Griffins narrowly beaten by Cougars after impressive, gritty effort

Noelle Kilbreath led the Griffins with 16 points in a 55-51 loss to MRU on Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).
Noelle Kilbreath led the Griffins with 16 points in a 55-51 loss to MRU on Saturday (Eduardo Perez photo).

Jason Hills
For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – If you had any question as to how the MacEwan Griffins may respond after a real tough loss, you got a pretty good answer Saturday afternoon at David Atkinson Gym.

After getting blown out in a 35-point loss the night before at the hands of the Mount Royal Cougars, the Griffins put forth a gritty, hard-fought effort.

They fell 55-51 to Mount Royal, but they showed a lot of heart, and played much more like the team they want to be on the floor this year.

Noelle Kilbreath led MacEwan with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, while rookie Maggie Smith recorded her first-career double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Harriette Mackenzie led Mount Royal with a double-double effort, recording 13 points and 13 rebounds.

"I am super proud of the effort, especially after yesterday and all the mental mistakes we made," said Griffins head coach Katherine Adams.

 "I thought they did a really good job today of fighting and battling. It wasn't the prettiest basketball at times, but it was tough and gritty, and I'm so incredibly impressed with the effort."

On Friday, the Griffins allowed Mount Royal to go on a 21-0 run in the second quarter to blow the game wide open, and deja vu happened again as the Cougars went on an 18-0 run to end the first quarter. This time, however, Griffins didn't allow Mount Royal to take over the game.

After falling behind 18-6 after the first 10 minutes, they cut the lead to 25-17 midway through the second quarter, and only trailed 33-30 after the first half.

MacEwan received a spark from Smith at both ends of the floor in the second quarter. She hit a three-pointer from the corner to cut MRU's lead to 27-20 and was an absolute force on the glass hauling in rebounds.

"She battled and let us into the fight. Yesterday we lost the rebound battle by a significant margin and today she was so solid in there, doing what she does so well," said Adams.
"She was rebounding hard, and she knocked down some big shots when we needed it. She really led the way with that and allowed those around her to thrive in their positions as well."

Another first-year Griffin stepped up in the third quarter for MacEwan, as transfer Sarah Burnell hit a pull-up three pointer to cut MRU's lead to 39-37. She later hit a jumper from the corner, as MacEwan continued to fight and battle to finish the third quarter, trailing 44-42.

"What she does, and asked her to do, doesn't always show up on the stats sheet. She defends so well and does so many little things to help us on the floor," said Adams.
"The presence and energy she brings, and she hit a couple outside shots for us was huge. She gives us so much versatility."

In the fourth, the Griffins were able to cut the Cougars lead to 52-49 with a tough bucket from Kilbreath with 2:49 left.

A made free throw from Toki Tsuzuki moments later made it 52-50. Kilbreath hit another free throw with 37.7 seconds left to make it 52-51. MacEwan was able to grab the rebound off the missed free throw, but they couldn't knock down a couple looks. With 12.9 seconds left, their full court press caused a turnover, but they were called for a foul, and Jamie Lalor was able to put the game away at the free throw line, ending the Griffins' fierce comeback attempt.

"I thought our girls battled and didn't give up. We gave ourselves a chance to win. I'm proud the girls were able to get themselves in a position to win this game, despite some things not going our way at the end," said Adams.

"We walked away from yesterday saying the way we played wasn't true to our brand of basketball. We didn't play to the strengths of our team, and I thought we did a really good job today of making that change. We went after it today, and it made a big difference."

MacEwan will travel to Saskatoon next weekend to face the Saskatchewan Huskies on Nov.10-11.