The tried and trusted combination of Ellen Kett and Meg Wilson proved the game-deciding difference on Thursday night. SFU women’s basketball claimed a dramatic 73–71 win at home over Alaska Fairbanks to move to 15–4 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC).
With the scores tied at 71, Kett’s pass found Wilson in the shadow of the basket, with the forward’s shot hanging for what seemed like an eternity on the rim. Finally, it dropped with 0.3 seconds remaining to settle the game in the Clan’s favour.
However, it was a true team effort from the home team as coach Bruce Langford used the bench to significant — and often game-changing — effect. Samantha Beauchamp impressed with a vital contribution of seven rebounds during her 10 minutes of action, whilst Tayler Drynan shot 100% from three-point range in a match where there was never more than a seven-point difference between the two sides.
Both sides came into the encounter with playoff ambitions and it was, perhaps, no surprise that the first quarter saw defences on top. Despite Rachel Fradgley registering the first points of the night for the Clan, the home side soon found themselves 8–4 down with four minutes to go in the quarter. Coach Langford made the bold call to remove both Kett and Wilson early, and it paid off; Sophie Swant and Tayla Jackson made telling contributions to bring the scores back level at 12–12 at the end of the first 10 minutes.
Kett and Wilson returned to the court. SFU opened the second period with the first three-pointer of the match via Vanessa Gee. Kett began to find her passing range, despite coming into the game having struggled with illness in the lead up. An eye-catching assist for Fradgley was one of a total of nine on the night, breaking her own GNAC season record in the process. Drynan’s three-pointer with 23 seconds left in the half saw SFU take a 31–26 advantage into the halftime break.
“Ellen and I have played together for so long and she’s such a great teammate, so it was exciting to end the game like that.”
– Meg Wilson on the winning play
However, with the second-highest scorer in the division, Jordan Wilson, in their ranks, Alaska Fairbanks came back at the Clan. SFU traded baskets before edging ahead after Swant was punished for a technical foul. With seconds left in the third, Gee’s second three-pointer of the night gave the home side the narrowest of leads going into the final quarter.
Once more, it was SFU that started the quarter the better; Ozi Nwabuko opened the scoring before turning provider with an athletic assist for Wilson as they opened up a 53–48 lead. Yet the home side could never quite put their visitors away, as the Nanooks continued to fight their way back into the game. The lead changed hands time and again before Kett was on target. Two free throws with 96 seconds remaining gave SFU a five-point cushion.
Again, though, Alaska Fairbanks refused to go away. Despite trailing by three with less than a minute to go, three free throws from Jaylee Mays drew the visitors level. It was only through the cool head of Kett and the latest of late interventions from Wilson that the Clan was finally able to celebrate a hard-fought win.
Speaking after the game, Wilson said, “We started off slow — we definitely weren’t hitting shots like we can. They did a good job of taking us away from what we wanted to do, but we never gave up.
“Ellen and I have played together for so long and she’s such a great teammate, so it was exciting to end the game like that.
Coach Langford was pleased with the contribution of his bench, but admitted his side was below their usual standards.
“I didn’t think we executed so well tonight. We stuck it out and snuck it out, and everyone scored and contributed, but I didn’t think we were sharp.
“I think our bench has outscored every team we’ve played for a while now [SFU’s bench finished with 29 points, 13 more than their counterparts], and I was really pleased with their contribution aside from Sophie [Swant]’s technical.”
Next Game: On senior’s night, SFU will face arguably its toughest test of the season as they face the unbeaten Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. Both Wilson and Langford anticipate another tough encounter at the West Gym.
“Knowing we can come out and finish games is important,” said Wilson. “I know it’ll be a close game on Saturday, so we need to get rested and get ready.”
Langford agreed, saying, “We’d like to do our best against them. We enjoy playing them and enjoying upsetting them. I think we play them as well as anyone and, if we come out and play, it’ll be a hell of a game.”