By Jack MacCool
The Rams women’s basketball team’s quest for the Critelli Cup continued Wednesday when they defeated the Carleton Ravens 62-47 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
The win not only clinched an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship berth for the Rams, but also punched their ticket to the U Sports Final 8 National Championship Tournament next week.
Last time the Rams made the Critelli Cup final in February 2020, they fell just short in a losing effort against the Brock Badgers. This run to the OUA finals not only marks the Rams second in as many seasons played, but also pits them against Brock once again.
“I’d be lying if I said revenge wasn’t on our minds. But this is a new team, different year, and they’re a different team as well,” said Rams head coach Carly Clarke. “The real focus isn’t on them, it’s on this team fulfilling its potential and continuing to take it one possession at a time.”
The first quarter in Wednesday’s game began with the Rams establishing themselves on the defensive side of the ball, forcing three turnovers in the first minute and a half. Despite this, the Ravens didn’t allow a big lead to form, holding the Rams to just two points through the opening three minutes of play.
After five minutes of action, the Ravens remained scoreless as the Rams continued to punish them on the defensive end. But as the quarter went on, Carleton got more comfortable on the offensive end, scoring six unanswered goals to make the score 8-6 with two minutes to play.
With just under two left in the frame, Rams guard Eve Uwayesu gave the crowd something to cheer about when she tracked a Raven who was coming downhill leading to a massive chase-down block, much to the packed house’s enjoyment. After a frenetic first quarter, the Rams led 11-6.
The momentum belonged to the Ravens in the second quarter as they managed to convert two three-pointers and an and one, tying the game at 14 apiece. Shortly after, the Rams answered the Ravens’ run with a four point swing of their own to take the lead back with six minutes remaining in the half.
It was clear that neither team was going to give up any ground easily as both traded buckets and stops throughout the second quarter. With two minutes to play in the half, the Rams were momentarily able to create some distance between them and the Ravens, when forward Rachel Farwell hit back-to-back three pointers to give the Rams a 28-20 lead.
The first half ended with a Carleton run, cutting the Rams down to three points entering the halftime break. Coming into the second half, the Rams needed to continue to contain the Ravens if they were going to advance.
“[Our defence] was just unreal tonight,” said Clarke. “We knew we needed to defend one-on-one on the perimeter and we did that. Our defence has been our MO all year and it shone once again tonight.”
As both teams took the court to begin the second half, the playoff intensity was evident. The Rams began the half on a high note as Jama Bin-Edward found guard Mikaela Dodig for a huge three-pointer. Immediately after, it was Farwell’s turn for another longball as she nailed a straight-on three to bring the lead to seven.
With a little over four minutes remaining the momentum shifted back in favour of the Rams, as Uwayesu converted on a wide open three-pointer. Despite this, the Ravens wouldn’t quit, and didn’t let the Rams extend the lead past nine.
The end of the third saw Carleton bring the lead back to five after consecutive drives and scores by guard Kali Pocrnic. To close the quarter, the Rams got the energy boost they needed in the form of a Stefanija Mrvaljevic and one, bringing the score to 44-39.
Entering a do-or-die fourth quarter, the energy in the MAC was infectious—and the Rams fed off of it , forcing a Carleton turnover on the opening possession.
The intensity of the fourth was paramount as both teams battled for every loose ball like their season counted on it—which it did. Two minutes into the fourth, the Rams led 47-39 after a size-up three from Bin-Edward over the outstretched hand of the Raven’s defender.
Although the Rams were gaining steam, the Ravens refused to quit, continuing to put the pressure on the home team’s ball handlers. When they needed it most, the Rams’ veterans came through as Dodig found Bin-Edward on a baseline inbound play, bringing the lead to 49-41 with seven minutes to play.
As the clock ticked down, the finish line began to come into sight for the Rams. They continued to get stops on defence while converting at the opposite end. After multiple tough buckets, the lead had ballooned to 12 with just two and a half minutes to play.
The Ravens did everything in their power to keep the game within reach, battling hard at both ends. But as the OUA finals loomed the Rams would not be denied.
For a team that has gone undefeated up until this point, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Rams as they look to cement themselves as the province’s best.
“I think that’s just another key part in what’s so special about our team,” said Bin-Edward. “Our record doesn’t really reflect it, but we have gone through a lot of adversity. We’ve just taken it all in stride and play so well together.”
UP NEXT: The Rams travel to St. Catherines, Ont., for a rematch two years in the making to face the undefeated Brock Badgers in the Critelli Cup finals on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m.