Locked in a defensive struggle for three quarters, the Marauders found a new gear and the path to the history books in the fourth.
Second-seeded McMaster broke open a 44-44 tie with the top-seeded Laval Rouge et Or with a 26-point fourth quarter effort, racing to a 70-58 win in the U SPORTS final Sunday to claim the first title in the Marauders history.
McMaster did so in its first trip to the national title game, having won through the semifinal stage for the first time a day earlier against the Saskatchewan Huskies.
“We believed we could do it,” said McMaster head coach Theresa Burns of the win. “It’s been the mindset all year. Then, as the year went on and we continued to build, we got better as it went.”
“These players believe in each other in a way that’s absolutely unshakeable. I’ve had teams that believe in each other but this group takes it to a different level.”
Answering a Rouge et Or run, which cut their lead to just one midway through the fourth, the Marauders pieced together an 11-2 sequence of their own that Linnaea Harper capped with an off-balance, left-handed bank shot to put the game beyond reach at 64-54 with less than a minute and a half to play.
“Everything has lined up so perfectly, like that Hail Mary that I threw up that just happened to go in,” said Harper of her team’s championship run. “You have to keep shooting, even when sometimes they’re not dropping. Eventually they get there, and tonight they did.”
Harper was named as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while forward Christina Buttenham was McMaster’s Player of the Game from the championship game and also cracked the all-star team.
Leading the Marauders in the win, Harper and guard Sarah Gates posted matching totals of 18 points, with Harper finishing the night just one rebound shy of a double double.
Buttenham followed with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Hilary Hanaka had 12 in a typically balanced night for the McMaster offence.
With both teams battling the occasion and strong defence from the other end of the floor, the first quarter was a low-scoring affair.
The sides were knotted at four as the media timeout struck midway through the quarter, but the Marauders managed to take the slimmest of leads at its conclusion as Hilary Hanaka finally found her opening to drive and layup as the shot clock expired for 11-10.
Things turned in the favour of the top-seeded Rouge et Or when U SPORTS Player of the Year Sarah-Jane Marois found her range from the floor, and poured in 13 points in the second quarter.
She knocked down consecutive three-pointers with three minutes in the half to push Laval ahead 30-23, and force McMaster to call time.
The Marauders had an opportunity to further limit the damage on a final possession before the half, but misfired and had to track back well defensively as time expired in the half, entering the locker room with a six-point deficit at 33-27.
Emerging from the break with purpose, the Marauders scored two quick buckets to bite into the Rouge et Or’s lead, with Harper knocking down a three and Gates following with a layup in transition.
McMaster crafted a lead at 39-38 when Buttenham slashed to the basket for two underneath with 3:50 to play in the quarter, and it was the fourth-year senior starring again minutes later to push her team further ahead.
Hitting a hook shot while taking heavy contact, Buttenham knocked down the ensuing foul shot to give Mac a 42-38 lead.
Laval answered by scoring the next six points, before Buttenham came up big yet again to knock down another bucket down low and level the score through 30 minutes of play.
That was when the Marauders flipped the switch, scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to surge ahead and send the Rouge et Or scrambling to a timeout at 51-44.
Laval rebounded after the sit down, and pushed back to within a point after a Marois layup for 53-52, before McMaster embarked on another, ultimately game-deciding run.
Ripping off an 11-2 sequence, the Marauders capped it with Harper’s wild, off-balance finish to build a 10-point lead at 64-54 with just 1:18 to play, and effectively put the game beyond reach.
From there, it was a matter of slowing the game down for McMaster, which built its largest lead of the night to close the contest in style.
Source: Fraser Caldwell