Gryphon hoops women earn home playoff match
Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal
GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons decided they wanted to host a playoff game and there was just no way the Western Mustangs were going to stop them from doing so.
The Gryphs rallied in the second half to down Western 85-76 in the final game of the OUA women’s basketball league’s regular season for both teams.
“These guys really wanted this game,” Gryphon coach Mark Walton said of his players. “I think they were really nervous at the start and when Western started shooting the ball well at the start of the game, I kept preaching to them, ‘Keep on them. Keep wearing them down. Eventually their legs won’t be there.’ By the end of the game, they had players who didn’t want the ball anymore and I think that’s because of that defensive intensity.”
Second-year Gryph Nyasha Mombeshora exemplified that defensive intensity. She only had seven minutes of floor time, but she did the job assigned to her and recorded two rebounds and two assists.
“She came on the floor and was just huge defensively for us,” Walton said. “They were a really quality seven minutes. That’s what I’ve been preaching to our players. Somebody’s going to step up off the bench and really be that spark plug for us. It was really true in spades today.”
The Gryphs are a team that isn’t shy about using the players who begin the game sitting on the Guelph bench. They used 11 players against Western Saturday and 12 saw floor time in the win over Waterloo Wednesday.”
“That’s been key,” Walton said. “I told them at the start of the season when I said that even UConn proved last year you can’t win a championship with seven players. They bought into that whole philosophy and they’re making contributions every way they can. Boy, it’s so nice to see them all step up. They come in and they play quality minutes. Like Lou Holtz used to say, ‘Don’t count the time, make the time count.’ That’s exactly the truth.”
Both teams entered Saturday’s game at the Guelph Gryphons Athletics Centre knowing the winner would host the other one in a West Division quarter-final match Wednesday as the winner would finish fourth in the division at 14-10 and the loser would be fifth at 13-11.
Early on it looked like the playoff game would be held in London as Western jumped to a 26-19 lead at the end of the first quarter and 37-30 at halftime. The Mustangs led by eight points midway through the third quarter when the Gryphs decided that they’d had enough. They went on a 20-6 run in the final five minutes of the quarter to carry a six-point lead (62-56) into the final quarter.
“We were getting our shots,” Walton said. “We missed 10 lay-ups in the first half. We were getting our shots, it was just a matter of ‘Hey, they’ll drop. Just hang in there. It’ll start to fall.’”
The gap stabilized around six or seven points for a few minutes in the final quarter until the Gryphs started adding to it again. They were up by 15 with 2:49 to go and everyone on the floor knew the playoff game would be played in Guelph.
Skyla Minaker and Sarah Holmes played the entire second half for the Gryphs and responded with 16 and 13 points respectively in that half. Overall, Holmes led all scorers with 25 points and Minaker had 22.
“Skyla Minaker, who’s been battling really sore shin splints, comes back in the game and we didn’t know if we were going to play her or not,” Walton said. “And then she not only plays, she shoots 60 per cent from the floor and was just such a spark plug for us. Boy oh boy oh boy, it was so nice to see. Sarah, you can’t say enough about her. Having her back in the lineup is just so key for us.”
Burke Bechard added 10 while Ashley Wheeler had six. Holmes also grabbed seven rebounds and had two assists, six steals and a block while Minaker had five rebounds, six assists and a steal. Haley Belyk and Megan Brenkel each had two blocks.
Mackenzie Puklicz and Julia Curran each had 22 points for Western while Maddy Horst had 21. Curran had 10 rebounds, four steals and two blocks while Laura Graham had six assists and Horst also had four steals.
The Gryphs, who received a well-deserved standing ovation after the game, will be making their second playoff appearance in three years. In 2016 they hosted the Brock Badgers and won 69-51 in a conference quarter-final match at the old Mitchell Athletics Centre before being ousted with a 55-43 loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees at Ottawa in the league quarter-finals.
That playoff win was their first since beating the Lakehead Thunderwolves 80-56 at home in a division quarter-final in 2007 when they finished third in the West Division at 19-5. They also won a league quarter-final match that season, but lost in a league semifinal at McMaster.
Wednesday’s game is to start at 7 p.m.