Carleton Ravens drop U Sports Championship opener to top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies in women’s bracket

ABOVE: The Carleton Ravens took on the Saskatchewan Huskies March 5 at Ottawa's TD Place. (PHOTO: SPENCER COLBY)

Ottawa is host this week to the 2020 men’s and women’s U Sports Final 8 Championship tournaments at TD Place. As the host team, the Carleton women received an automatic bid into the tournament. It was not an ideal start for the Ravens, who were one-and-done with their quarterfinal loss to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The top-ranked Huskies breezed to a 73-59 victory over the Ravens Thursday night.

Huskies Head Coach Lisa Thomaidis recognized the challenge of facing the host team and the importance of building an early lead to stave off any momentum built from playing in front of a home crowd.

“We knew we were going to be in for a battle tonight. We respect Carleton; we know they play really hard. It’s always tough playing the host at the national tournament and we knew that wasn’t going to be any different tonight,” said Thomaidis.

The Huskies were the team to beat heading into the Final 8 Championships and they showed why in their tournament opener. Saskatchewan gobbled up a healthy amount of rebounds – 14 more than Carleton – and was deadly from long-range early on, which built the tournament favourites a comfortable 30-11 lead after the first quarter.

The difference early was the disparity between the two teams when it came to outside shooting. As a team, the Huskies went 5-9 on three point attempts after the opening frame while Carleton was held to 1-12.

“We had a specific game plan in place and wanted to exploit a few of their things defensively. I thought that worked out really well. We had a few three-point shooters who were open and nailed them. That was critical,” said Thomaidis.

Huskies’ fifth-year guard Sabine Dukate went 3-4 from three in the first quarter. Dukate cooled off after her red-hot start but her outside stroke helped build the early Saskatchewan lead and returned in the fourth quarter to put the game away. Dukate led all scorers with 21 points.

Saskatchewan’s success from outside can be contributed to their tenaciousness on the inside close to the basket. The Huskies leveraged their size advantage over the Carleton frontcourt to establish consistent and strong ball possession in addition to rebounding. An established inside presence helped set up Huskies who were wide-open for threes outside. By the time the Ravens adjusted, the Saskatchewan lead was already substantial. It was a formula that worked to near-perfection early and carried the team to a comfortable victory.

The Ravens were without star forward Alyssa Cerino for much of the game due to an illness she was fighting this week. Cerino was Carleton’s leading scorer and leading rebounder this season, not to mention a fifth-year senior who acts as a veteran presence for the roster. She could only play 12 minutes of action against the Huskies.

Carleton showed fight in a second quarter run that saw their outside defence improve and some outside shots start to fall in. At certain points in the second an third quarters, it appeared as if the Ravens were going to cut the Huskies’ lead to single digits. But Saskatchewan had an answer at every tipping point, whether that be a key basket, rebound, or defensive stop when they needed the momentum to swing back in there favour.

Saskatchewan shot over 50% from the field in the first half and 43% for the game. A big part of that was Summer Masikewich, the frontcourt player who scored on all five of her shot attempts; all of which came in the paint.

Carleton point guard Kali Pocrnic put forth a gutsy effort but did not shoot well from the field, finishing 2-12. She ended the game with 14 points, second amongst the Ravens behind Madison Reid’s 18.

The Ravens will play in the women’s consolation semifinal at the Ravens’ Nest Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, the Huskies championship aspirations remain very much alive.

Carleton won a U Sports national championship two years ago by beating the Huskies in the championship game. Now, Saskatchewan has slain the always-pesky Ravens and is two games away from winning the championship in Ottawa. Next up for the Huskies is number four-ranked Laval this weekend.

The U Sports Final 8 Championships will continue Friday with the men’s quarterfinal games, which includes matchups for Carleton and the University of Ottawa. The tournament runs through Sunday, when both a men’s and women’s team will be crowned national champions at centre court of TD Place Arena.