each other,” said Rams guard Tiya Misir. 

The Badgers got the first basket of overtime, but the Rams came back with a strong drive and finish by Bin-Edward. 

Nobody scored again until the 1:42 mark when Weinert was fouled going to the basket. She converted her second free throw to give the Badgers a 70-69 lead. 

Just when the Rams needed it most, Eve Uwayesu drove to the basket and finished with a layup. With 30 seconds left, Farwell made a clutch block and on the next defensive possession Giles came up a steal in transition. Giles was fouled immediately with 0.9 seconds remaining and converted one of two from the charity stripe to give the Rams a 72-70 edge. 

After a Badgers timeout that advanced the ball, Weinert got off a three-point shot that would have won the game for the Badgers, but it fell short. 

The Rams completed a 22-point comeback and beat Brock on the road, avenging their Critelli Cup Final defeat from 2020. 

As the team embraced at half-court, fans who made the trip to St. Catherines Ont., broke out into chants of “this is our house.” 

“I feel extremely blessed and I’m excited to have our team continue on, go to Nationals and try to get the dub there,” said Giles. 

UP NEXT: The Rams are off to the U Sports Final 8 National Championship Tournament in Kingston, Ont., which tips-off March 31.

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