EDMONTON – The beauty of a single-elimination March Madness-style playoff tournament is it's all about who can play better for 40 minutes.
Upsets are possible – and even expected – in such a format, which is what gives the MacEwan Griffins an optimism and skip in their step as they prepare for their opening post-season match on Friday vs. UBC-Okanagan (1 p.m., Calgary's Jack Simpson Gym, Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
"I think we're all stoked and you can tell in practices that we're getting after it more," said Griffins' leading scorer Mackenzie Farmer, who was named to the Canada West third team all-stars on Thursday. "We all know that this whole season, regardless of if we won or lost, it all comes down to this.
"Judging how we've come together as a team, we all have high hopes for ourselves. We're a great team. Our win-loss ratio might not prove it, but we've finally reached that point where we're good, we're ready for this. Everyone's hyped."
MacEwan (4-12) and UBCO (7-11) didn't meet in the regular season – which featured regional competition within their own divisions due to the pandemic – but the Heat are the Griffins' most familiar opponent in 2021-22 outside of the Central Division. They met three times in the preseason with UBCO taking all three – 87-82 and 67-48 in Kelowna Oct. 1-2 and 88-79 in Edmonton Oct. 16.
In 12 previous regular season meetings against the Heat, dating back to when MacEwan first joined the conference in 2014, the Griffins own a dominant 10-2 record against them.
All of that, however, is history, of course.
"Definitely, that feels like eons ago since we played them," said MacEwan head coach Katherine Adams. "We've certainly grown a lot, as have they, in that time period. I think we know the type of work ethic they have – the way they crash glass hard, the way that they're ready and willing to fight and compete on every possession. It's certainly something we battled back in October and expect to see more of on Friday."
The winner will advance to meet Trinity Western (15-3) on Saturday (3 p.m., Jack Simpson, Canada West TV presented by Co-op). And the winner of that match will play on Sunday against either Lethbridge (10-6), Manitoba (4-12) or UBC (6-12) for a spot in the Canada West Final Four March 18-20.
A daunting task, but the Griffins have proven this season already to be giant slayers. Back on Nov. 12, they knocked off then-U SPORTS No. 1 Calgary 71-68.
They also beat then-U SPORTS No. 4 Alberta 85-74 on Feb. 11.
There are lessons they can take out of those wins that will help them this weekend.
"There certainly is an excitement knowing you've just got to win the game and you stay alive," said Adams. "Anything can happen. As we've shown throughout the year, we can compete with the best teams in this conference when we show up to play. So, there certainly is an excitement about that and being in this environment.
"We've never before had all 17 teams in the same place at the same time. So, there's a certain energy building about it that we're excited to get to Calgary to experience."
There's no doubt they have the talent to go on a run. The Griffins are led by Farmer and Noelle Kilbreath, who are both among the Canada West scoring leaders, averaging 15.0 and 14.1 points per game, respectively. Backing them up is a cast of veterans led by Mady Chamberlin, Hayley Lalor and Shannon Majeau that have the ability to step up in big moments.
"I think it's just the winning mentality," said Farmer. "We might not have won that many games, but if we go on the court and give it our all, everyone shows up and does their job, literally any team can win. You can be a bottom seed and knock off a top seed just because you showed up.
"The other week, UNBC (8-10) knocked off Fraser Valley (15-3) (68-63 on Feb. 24) and ended up moving the standings around. Nothing is set in stone, so anyone can win. Just having that mentality (is key) – it's MacEwan and we're going to set a name for ourselves."