The Capilano University Blues women’s basketball team pulled together in the final minutes of Friday’s semifinal at the PACWEST Championships, coming from behind to earn a well-fought 58-57 victory over the host Vancouver Island University Mariners. The win advances the Blues to Saturday night’s gold medal game at 6:00pm in Nanaimo.
CapU and VIU finished the regular season with identical 13-5 records, though Capilano held the tiebreaker thanks to a 2-1 head-to-head record – giving them the #2 seed and a bye into the semifinal. #3 seeded VIU defeated #6 Quest University yesterday, and held tough with a rested Blues team early on. Both sides pushed the tempo on offence throughout the first quarter, and the Mariners held on to a slim 19-17 lead after one period of play.
The Blues defence held firm in the second frame by forcing several turnovers, but VIU’s shooting percentage of 45.0 percent in the first half kept the Mariners in control. Capilano briefly tied the game at 28 late in the half on a three-pointer by Francis Penafiel – their only one of the half, shooting just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc – but the Mariners responded with a 6-0 run to close out of the half and lead 34-28 at the break.
A 5-0 run out of halftime helped Capilano cut their deficit down to one, but VIU answered with five-straight points of their own to regain a two-possession lead. The Blues again clawed back to even things up at 42, but the home side held firm and pushed their lead to as much as seven. They looked poised to put the game out of reach, but another Penafiel three helped stem the tide and cut the deficit back to four.
With the Blues toughening their play on the defence, Emma Cunningham delivered a clutch triple with three minutes left to make it 55-54. After a defensive stop, Ashley dela Cruz Yip hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow to give Capilano their first lead since the first quarter. Emma Platner hit a lay-up for VIU to put them back in front, but dela Cruz Yip was fouled on Cap’s next possession – and she hit one of two free throws to tie things at 57 with 56.9 seconds left.
Capilano got a big defensive stop on VIU’s next possession, and M’Bikata was fouled while securing the rebound, sending her to the line. She made one of two shots, but Cunningham grabbed the offensive rebound off the missed shot to keep possession with 18.4 seconds to play.
The Blues called a timeout, but VIU forced a turnover with 10 seconds to play, giving them a chance to win. Yet M’Bikata, who had a dominant game on defence and played all 40 minutes, rejected a lay-up attempt as the clock expired to secure Capilano’s 58-57 win.
"We talked about being the more determined team down the stretch," said CapU head coach Ramin Sadaghiani. "We knew it was going to come down to the wire, so we needed to start getting the offensive rebounds and loose ball that VIU had been getting the entire game. We were able to clamp down defensively, and found a way to win as a result."
Cunningham posted 18 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals in the contest, and was named Capilano’s Player of the Game. M’Bikata and dela Cruz Yip each added 11 points.
Capilano advances to the finals of the PACWEST Women’s Basketball Championship for the third-straight season, and will look to avenge silver medals in each of the past two years. They’ll face the winner of the other semifinal between #1 Douglas College and #4 Camosun College. The final goes Saturday, March 3 at 6:00pm at Vancouver Island University; the game can be streamed online at pacwestbc.tv.