LENNOXVILLE, Que. — Mariam Sylla produced yet another one of her patented “double-doubles” as the McGill University women’s basketball team opened the RSEQ Final Four tournament with a convincing 70-57 victory over Laval in a sudden-death semifinal at the Mitchell Gym, Thursday.
The top-seeded Martlets advance to Saturday’s league championship game in Lennoxville, where they will confront second-seeded UQAM, which defeated third-place Concordia 54-47 in the other semifinal. The Quebec final is scheduled to be webcast live at 5 p.m.
Sylla, a 6-foot-1 forward from Guinea and two-time player of the year in the Quebec conference, posted both game-highs with 22 points and 11 rebounds. She shot a stellar 11-for-15 from the floor and added a steal and a block. The high-scoring pharmacology junior now has 10 double-doubles in 27 games overall, including a league-high of six during the regular season.
“We were able to get some great inside play tonight,” said Martlets bench boss Ryan Thorne, recently named for the fifth time as the conference’s coach of the year. “Sylla shot the ball well early but was also unselfish and found open perimeter players when defenders collapsed.”
Sylla’s hot start combined with a strong defensive effort, gave the Martlets an early 13-0 lead, which they extended to 20-5 after the opening quarter in a game where they never trailed.
“It was a pretty complete game on our part and we played good inside-out basketball,” added Thorne. “Defensively we were on point. We made it tough for them to get easy scores and rotated well to shots… That’s what we pride ourselves on, good defence.”
This continued effort on the defensive end gave McGill a 32-13 advantage going into halftime. Laval gave it their best effort to ignite a comeback but could never cut the deficit to below 10 in the final two frames.
“Essentially, it was a disasterous first quarter for us,” said Laval head coach Linda Marquis, who has guided he squad to the playoffs in 29 of her 30 seasons and will be stepping down after Laval hosts the CIS Final Eight championship next week. “We froze and (McGill) started aggressively, they were fast, very aggressive on defence and changed-up their style. We missed our shots. We calmed down a bit in the second quarter and executed better in the second half, winning the last two quarters.”
Before becoming a coach three decades ago, Marquis played three all-star seasons at Laval and two more with McGill, where she earned a master’s degree in education and was a two-time all-star and a second-team all-Canadian in 1982-83.
Montreal native Alex Kiss-Rusk added 11 points in only 15 minutes for the Martlets.
“Alex got off to a really good start but she ran into early foul trouble, so we had to sit her down,” explained Thorne. “Some of that was ‘touch fouls’ but you have to expect that when you’ve got a big lead. She’s got to be more disciplined when she shows her hands and has to move her feet a lot better (in those situations), especially when she is in foul trouble.”
Teammate Dianna Ros, another Montrealer, was named as McGill’s player of the game. The 5-foot-7 point-guard from Montreal played with a facemask for the third straight outing to protect her broken nose and had 10 points, three rebounds, four assists and one steal in a team-high 30 minutes of court time. She shot 3-for-9 from the floor, including a 2-for-5 effort from the arc, and went 2-for-2 from the line.
“She’s a very good shooter, hasn’t had a great three-point shooting season this year but she’s definitely very competent and we trust in her a great deal and were very happy with the way she played,” said Thorne. “It was a pretty physical game, we were banged up a bit and Dianna had her nose hit again, so we weren’t too happy about that.”
McGill shot 43.1 per cent from the field (25/58), went 6-for-13 from three-point range and sank 14 of 17 from the line (82.4%). Laval connected on 25.8 per cent from the floor (17/66), 6 of 19 from beyond the arc and went 17-for-23 from the charity stripe.
Raphaelle Cote, who was named as Laval’s player of the game, and teammate Jane Gagne were the only Rouge et Or players in double digit figures with 11 points each. Gabrielle Girard also impressed with seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals.
McGill now turns their focus on winning their fourth consecutive Quebec conference crown when they meet UQAM (11-5) on Saturday. The Citadins were the only RSEQ team to put a blemish in McGill’s 15-1 season with a 76-71 victory in double overtime on Jan. 29 at McGill’s home court. The Martlets won the three other meetings: 60-48 on the road (Nov. 13), 57-55 at UQAM (Jan. 31) and 56-51 at home (Feb. 19).
“All four games with them were pretty close, said Thorne. “Our height and our depth is our strength but we’ve got to play them smart. They’re aggressive and physical and if that is called (by the officials), then we’ll be in good shape. But if they let a lot of that go and we get manhandled, then it will be a tough situation. Either way, we’re going to have to demonstrate poise and discipline. We have to understand where our strengths lie and play through that.”
NOTE: The men’s side of the RSEQ Final Four tourney begins on Friday. Top-seeded McGill confronts No.4-Concordia in a 6 p.m. semifinal, which will also be streamed live, followed by the third-seeded Gaiters, who take on No.2 Laval in a 8 p.m. semifinal. The winners will meet in the league championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m.
McGill Sports Info Office