By Ali Baggott, Vikes Communications
The University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball team are returning to the Canada West quarter-finals for the sixth-straight season after an 80-61 play-in series win over the Fraser Valley Cascades on Feb. 8 at the CARSA Performance Gym. A 22-point first half from Vikes fifth-year Amira Giannattasio provided the steam climb for the visitors, who were unable to find their way past a stingy Vikes defence.
“It’s pretty emotional especially my last home game at CARSA after my five years,” said an excited but saddened Giannattasio on her final home game. “I’m glad we could end on a win and continue on into playoffs. All my teammates throughout the years have kept me going and got me all the looks I’ve had and helped me with plays just like for my record on seniors night. I’m really grateful for them and glad to play under Dani for five years.”
Continuing on from her record-breaking regular season, Giannattasio put up a game-high 26 points, with an outstanding two-way performance that logged her seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Haily Weaver was undoubtedly the defensive player of the game being tasked with guarding Cascades ace Taylor Claggett. The Vikes had some key contributions from their bench including a 15-point night from Morgan Roskelley, while Calli McMillan chipped in with 12 points. Ashlyn Day’s double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds were also a factor in the character-showing team win.
“I thought we looked nervous to start but Amira, she’s been in this situation a number of times, and she held us steady to start the game,” said Vikes bench boss Dani Sinclair of the star senior. “She has learned over the course of her career to make others around her better. Early on she played a role where she was the scorer and the shooter but as she has matured she has learned how to make others better.”
The Cascades were held to a shoot percentage of 36 as fourth year Claggett finished with 16 points, five assists and five rebounds. Kate Head was easily the most consistently offensive threat for the visitors as the third year didn’t step off the floor and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Cascades had just five offensive rebounds and struggled to find any offensive rhythm.
It was a tentative start for both sides who were both unable to cash in on their opening few possessions. Finally, Giannattasio opened the scoring with a three that got the home crowd ready to see a strong quarter for the record-breaking veteran. Fraser Valley scoring leader Claggett was inevitably the first to get the visitors on the board, draining two from the charity stripe, while Amanda Thompson’s three settled any nerves for the Cascades. It was Giannattasio though that let the scoring start flowing as she drained another three to match the outside shooting of team mates Morgan Roskelley and Calli McMillan. Giannattasio finished the quarter with 14 points as the Vikes out-scored the Cascades 20-9 in the first.
In the second quarter, the Cascades capitalized with Giannattasio off the floor. Vikes rhythm seemed off and Fraser Valley Madeline Beerwald went one-for-two from the line, while Head hit a three off the glass on the free throw rebound. Head drained a second three from well outside to send the Cascades on a 7-0 run that is until Giannattasio subbed back on. The Hamilton, Ont. native made a nice move to draw the foul and, continuing her free throw shooting percentage of 84, drained both and put in another jumper to lift the Vikes 29-18. It was the Amira show as the senior continued to shine and finish the half with 22 points, while hard work down low from Langdon had the Vikes leading 39-23 at half time. A buzzer-beating three from Abby Zawada gave the Cascades a bit of momentum heading in to the break.
In the third quarter the Vikes were able to continue their rampage pushing up by their biggest lead so far, up by 23, in this frame. Vikes contributions from Roskelley, Langdon and Day gave Giannattasio some rest, while Cascades third year Head kept the Cascades chipping away. With only one Fraser Valley player in double-digit scoring, Head at 10, it was evident where the visitors struggled, but they had their best scoring quarter in the third shooting 44 per cent and being out-scored only 22-17. The Vikes led 61-40 heading in to the fourth.
In the final quarter the Vikes saw all kinds of contributions with Giannattasio on the bench. Notably, Roskelley put up some a three and some late shots, while Fraser Valley was able to find points from the free throw line and a three from each of Jessica Zawada and Victoria Jacobse. Giannattasio’s damage was already done and the Vikes rode her first-half scoring wave to an 80-61 victory booking them a spot in the Canada West quarter-finals, a best-of-three match up against one of the Top 4 teams – Saskatchewan, Calgary, Regina and Alberta.
“It was huge having a bunch of her shots go in late clock, off the dribble and shooting the three,” said Sinclair of Roskelley’s double-digit contributions off the bench. “(Fraser Valley) cut the gap a couple times and without those shots it could have been a much closer game. Thinking back to losing to them on (Jan. 12), she wasn’t providing that same scoring off the bench. We knew she was going to be important for us off the bench tonight.”
Only one game is left outstanding in the conference play-in series, No. 5 UBC hosting No. 12 Winnipeg, and should that play out per ranking the Vikes will likely be heading to Calgary to play the No. 2-ranked Dinos on Feb. 15-17. All games will be webcast live on canadawest.tv with live stats available at canadawest.org.
UFV: 9-14-17-21: 61
VIC: 20-19-22-19 : 80