Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Campus Corner: Tuesday night hoops

Just got back from the Queen's - Ottawa basketball games, which saw some surprising developments. The first game saw the Gee-Gees pick up only their second win of the season (and the other one was against RMC, so that hardly counts) against the 7-10 Gaels. Queen's had shown some signs of turning their poor season around lately after reeling off a couple of wins last weekend, but they left Ottawa in the game for far too long, and it eventually cost them.

The first half was pretty even throughout, with neither team able to build too much momentum. Queen's took a slim 33-32 lead into the break, but the Gaels were outscored 18-10 in the third and weren't able to make up the lost ground. Ottawa took a 12-point lead with 90 seconds left on a Katie Laurier field goal, but Gaels Sarah Barnes and Christine Wallace hit back-to-back threes to bring Queen's within six. That was as close as they got, though, and the game finished 68-63 for the Gee-Gees.

There were both upsides and downsides for Queen's in this one. After the game, head coach Dave Wilson legitimately cast much of the blame on the Gaels' twenty turnovers, but they certainly weren't helped by some interesting officiating. One call in particular that hurt Queen's was a suspect fifth foul on starting point guard Teddi Firmi with five minutes left. Firmi was run over by an Ottawa forward driving the hoop, but the call went against her and the Gaels experienced a severe guard shortage (Jaime Dale didn't dress due to injury), which certainly hurt them down the stretch. Firmi was having a solid game, too, as she put up six points, three assists, and a team-high eight rebounds, with six of them coming from the defensive glass (Aside: can anyone think of another team where the point guard often leads in rebounding?).

On the bright side, Brittany Moore did a nice job at shooting guard in place of Dale for much of the game, knocking down a team-high 18 points and adding three rebounds. Alaina Porter had a strong game with 12 points and four rebounds, while Anne Murphy chipped in eight points and six rebounds. It definitely wasn't a total write-off for the Gaels, and as Firmi pointed out afterwards, it certainly shows they need to bring intensity to every game. I'll have the full story on this one in Friday's Journal.

The men's game also provided an interesting matchup. I was expecting things to be reasonably close, as both teams have been in the national top-10 rankings this year (Ottawa was 13-3 heading into the game and sat sixth in the coaches' poll, while Queen's was 10-6 and unranked). However, it wasn't even a contest at first, as Ottawa stormed out to a 25-7 lead early on. Queen's managed to stop the bleeding, though, largely through the insertion of point guard Baris Ondul (playing in his first game back since his groin injury earlier this year). Ondul still didn't look 100 per cent, especially late in the game, but his tenacious defending and strong distribution of the ball made a huge difference. Queen's outscored Ottawa 24-14 in the second quarter, and only trailed 34-31 at the half.

Another slow start cost the Gaels in the second half, as the Gee-Gees quickly jumped out to a 45-33 lead. They widened the lead to 14 points early in the fourth quarter, but Queen's came back within eight, courtesy of some strong three-point shooting by guard Simon Mitchell. Ottawa again widened the lead, but Queen's started knocking down three-point shots like there was no tomorrow, with Jon Ogden hitting two, Simon adding another and his brother Travis chipping in a fourth. Simon Mitchell's three-pointer cut the lead to three with less than five seconds left, setting the stage for a fantastic finish.

Gael forward Nick DiDonato promptly fouled Ottawa veteran David Labentowicz on the inbound, and he stepped up to the line. Facing the hostile atmosphere of a packed house (with encouragement from the Queen's Bands and the competitive cheerleading squad), Labentowicz cracked and air-balled his first shot. Queen's crowded the key with three defenders on the second attempt, hoping for a rebound, while Ottawa elected to focus on defending downcourt and only sent guard Sean Peter in for a rebound. Labentowicz missed again, but against the odds, one rebounder prevailed over three and Peter came up with the ball. DiDonato quickly fouled him, but he hit one of his shots to put the game out of reach. The Gaels' inbounds pass was intercepted, and the game finished 74-70.

There were several interesting things to note in this one. Gaels' star Mitch Leger had a solid first three quarters, putting up 13 points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal. However, coach Rob Smart sent him to the bench for most of the fourth quarter, and he didn't play at all inside the last ten minutes. It's highly unusual to sit a star in crunch time during such a close game, so there's the possibility of injury: Gaels' fans will certainly hope it was just an odd coaching decision, though, as this team doesn't seem likely to do too much without Mitch.

Also, fourth-year guard Simon Mitchell had another outstanding game. He was called upon to shoulder much of the point guard's role, with Ondul limited to 13 minutes, but he again proved he's very capable in this slot. He knocked down 21 points and added five assists (both team-highs), while also chipping in four defensive rebounds.

The key thing for me was this team's ability to shoot the three when they're hot. Overall, they were a pretty lousy 29.4 per cent from downtown, but towards the end, everything they threw up was going in. The majority of the late shots were contested, but it didn't seem to matter. If they can just channel that more often, they may be able to pull off some playoff success. Their free-throw shooting is also very impressive: five players were perfect from the line, and the team overall converted 84.2 per cent of their foul shots, much better than Ottawa's 67.9 per cent. They were slightly out-rebounded by the Gee-Gees (38 to 35), but pulled down 12 offensive boards against Ottawa's eight. They also showed that they have scoring depth: four players hit double digits (both Mitchells, Leger and Ogden). The Gaels aren't quite up there with the Carletons of this world yet, but they certainly showed they can run with the Ottawas: if they had come out of the gate with the intensity they showed towards the end, they probably would have won this one. Katie McKenna (who's proving to be a great sportswriter when she isn't busy stopping shots for the women's soccer team) will have the full story in Friday's paper.

The next matchups for the hoops squads will also be interesting: both teams face the Laurentian Voyageurs Friday and the York Lions Saturday. Both women's teams are very strong (York is a league-leading 15-3, while Laurentian is 13-5), but the men's teams are considerably weaker. The Lions are 4-13, while the Voyageurs are 3-14, ahead of only the pitiful 0-17 RMC Paladins. My prediction is two wins for the men and two losses for the women, but you never know what will happen in OUA athletics...

Related links:
- Mark Wacyk's take on the game over at cishoops.ca
- Neate Sager's post on the game and the most recent top-10 rankings


  1. Cool post, Andrew... I can't recall the Bands being at the basketball games in my day.

    As for Mitch Leger not being out, is it possible that if he wasn't hurt, that Rob Smart was trying to go small-ball and spread the floor for his 3-point shooters? They were behind in the game, right?

  2. Interesting idea, Neate. It's certainly possible: however, according to the OUA's stats, Mitch has the second-highest 3-point percentage on the team (38.5%), behind only Travis Mitchell (38.6%). As Tyler pointed out though, those stats can often be wrong: their listing of Dan Bannister three times with slightly different spellings and drastically different stats is certainly problematic. The Gaels were behind, but Mitch is by far the best player on the team and one of the best long-ball shooters, so I certainly wouldn't have benched him there. I've been thinking about it a bit more, and the only possible rationalization I've thought of was Smart trying to set up a specific defensive matchup: still not sure if that offsets having your best offensive player on the floor when you're trailing, though.

    On the Bands: yeah, it was the first time I'd seen them there as well. Alex Brown, the drum major this year, told me they're trying to attend more basketball games now, as the refs are far more lenient on the times they can play than they are in other winter sports.