After a highly successful regular season, which saw the team finish with a 24–6 overall record — their best since the 2012–13 season — SFU’s women’s basketball team is now turning their attention to post-season play. They’ve qualified once again for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship, and will play Central Washington in the quarter-finals.
It should be an interesting matchup. The Wildcats are the only team not named Alaska Anchorage or Western Washington that the Clan lost to all year in conference play — a fairly shocking 73–66 overtime loss at home back on February 4. It was one in which head coach Bruce Langford said, “We looked like we didn’t care.” They’re one of the hottest teams in the GNAC as well, winning six of their last seven games.
“We have to rebound better, [and] we have to move better,” said Langford on what has to be different. “One of the things they do is try to slow the game down and disrupt our flow offensively. They had some success doing that last time.”
The Wildcats will be led by Taylor Baird, the top rebounder in the conference with 8.6 boards per game. The team will “have to match her competitive level” to limit her, according to Langford.
But perhaps the biggest hurdle in winning the GNAC championship for SFU is just how the tournament is structured. If they win the game against Central Washington, they’ll be playing Western Washington the next day — a team that SFU hasn’t beaten this year and which has lost only two conference games.
If they manage to beat the Vikings, barring a monumental upset, they’ll be playing Alaska Anchorage in the final the day after. SFU hasn’t beaten them either — the Seawolves went the entire conference schedule undefeated.
If they get to that point, the Clan will be playing their third game in as many days.
Langford wasn’t sugarcoating how incredibly difficult the challenge in front of them is, especially with the format of the tournament seemingly in favour of the top two seeded teams.
“The reality is, we play a game that we have to win and give 100%, and then we have to play a game against a team that’s rested,” he said on the structure of the tournament. “There’s no comparison. [. . .] [ And if we win that] we’ll be playing three games in three days in a row against a team [that] have played their second [in as many days].”
However, the last two games against Alaska Anchorage and Western were both fairly close — SFU lost by single-digits and led in both of those game at points. In the previous two meetings, SFU lost by double-digits both times. It’s an encouraging sign that SFU can perhaps hang with the two dominant teams of the GNAC.
“I’m pleased with a bunch of pieces,” said Langford. “The three we gave up in the Alaska game the other day, that was crucial. We don’t give up that three and we have three kids with open three looks, all hit the front rim.”
“We hit one of those, it’s a different game. We hit two or three of those, it’s over. So I’m pleased from that standpoint, that we can play with them. And on an equal playing field and on an equal day, we should do well.”
One of the keys for the tournament will be how the Clan manages Ellen Kett’s minutes, especially with such a tight schedule. It’s no secret what the game plan is against SFU — pressure Kett early and often, and try to tire her out.
Alaska Anchorage did it almost to perfection in the team’s last game on Saturday, picking her up early in the backcourt and forcing her to run. Kett ended up with 10 turnovers and was “so tired she [couldn’t] make a mental decision,” according to Langford.
The goal will be to try and limit her minutes, especially in that first game, so that she can be not nearly as tired if they do advance.
“If she needs to play the whole game in order to advance to the next game, she’s not going to show up for the next game, and that’s what happened last year when we played Alaska,” said Langford, referring to an 82–47 loss to Alaska Anchorage that ended their season last year.
“We’re going to try and win the first game and save her as much as we can. That’s a challenge [. . .] If we can get 15 minutes out of [Tayler Drynan], that’s still not going to solve our problem because Kett is still going to be tired the second game, but it’s going to help.”
The Clan will play Central Washington this Thursday at noon. If they win that game, they’ll face Western Washington in the semifinal, also at noon. Follow our Twitter account @PeakSFUSports, where we will have live coverage.