Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart, ISN
with files from David Conlin, Vikes Communication
March 12, 2017, VICTORIA, BC – Alex Kiss-Rusk scored 15 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter, to help the McGill Martlets claim a 66-55 victory in the gold medal game of the U SPORTS Women’s Final 8 National Championship at the CARSA Performance Gym in Victoria.
Laval held a 16-14 lead after a quarter and then watched as McGill took a 28-24 lead into the half. Laval would rebound in the third to take the frame 17-14 and cut the lead to one, 42-41, but the Martlets would then outscore the Laval Rouge et Or 24-14 in the fourth quarter to cement their lead and seal the win.
Fourth-year centre Alex Kiss-Rusk was named both the Championship MVP and Player of the Game for McGill for her dominating performance of 15 points and 20 rebounds. Of her eight of her points in that key fourth quarter, four were from the free throw line late in the game to help the Martlets win their first-ever women’s basketball national championship and a spot in the history book, as the winner of the first U SPORTS Women’s Final 8 Championship.
“Our slogan this year was ‘Together We Rise’ and now we have risen to the top, with a U SPORTS National Championship,” said Martlets head coach Ryan Thorne. “Alex was the MVP of our team and she brought that with her to this situation, so this was definitely a great opportunity for her,” said Thorne.
Kiss-Rusk and her 20 rebounds were a big part of the Martlets out-rebounding Laval 52-32 in the contest.
“Huge factor,” said Laval head coach Guillaume Giroux when asked how important the rebounding margin was in the game. “We managed to deal with that a bit better when we played them in the season but they killed us on the glass, on both sides.”
The Martlets’ rebounding advantage was key both offensively and defensively, their 13 offensive rebounds in the game led to 18 second-chance points compared to just the four that the Rouge et Or managed.
“Our size is greater than theirs,” said Thorne. “If they want to look for a bunch of three-point shooting, they have to get smaller so I knew that if we did a good job on the glass we could be successful.”
Laval’s 55 points in the game was 14 less than in any other game they played in the tournament, something that Giroux attributed to a tough Martlet defence.
“We were a little cold but you have to give them credit because our separation was not huge. They got on us a bit more and we had to do our layups through contact and we weren’t able to make those,” said Giroux. “We missed a couple of easy ones but they also forced us to rush some shots and that made it difficult.”
While Kiss-Rusk was the focal point of the Martlets’ offence, the depth on McGill also shone, with four other players also hitting double figures in the game. That included Marika Guérin with 14, Frédérique Potvin with 12 and Jennifer Silver with 10.
“That’s what this team is built on, we’ve never focused in on one player, we have some strengths but overall we were just unselfish,” said Thorne. “We like each other, work with each other and know that we can’t do it unless we work together.”
Jane Gagné was named the Player of the Game for the Rouge et Or, scoring a team-high 13 points in her 35 minutes on the court. Justine Guay-Bilodeau added 10 points for Laval in the final game of her university career, while Sarah-Jane Marois added nine points in the losing effort.
“I’m really proud of our girls,” said Giroux. “When I got the job the job two years ago, if you told me I would be playing here in our second year I would have been really happy with that. All the credit goes to the girls, they worked really hard, believed in what we do and I’m really happy that we have such a good future.”
Sunday’s final was the first time two teams from the RSEQ Conference faced each other in the championship game and the first time that a team from Quebec has claimed the title since Bishop’s won back-to-back titles in 1982-1984. Both schools have finished second at nationals. In 2015 the Martlets lost to the Windsor Lancers, 60-47 and Rouge et Or in 2002 lost to Simon Frasier Clan, 66-51.
In addition to Kiss-Rusk being named Tournament MVP, the Championship All-Star team was announced following the game and included Catherine Traer (Carleton), Robyn Pearson (Queen’s), Kiss-Rusk (McGill), Jane Gagne (Laval) and Frederique Potvin (McGill).