The UTM women’s basketball team dominated their way into the championship game against UTSG on Saturday afternoon (March 4) at the Goldring Centre in Toronto. The UTM women were phenomenal most of the regular season against everyone except UTSG, who had won all three previous contests by large margins. UTSG proved that the ego is your biggest enemy, because UTM came through against all odds and won the D-league championships 50-48.
The UTM women were not fazed by the pressure, and got rid of their nerves early during the first quarter of fast-paced play. The women began to sink their shots; Caitlyn Azzalini sunk her three-point attempts as per usual, and Jade Addai manoeuvred her way through UTSG defenders, scoring easy layup baskets. At the end of the first quarter, UTM led 15-10.
The second quarter felt much slower with players becoming exhausted. UTM’s replacements, for a handful of minutes, had a difficult time putting points on the board, but held UTSG from finding their way into the game. At one point, Addai stood with the ball at her three-point line with three seconds left on the shot clock, and instead of shooting, she stampeded past UTSG defenders and scored, putting the passionate UTM fans into a frenzy. Subsequently, she sunk her foul attempt directly after. Though, UTSG took the ball a moment later and scored on a three-point play, which put them up for the first time in the contest 21-20. At the end of the first half, UTSG began to sink their shots, keeping it a tight-knit competitive game. UTSG now had the 27-24 lead going into the second half.
The beginning of the second half started off slow. UTSG turned over the ball on some occasions, and UTM missed four consecutive three-point attempts. UTSG broke the ice with a basket scored off a strategic cross-court pass and shot. Azzalini broke the ice for UTM, scoring a two-point basket. Prianka Mehla found herself in the scoring mix, scoring a two-point shot near the end boundary line. UTM’s Tasja Rhooms gave her team the competitive edge back, scoring an off-centred layup and then her foul attempt. She continued to score points in the third quarter, proving to be the spark that was missing since the first quarter. UTM and UTSG were tied going into the final frame, 37-37.
It was the final match UTSG didn’t expect to have to fight, given that not much had gone their way so far. They must have known that if UTM could manage a few three-point opportunities and score, they would see UTM pull away. But UTM had UTSG right where they wanted them.
Azzalini stepped onto the court at the seven-minute mark and proved she was ready for the big time stage and not just the regular season stage. She took a chance from beyond the three-point line, and put her squad up by one with a three-pointer with 3:25 remaining in the season. Ashley Beckles succeeded on a clutch three-point scoring chance at the right time, putting her team up by four points. UTSG was stuck in their own end, shocked by the contrast from their previous games in the season. Daesi Reale fed off her teammates shooting prowess, scoring on a three-point opportunity and ultimately securing her team’s first championship victory since the 2002-2003 season.
Head coach Salee Johnson-Edwards is incredibly proud of her women squad for showing strength and determination all throughout the tight contest. “It feels as though it’s beyond words. We’ve been trying for the past few years to do something like this. Last year we came close, but we lost by five points in the championships. I wanted this win for all my players, but especially the seniors. They’ve poured themselves into this program for the past three years.
“To beat a team that beat every single game in the regular season is special. We had a game plan and these athletes stuck to it,” she adds. “This [championship game] is hands-down the best game they played all season, and it happened at the right time.”
Johnson-Edwards claims that it was her team’s ability to have fun in the final quarter which led to their success, “You’re not going to pull through and win if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing. These women worked their butts off, and they deserve the win.”