Jan 15, 2015
By Donnovan Bennett – Sportsnet TV Personality
Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett
From the outside looking in, it’s tough to find a silver lining in Scott Munro’s playbook. The six-year coach of the Saint Mary’s Huskies women’s basketball team is supposed to have his program on cruise control by now. He’s had multiple strong AUS recruiting classes with his long ties to basketball at multiple levels in the province, including a Canada Summer games medal and multiple coach-of-the-year awards (Basketball Nova Scotia, AUS, CIS) on his resume. The most recent medal on his wall of honour was the CIS silver he led the Huskies to a year ago, the best finish in program history.
The wins were just supposed to pile up now that his system is in place and his team is the class of his conference. Not so fast. Just as quickly as he rose to the top, he lost his top two players. One expected, the other excruciating. Saint Mary’s expected to have to replace Justine Colley the reigning two-time CIS player of the year and CIS all-time leading scorer, who also has to be replaced on the senior national team as she’s currently taking a sabbatical from basketball.
She was one of the most electrifying scorers I’ve ever seen in CIS basketball, seemingly able to get to any spot on the floor whenever she wanted. Munro explains that her true value was both on and off the court. “Justine was a leader since her first day on campus so obviously a very tough void to fill. She led in the key ways leaders can lead, both vocally as well as by her work ethic,” he said. “She always brought an energy and enthusiasm to practice which the other players fed off that is hard to replicate”.
Luckily for Munro, he’s inherited some veterans that have stepped up in Colley’s absence. “We’ve had good seasons thus far from two of our more experienced players in Angelina Carvery and Laura Langille. They are in their third and fourth year respectively and have helped to try and fill that leadership void”.
The main person Munro was expecting to lean on to help fill the void of filling the net has been unavailable. The Huskies lost second-team all-Canadian Rachelle Coward to a broken ankle in the preseason. Despite a diligent rehab schedule, it is uncertain if the team will regain her services this season. Subtracting those two players from the starting lineup subtracts 38 points per game from last year’s team. Suddenly, on paper, the prospect of winning the AUS, never mind trying to take the next step and winning the CIS title becomes more precarious.
This season, the Huskies are averaging just 62 points a night which is 30th in the country. By comparison, last year they averaged 81 points which was second only to defending four-time national champion Windsor.
“We probably didn’t expect to be 9-0 at this point in the season in the AUS, especially. We aren’t the team that we were last year, where we could have some really high-scoring offensive nights that were hard for teams to match,” he said. “We’ve had to do our scoring a lot more by committee. But the team has worked hard and done enough to win each night in our conference thus far. We have to keep improving and find some ways to make it easier on the offensive end for ourselves”.
The Huskies remarkably don’t have an individual scorer among the CIS’s top 50. They truly are doing it by committee. They’ve gone long stretches in recent games against UNB and Acadia without scoring, seemingly stuck in neutral on the offensive end of the floor – the chief reason they’ve had to come back from deficits in both games. Yet their defensive effort and attention to detail has been in overdrive. They held Acadia to a single two-point field goal in the third quarter of a seven-point win.
They are in the top 5 in CIS in points per game allowed, blocks per game, defensive field goal percentage, and opponents three-point field goal percentage. That tenacity on D counteracts the fact they are in the 30’s or lower in six offensive categories.
It’s a tough tight rope to walk. All but three of their wins this year have been by seven points or less. They are undefeated in the AUS this year but their two recent losses in match-ups against OUA opponents during the December break show they have to score more if they want to score big on the national stage in March.
Yet, despite the shuffle of personnel and style of production, the points in the win column remain consistent. The Huskies haven’t lost a regular season game since falling to StFX on February 23, 2013.
Munro’s focus is on the team putting together a streak this February. “Our goal is to hopefully be playing our best basketball in February and early March and take a run at the AUS championship, then you are one of eight teams left with a shot at a CIS championship”.
The Huskies are gambling that they can get back to the jackpot, rolling the dice with their defence once they secure the lottery ticket that is a Final 8 berth. After all that Scott Munro and his scrappy ladies have overcome already this year; I wouldn’t bet against them.
Follow Donnovan on Twitter: @donnovanbennett