The Capilano University Blues women’s basketball team delivered a strong all-around performance in the final of the PACWEST Championship on Saturday, defeating the Camosun College Chargers 75-70 to win PACWEST gold. The win advances Capilano to the CCAA Nationals hosted by Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.
Second-seeded Capilano carried a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter, but their ball control and free throw shooting down the stretch helped them hold off a frantic Camosun comeback. The #4 seeded Chargers drained four three-pointers in the final minutes and scored 36 total points in the fourth quarter, but the play of Ashley dela Cruz Yip and Emma Cunningham in the back court kept the Blues in control and helped them close out the victory.
Carmelle M’Bikata was named tournament MVP after a dominant performance in the final. The fifth-year forward set the tone early on both ends of the floor, as she shot 6-of-9 in the opening half en route to 14 points to go along with eight rebounds. She then didn't miss a shot in the second half -- shooting 11-of-14 overall from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free throw line to end with 26 points and 16 rebounds. M'Bikata was also named Player of the Game.
Coming off of a come-from-behind 58-57 victory in the semis, the Blues quickly established their game on both ends of the floor. Cunningham had six early points and M’Bikata found success in the post, forcing Camosun into an early timeout. Combined with strong rebounding on the defensive end, Capilano built up a 17-11 lead after one quarter.
Capilano took their defensive game to another level in the second frame, holding the Chargers to just three points in the quarter. The Blues forced two shot clock violations and allowed no offensive rebounds, and Camosun shot just nine percent from beyond the arc. On offence they continued to find success in the paint, with M’Bikata and rookie Mackenzie Smith both converting from down low to help Capilano lead 31-14 at halftime.
Camosun mounted a charge in the second half when their offence started to heat up, but the Blues continued to attack and pushed their lead up to as much as 20. M’Bikata remained dominant in the paint and Capilano’s had success driving to the hoop, and CapU took a 49-34 lead into the final frame.
The fourth quarter saw Camosun slowly chip away at their deficit, with four three-pointers from Aija Salvador cutting Capilano’s lead down to single-digits. The Chargers started to foul to put the Blues on the line with 1:30 to go in the game, but Cunningham and dela Cruz Yip stayed composed and made their free throws to keep it a two-possession game. While Camosun kept responding with baskets, the seconds slowly ticked away and Capilano secured the 75-70 win to take home gold.
"To hold such a talented team as the Camosun Chargers to only 14 points in the first half was one of the greatest defensive performances I've ever been a part of," said head coach Ramin Sadaghiani. "The girls followed the game plan, and showed incredible discipline, grit, and focus. I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Blues made only two three-pointers in the game – shooting 2-for-7 – but did nearly all their damage in the paint, shooting 47.3 percent from the floor. They were also strong at the free throw line, going 21-for-29. M’Bikata had a double-double with 26 points and 16 rebounds, and Cunningham had 16 and five. Dela Cruz Yip nearly had a triple-double with 16 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds, while Reiko Ohama chipped in 11 points, five boards, and four assists. M’Bikata was named Tournament MVP, and Cunningham was named a Tournament All-Star.
It’s Capilano’s first conference gold medal since 2010-11, and it comes on the heels of two consecutive silvers. The Blues now advance to the CCAA Women’s Basketball Nationals hosted by Mount Allison University from March 14-17. Game info and seeding will be released in the following week.