There was a lot of build up to yesterday’s rematch with Team Ontario. Since our first meeting on Friday they have been playing very well with convincing victories over Quebec (90-67) and Newfoundland (85-70) and looked to be hitting their stride. For us we were coming off an exciting victory over a very strong British Columbia (84-72) squad, and as most people know, had won our first round match-up with Ontario on Friday in convincing fashion.
The biggest challenge for us was finding a way to recover from Monday’s exhausting battle against BC. Tournaments like this are essentially a war of attrition. Not only are you playing day after day for an entire week, but with each step towards a medal game the opponent gets stronger. This means more minutes for your best players and those minutes need to be played at a higher level both physically and mentally.
Yesterday we lost that battle. We hit the wall.
Not to take anything away from a talented Ontario team but we just didn’t have it yesterday. This is very disappointing because we have taken pride in being one of the better teams at Nationals at taking care of the “controllables”. Players have done a great job all week of managing their rest, food intake and hydration in an living environment (university dorm rooms) that makes that a very challenging task.
As the game started yesterday it was obvious it was not going to be a pretty game. In the first quarter we had players missing wide open 15 foot jumpers, traveling on break away layups, and looking very sluggish on defensive. Meanwhile Ontario looked sharp, hitting jumpers from deep and getting easy run outs for layups. The 2nd quarter saw a few god runs but each time we started to look like ourselves Ontario would make another run. We ended the half down 16 points which, considering the way we played, wasn’t that bad.
The 3rd quarter was a little better especially when Ontario’s starting point guard had to leave the game with a sore ankle. With him out along with their starting center on the bench in foul trouble, we were able to go with a small line up who could pressure the Ontario ball handlers full court. This strategy was working perfectly on the defensive end but we still struggled to reward ourselves on the offensive end. As the quarter came to a close we had the led down to 10 points but Ontario ended the quarter with a 9-0 run and we ended up losing the quarter by 3 points. Huge blow!
The final quarter was much the same. We were able to pressure them into turnovers and tough shots late in the clock but each time we failed to get the defensive rebound or convert free throws on the other end. At around the 5:00 minute mark however we seemed to get a little more urgent with our defense which lead to a quick 10-0 run cutting the lead to 70-60 with 2:25 to play.
At this point we have all the momentum. We need one more stop and a quick score to make this realistic. As the Ontario player crosses over center he is trapped along the sideline near the Ontario bench. As he stops and attempts to pivot away from the the double team he clearly steps ACROSS (not on) the sideline. No call.
The Ontario player is able to swing the ball over to a teammate who misses the shot but because we are still scrambling back from the sideline trap they are able secure the offensive rebound. We end up committing a defense foul and they make both foul shots to put the lead back to 12 after taking 25 seconds off the clock. Game over!
Over the last two minutes we continue to fight but can’t make a dent in the led and Ontario wins 74-64.
Today will be a tough day. Last night we got hit with every possible challenge a team can face. We lost of game that required us to grind to 40 minutes. When we return to res the cafeteria is closed and the dorm rooms at 32 degrees with most rooms not having fans. The icing on the cake however is one of our players has food poisoning from eating the bagged lunches that have been a huge issue all week.
But this isn’t the time for excuses. All teams are dealing with the same issues. Bringing home a medal will definitely make it seem much better.