MONTREAL — When the going gets tough, the bigs get going. That could be the new theme song for the McGill University women’s basketball team which put their big guns to good use, Thursday, en route to a 56-51 victory over the visiting UQAM Citadins at Love Competition Hall.
Mariam Sylla and Alex Kiss-Rusk paved the way for the Martlets, who improved to 13-1 with two games left and clinched the RSEQ regular season pennant for a fifth straight year. Laval holds the conference record with half a dozen consecutive first-place finishes from 2004 to 2010.
“I’m very proud of what the team has accomplished,” said Martlets head coach Ryan Thorne, who suffered through seven very lean years behind the McGill bench before finding the trade winds that turned the ship in the right direction back in 2010. “We set that as one of our goals this season, to first win the conference,” said Thorne. “Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship.”
Sylla, a 6-foot-1 power forward from Guinea, scored 13 points and pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds — her league-leading sixth “double-double” of the season. Kiss-Rusk, a 6-foot-4 sophomore centre, added 15 points and grabbed six boards.
“That is our advantage, we are bigger than the other teams,” said Thorne, whose troops had a monstrous advantage on the glass, out-rebounding the Citadins 74-43. They had countless second-chance opportunities all night as 35 of their boards were in the offensive zone. “We did a good job of not staring down our “bigs” and got them their opportunities through penetration and offensive rebounds.”
McGill, which was looking to avenge a 76-71 double overtime loss to UQAM at home on Jan. 29, came out strong and held an 18-12 lead after the opening quarter. The game was a tight one the rest of the way as both teams put up 26 points apiece over the next two frames before the Martlets prevailed in the final stanza.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” added Thorne. “UQAM is tough and plays aggressive. We had to be aggressive in our own right and attack more and not be so passive.”
Marie-Love Michel, a freshman guard from Montreal, had a solid performance off the bench, adding nine points and six rebounds. McGill’s bench also had contributions from Jennifer Silver (5 pts), Marie-Pier Bastrash (5 pts) and Marika Guerin (4 pts).
The defensive struggle featured a combined 39 turnovers by both teams. McGill committed 24 miscues, seven of which were UQAM steals. The Citadins protected the ball better, turning it over just 15 times — all on Martlet steals.
Queteline Celestin led the way for the Citadins with 19 points on a game-high 36 minutes of court-time. She added eight rebounds, four steals and one assist. Claudia Riel also reached double figures, putting up 10 points while Jessica Lubin was one point shy of a double-double, adding nine points and 10 rebounds.
Both teams also struggled to shoot the ball effficently. McGill made just 23 per cent of their attempts from the field (17/74), went 0-for-6 from three-point range and sank 22 of 28 from the line (78.6%). UQAM connected on 24.7 per cent from the floor (18/73), three of 16 from beyond the arc and went 12-for-18 from the charity stripe.
The Martlets will now turn their attention to Concordia, their other cross-town rival, who they will battle on Saturday (Feb. 22) at the Loyola campus in a 2 p.m. tip-off, preceding the men’s contest. UQAM will get a week off before trying to get back in the win column when they host the same Stingers squad.