Griffins give higher-ranked Spartans all they can handle before falling 77-71

Noelle Kilbreath steals the ball away from Jolene Vlieg on Saturday. Kilbreath led the Griffins with 29 points (Chris Lindsey, Dinos Athletics).
Noelle Kilbreath steals the ball away from Jolene Vlieg on Saturday. Kilbreath led the Griffins with 29 points (Chris Lindsey, Dinos Athletics).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins women's basketball team went down fighting, giving the favoured Trinity Western Spartans all they could handle before falling 77-71 in the second round of the Canada West playoff tournament on Saturday.

For much of the contest, they frustrated the Spartans with a gritty display of basketball that has been the Griffins calling card.

But a spate of late turnovers and offensive boards conceded proved to be the difference, as the Spartans broke open a small advantage in a game that featured 14 lead changes with four minutes left and held off the Griffins to advance.

"Obviously, it's disappointing," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams. "We came in and I thought we battled really hard. I'm so proud of these girls. I mean, the growth that they've made over the course of this season, from pre-season back October until now, we're a totally different team and I think when we're playing our best, we can compete with the best team in this conference. They've proved that time and time again.

"Obviously, we would have liked things to go a little different today, but, they battled hard and there's a lot to learn from and a lot to grow on moving forward for next season."

The Griffins took time afterward to share the emotions with Mady Chamberlin, Drew Knox, Darian Mahmi and Hannah Gibb, who have now finished their university careers.

"I think the disappointment comes because it's over and we have four seniors graduating and moving on," said Adams. "Like I said in the locker-room, they've been such a huge part of getting us to this point and you're sad because they're not going to be with us to carry on. It's hard because we're so close to taking that next step.

"They should be proud of what they've accomplished, being able to look back at the legacy they've left and the foundation that they've built for this group moving forward."

With the win, Trinity Western moves on to the Canada West quarter-finals on Sunday to face Lethbridge, who defeated Manitoba 80-77 on Saturday.

The Spartans got a big performance from star post player Nicole Fransson, who poured a game-high 38 points to go along with nine rebounds.

The Griffins have a lot to be proud of after putting up a strong fight in the playoffs (Chris Lindsey photo).

MacEwan had their own impressive leading scorer as second-year guard Noelle Kilbreath scored a career-high 29 points, eclipsing Mackenzie Farmer's 26 she had against UBC-Okanagan to now sit second in the Griffins' record book for most points in a single Canada West playoff game.

"I really think my teammates found me in good positions, so I was just thankful," said Kilbreath. "I was just feeling it with the touch, so having confidence to take my shots, knowing I was going to make them and trusting the confidence my teammates put in me to make those shots."

Farmer had 12 points, Hayley Lalor posted 10 points and seven rebounds, and Mahmi matched her season-high with 10 points in her final game.

"I think we're definitely proud of how we played today – just the grit and the fight," said Kilbreath. "Having a player on the other team score 38 points is tough to stop.

"Overall, we're proud (of the effort), but disappointed, especially with our seniors graduating. We would have loved to get the win and play again tomorrow, but overall proud of what we did today."

Kilbreath will be a key part of the group moving forward, which took a step in two hard-fought playoff games, including Friday's 69-63 win over UBC-Okanagan.

"I think it's just a big confidence thing for us," said Kilbreath. "We know we're a good team and can compete with the best teams in the league. And we showed that during the season, beating U of C twice and U of A once. Just taking that confidence moving forward and getting that taste of playoff basketball. It's just so different from in-season. All of the teams are in one spot."

"It's just the confidence moving forward and knowing we can take that into next season is very exciting for us."