REGINA, Sask. – The University of Regina's women's basketball team forced a showdown for first place in the Pioneer Division after holding off the No. 2-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies for a thrilling 83-78 victory on Friday night in front of 1900 spectators at the Centre for Kinesiology, Health & Sport.
Both teams now have a 17-2 conference record with one game left on the Canada West schedule – and that's scheduled for Saturday night at the CKHS, with the winner to claim first place in the Pioneer Division and home court advantage through the entire conference playoffs.
"I thought tonight was an incredibly well-played game between two top-five teams," Cougars head coach Dave Taylor said. "I was happy we were able to make some plays and get some stops down the stretch, and this sets up what will be an incredibly important game tomorrow night. I thought one of the keys tonight was Katie (Polischuk) coming out in the second half and hitting some big shots for us."
Friday's game saw the No. 5-ranked Cougars go up big early in the first, only to have Saskatchewan come back in the second quarter with an equally impressive run. The Huskies took what would be their only lead of the game midway through the third quarter, but the Cougars quickly pulled back ahead. They opened up as much as an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and were able to hold off a late Saskatchewan run thanks to a key defensive stop with 16 seconds left and four Kehlsie Crone free throws in the final 21 seconds of the contest.
Charlotte Kot led the Cougars with 20 points and also grabbed eight rebounds, while Polischuk caught fire in the second half and finished with 18 points. Crone added 16 points and set a new career high with nine rebounds, and Sidney Dobner helped out with 12 points, six rebounds, and a game-high six assists.
Saskatchewan's offence was all Laura Dally, all the time. The fifth-year guard from Bright's Grove, Ont. finished 12-for-23 from the field, 5-for-9 from three-point range, and hit all six of her free throws to end up with 35 points on the night – the most the Cougars have conceded to an opposing player since Winnipeg's Stefanie Timmersman scored 36 on the U of R back during the 2005-06 season.
The first half saw the two teams trade big runs, first for the Cougars as they went on a 19-4 run that spanned the final three minutes of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second. That turned a three-point Cougar lead into an 18-point advantage, but Saskatchewan responded in a big way prior to halftime. Dally sparked the Huskies with six points as part of a 17-4 run over the final six minutes of the first half to get the visitors to within 39-34 at the break.
And Saskatchewan continued that momentum in the third, scoring eight straight points with a Hogberg triple giving the Huskies their first lead of the game at 49-47 midway through the third. But that would be Saskatchewan's only lead, as the Cougars tied it up on the next possession with a pair of Kot free throws and took the lead back for good with a Crone triple.
The Cougars pushed the lead back into double digits early in the fourth quarter, but went scoreless over four minutes in the final period while Saskatchewan scored nine straight to get to within one at 71-70 with four minutes to go. But the Cougars replied immediately with a Dobner fall-away jumper in the lane to go back up by three, and they led by four at 79-75 for over a minute late in the game before Dally's fifth three of the night made it a one-possession game at 79-78.
But the veteran-laden Cougars were able to close out the win. Crone was sent to the line four times in the game's final seconds and hit them all, and the Cougars got a key stop late when an Emmerson shot from the paint caught left iron with Crone there to track down the rebound.
Saturday's game will tip at 6 p.m. at the CKHS.
NOTES: The last time the Cougars defeated a team ranked as high as No. 2 in the CIS was back on Dec. 1, 2012 with a 59-55 home win over Fraser Valley ... this weekend marks the 12th and 13th times in the last six years that the Cougars and Saskatchewan have met with both teams ranked in the top five of the CIS.