UVic Vikes women's basketball

VICTORIA – The UVic Vikes women’s basketball team leaned on their veteran leaders late to overcome a fourth quarter deficit and defeat the visiting Mount Royal Cougars by a score of 85-82 inside the CARSA Performance Gym on Jan. 27.

Fourth-years Kristy Gallagher and Amira Giannattasio combined for 58 points on the night, helping the team secure both the weekend sweep as well as pushing their winning streak to ten straight games.

“They understand what’s at stake and they just made plays,” said Vikes head coach Dani Sinclair on her dynamic duo.

In a game that went right down to the final seconds, the Cougars showed a lot of heart battling against a team that is 13 spots ahead of them in the Canada West conference.

“I’m exceptionally proud of our girls for fighting over the two days, this was probably the best weekend of basketball that we have played,” said Cougars head coach Nathan McKibbon. “It’s just hard to come out of this weekend without a victory because our team deserved it – not that UVic didn’t – but we played exceptionally hard, took their best shot and were right there at the end.”

The win moves the Vikes to 14-4 on the year, where they remain tied with the Trinity Western Spartans for third-place in the conference. The Cougars meanwhile, fall to 1-17 on the season.

“We are a way better team than our record dictates but winning is a skill just like being able to pass or dribble,” said McKibbon. “We have to be able to learn how to win those close games because we have shown that we can compete against top teams in our league, but now we need to be able to win a couple to gain confidence and momentum”

Gallagher scored 11 of her 32 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Vikes, while Giannattasio went 10-of-20 from the field in the victory. Aleah Ashlee and Katie Langdon went to work defensively for the team, playing key roles in the late turnaround.

“Our girls really dug in, we had good contributions from a lot of people,” said Sinclair. “Aleah came up with a couple great stops and had one in particular at the end of the game, Kristy and Katie got some huge rebounds down the stretch.”

“I’m proud of our girls, you can’t be upset with that effort.”

Gala Mestres was an absolute dominant force for the Cougars.

The first-year guard from Barcelona led the team with 35 points on the night, and also added 11 rebounds for the double-double.

“She’s a special player, it was great to see her have a game like that because we knew she was capable of it, but she’s been adjusting to the Canadian game so maybe hasn’t been showing in games what she does in practice,” said McKibbon.

Erin Kehrig and Maria Blanco were the other Cougars to hit double-digits on the night, putting up 13 and ten points respectively.

“They are obviously much better than their record shows and Mestres has definitely figured out how things work in this league,” said Sinclair. “We struggled guarding the ball screen against them all weekend and she caused us a lot of trouble. When we focussed on her, their other kids made plays.”

The Cougars were able pick up right where they left off last night, ignoring the disparity in records between the teams and going right at the Vikes. A Kehrig lay-up early in the frame gave Mount Royal their first lead of weekend and the visitors were later able to extend that lead to 12-7. The Vikes settled down after that however, and Gallagher capped off a 13-5 run with a lay-up at the buzzer to give the Vike the 20-19 lead after one frame.

The two teams went back and forth throughout the second and third quarters. The Vikes led for a majority of that time but never by more than five points, mostly thanks to the 28 points the Mestres scored in the opening three quarters.

The Vikes led 62-59 entering the fourth, but the up-start Cougars found another gear.

An Abbey Gillette jumper early in frame gave Mount Royal their first lead since the opening seconds of the third quarter. Mestres then finished off an and-one effort to put the Cougars up 76-69 with 5 minutes left to play.

That was when the Vikes leaders stepped to the fore.

Gallagher and Giannattasio scored every point of an 11-0 Vikes run to take back the lead, 82-76. Kehrig scored five-straight points late to make in interesting but the Vikes were able to run out the clock for the three-point victory.

“It was one of those games where you would love to be sitting on the other side,” said McKibbon. “It was beautiful to watch, went back and forth and they had great performances from Amira and Gallagher.”

Both of these teams will wrap up their Canada West regular season schedule next week.

The Cougars will take on the Calgary Dinos in a home-and-home set on Thursday, Feb. 1 and Friday, Feb. 2. The Vikes will also play a Thursday, Friday schedule, they host the UBC T-Birds on Feb. 1 before travelling to Vancouver the next night.

“This was a huge growth weekend for us for a lot of reasons and we need to just keep building on that,” said Sinclair. “We definitely learned a lot and it will be a fun week next week. We are looking forward to it.”