The playoff picture got a little more clear this weekend. Calgary practically knocked out Thompson Rivers from the race and Saskatchewan overtook first place thanks to a split between Winnipeg and Alberta.
Standings (Games Back)
xSaskatchewan - 16-2 (0)
xRegina - 15-3 (1)
xWinnipeg - 14-4 (2)
xAlberta - 15-5 (2)
xVictoria - 15-5 (2)
xUBC - 13-5 (3)
UFV - 8-10 (8)
Calgary - 8-10 (8)
TRU - 7-13 (10)
Manitoba - 6-12 (10)
zLethbridge - 4-16 (13)
zTWU - 1-19 (16)
zBrandon - 0-18 (16)
There's quite a drop-off between the top 6 teams and the remaining playoff contenders in the Dinos, Cascades, WolfPack and Bisons. Knowing how important home court can be, that makes the remaining games for the top six teams huge; the playoff format is 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc: in a three-game series, with the four winners going to the Canada West Tournament hosted by the remaining top seed. Then there lies the importance of making it to the CIS tournament as a backdoor seed. A maximum of four Canada West teams could potentially make the Final 8 tournament.
As for this weekend in Canada West action among the contending teams ...
Saskatchewan pulled a pair of wins at the Langley Events Centre, 67-43 and 89-42, to nobody's surprise. While they sit at the top of the standings now, they have a tough stretch to end the season. They host Alberta this weekend before a home-and-home with Regina the next, giving them four big games against tough opponents. Alberta is a very good shooting team (2nd in conference) against a relatively average shooting defense in Saskatchewan, so the seeds are lying here for an upset of one or two tames. This is a moment where Saskatchewan's rebounding depth will show, as Alberta needs to neutralize Jana Spindler's power in the paint and Katie Miyazaki's speed from grabbing defensive boards.
Regina scored 83-79 and 74-66 wins on the road at UFV in games that probably should have had a wider point spread. This Cascades team is difficult to figure out, and Regina saw that first hand with a couple of scares. Regina had a huge second half on Friday, outscoring UFV 54-38 for the four-point win, thanks in large part to solid foul shooting and the play of Lindsay Ledingham who had a team-high 9 rebounds and 18 points. The Cougars finished with five in double figures. Regina started slow on Saturday, but again were able to put the Cascades to sleep in the second half with Joanna Zalesiak's 21 leading the way. Ledingham had 10 defensive rebounds, keeping the ball out of the hands of Cascade shooters. Regina has the toughest schedule of the top six teams in the conference and host UBC this weekend.
The conference's third-ranked defense did its part this weekend, holding Brandon to 73 points in both of their weekend games, with 92-44 and 84-29 wins. The third quarter in the Saturday game saw our third scoreless quarter of the season, with Victoria outscoring Brandon 30-zilch. This is all without recording a single blocked shot in the game. Victoria travel to TRU this weekend, and your intrepid CIS Blog reporter will be on scene to take in all of the action.
Alberta managed a split with Winnipeg in the premier matchup of the week. On Friday they lost 69-66 despite a strong performance from rookie Sally Hillier. Matt Hirji over at The Gateway covers the Pandas injury woes in more depth. With just eight players on the court Saturday, they racked up a 71-62 win thanks to some hard-earned points. They were sent to the foul line 29 times to 8, and hit 21 of those. Alberta host Saskatchewan this weekend, and will probably need at least one win to get a home court spot in the playoffs.
Winnipeg managed the one win over Alberta, but at 14-4, they have the advantage of being the only top-6 who won't have to face another top-6 opponent until the playoffs. While six easy games certainly won't help them keep their form, it should help them secure a top spot which will move them into the CIS at-large tournament bracket. They travel to host UFV this weekend, which is always a dangerous team against which to avoid being upset, but shouldn't have too much trouble dispatching Brandon and Lethbridge in their final two games, even if they do come on the road. Winnipeg is a team that could suddenly leap-frog a bunch of teams without anybody noticing.
UBC had a bye week, giving them an extra week to review video before travelling to Regina in must-win games if they want to climb on top and earn themselves a home court playoff berth. With five Canada West teams eligible for the Final 8 and regionals, UBC is on the outside looking in for now.
Thompson Rivers WolfPack vs. Calgary Dinos
The other feature games this weekend come from Kamloops' Tournament Capital Centre, wherein we saw TRU lose control in both second halves and Calgary's stars take over. Alberta got off to a quick start Friday, let the WolfPack claw their way back in before Brazilian guard Samara Pereira made some big shots and her team drew some fouls and controlled the defensive glass in the second half. She finished with 15. TRU scored 9 fourth quarter points and Alberta won 72-62 in a game that was closer through the other 30 minutes.
On Saturday, TRU guard Kaitlyn Widsten went down with a knee injury in the third quarter that silenced the gymnasium. Friend and fellow guard Jen Ju came alive and hit some threes (8-for-20 in the game for 28 points) but the game was probably already out of hand thanks to some tough work by Tamara Jarrett and strong shooting by Ashley Hill. The two finished with 20 and 19 points, respectively. Hill was particularly dangerous driving down the left side and pulling up from mid range. She hit three shots from that area. Despite some raucous crowd noise, Calgary was ice-cold from the foul line, going 28-38 in the game. The final score was 72-64.