For the first time since 2014, SFU women’s basketball is off to the NCAA national tournament. They’ve been installed as the fifth seed in the west region bracket, and will play UC San Diego in the opening game.
It won’t be an easy matchup, but from here on out, all games will be trying and challenging. The Tritons finished with the best regular season conference record in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), going 23–6, but lost the conference championship in the title game.
“They’re a team that likes to run,” said head coach Bruce Langford on the Tritons. “They’re a team that runs a Princeton offence, which is very motion and movement oriented. Lots of quick action, lots of quick reads, [and] they run it very efficiently. They shoot the three more than anyone else in their league, and they attack the hoop well.”
In the team’s last game, the Clan suffered a disappointing loss to Central Washington in the quarterfinals of the GNAC championships. SFU shot only 27% from the field, and ended up losing by a single point after Kortney Grattic made two last second free throws.
“We had held them to 28 points in 28 minutes with outstanding defence, [and] played them really, really well,” said Langford on the game against Central. “I thought we had a couple of mistakes that cost us momentum, and a couple that basically cost us the game.
“Obviously the end-of-game situation wasn’t good. We had a couple of careless turnovers where we were up 10, and we let that momentum leave. But in the big picture, we didn’t have to play another game, which gives us rest.”
There was some talk afterwards that because of the shocking loss, SFU’s position in the national tournament could be in jeopardy — I’ll admit I was a part of that camp. However, with the benefit of hindsight, that might have been a bit of an overreaction.
Although SFU had seven losses all year — the second-most out of any team selected from the west region — five of those losses came against teams ranked above them in the west region. Four of them came against GNAC rivals Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington, the other against California Baptist. Those teams are ranked first, third, and second in the region respectively. Anchorage and Baptist are second and third in the national rankings. Western Washington is 16th.
These losses against highly ranked teams and the relative strength of their schedule likely helped SFU get the fifth seed, despite not having the most eye-popping record relative to other teams in the west region. Out of region wins against Augustana University and Colorado Mesa, two teams that had similar records to SFU and are probably a bit ticked off they didn’t make the tournament, are examples of this.
But in any case, they’re in, and there are some question marks surrounding this team. The first is the absence of Meg Wilson. Injured during the Central Washington game, she had surgery recently and is out for 12 weeks — ending her season prematurely and leaving a huge hole in the Clan’s starting lineup.
“We just have to make some adjustments and accept the fact that we lose 14 points a game and several rebounds a game,” said Langford on the absence of Wilson. “There’s opportunity for people to step up and show what they can do.”
It can’t be understated how big of a loss this is. She was a truly versatile player, able to play the perimeter and inside, all while being a great defensive presence.
Sophie Swant is expected to slot into the starting lineup, and both her and Tia Tsang should be expected to play significant minutes going forward.
The second is Ellen Kett and the team’s reliance on their star point guard. In the team’s previous game, Kett almost willed the team to victory single handedly. She scored 22 of the team’s 57 points that game — just under 40% of the team’s total points. She was also only one of two Clan players to shoot over 40% from the field, all while playing her customary 30-plus minutes. If the Tritons are able to limit her effectiveness, the Clan could be going home early.
Finally, the structure of the tournament will once again be a huge hurdle to climb. If they are able to defeat UC San Diego, they will like be facing Alaska Anchorage at their home venue. Over the past three seasons, they’ve only lost four games at home — but one of which was against SFU, just last season in the final conference game.
“They’ll have a big crowd, it will be an exciting venue,” said Langford on the prospect of facing Anchorage. “But the reality is we need a bunch of pieces to fall together the right way. It’s a huge challenge. They’re the number two team in the country. But is it impossible? No, it’s not impossible.”
After that, they could be facing Western Washington or Cal Baptist — if they are able to get that far.
One silver lining the Clan can take into the tournament is that in their past four losses, they’ve had the lead starting the fourth quarter. If they can remove the mental lapses and hit a few more of the shots they weren’t able to in upcoming games, they should stand a chance.
The Clan plays UC San Diego this Friday at 6:00 p.m. Follow our Twitter account @PeakSFUSports for live coverage.