Martlets hold on for wild win over hot-shooting Citadins

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What do Shakespeare and the McGill women’s basketball team have in common? In most cases, not very much. But at this point in the year, “all’s well that ends well” is becoming an increasingly useful descriptor for the way the Martlets’ season has progressed. After a mediocre start to conference play, the Martlets have picked up their play as of late, and continued their recent surge with a wild 70-69 victory over the visiting UQAM Citadins at Love Competition Hall on Saturday night.

McGill came out of the gates on fire, connecting on a bevy of outside shots to take a 16-10 lead after the first quarter. The hot shooting continued for the Martlets, who pushed their lead to 15 midway through the second period. However, things began to unravel for the home squad after intermission, as McGill failed to sustain their offensive momentum, and UQAM began to connect from downtown. The Citadins took a five-point lead with less than five minutes left in regulation, but the Martlets refused to fold.

“[Head Coach Ryan Thorne] wanted us to just grind it out,” said fifth-year guard Stephanie Bergeron, who was honoured along with fellow seniors Nathifa Weekes and Caroline Hebert following the game. “They were hitting some big threes. That’s basically it. It comes down [to] a battle of the boards, and who wants it more. [Coach] had confidence in us the whole time. We felt that, and we let our momentum carry us through.”

In the dying moments of the game, however, momentum appeared to be heavily on the visitors’ side. After a pair of free-throws by first-year forward Helene Bibeau put McGill up by one, UQAM’s Michelle Auger-Bellemare sunk a jumper from the wing with 36 seconds to go. After turning the ball over underneath their own basket, the Martlets were forced to foul, but a Citadin player stepped out of bounds on the ensuing possession to give the ball right back to the home squad, setting up the dramatic finish. With time running down, the Martlets gave the ball to Bibeau at the top of the key, who drove left before pulling up from 10 feet and connecting on a contested jumper. The shot capped a highly entertaining game, and gave McGill a much-needed lift in the standings.

“It’s definitely a big win. It was a big boost,” said Bergeron. “We jumped into second place with that win so we’re really happy. Helene Bibeau came up big for us […] and down the stretch we were disciplined with our defence and our rebounding. Everybody came together when we needed them the most.”

For the Martlets, every contest now has the feel of a must-win game, as the team scrambles for a higher seed before playoffs begin in March. Bergeron recognized that the team still has a lot to improve upon if they wish to be contenders in a month’s time.

“We have a hard time closing out games – we’ll lose by a couple of points or we’ll go into overtime and lose, and that gets you down,” she said. “When you win a game like this, it’s really a confidence booster. [But] we’ve got to take care of the basketball, and be more disciplined on offence. Our key is Anneth [Him-Lazarenko]. We need to really get her the ball and she just has to do her thing, find the shooters when she’s double-teamed, and we just have to knock down shots.”

Him-Lazarenko – whose stellar freshman campaign was cut short last year after a devastating ACL injury – has returned this season to carry the offensive load for the Martlets. She doubled up with 17 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday, while Weekes and freshman Marie-Eve Martin chipped in with 13 and 14 points, respectively. Playing in her last home game, Weekes was pleased with her squad’s resilience, and expressed satisfaction as to the future of the program.

“I think [Martlet basketball] is headed in the right direction,” she said. “We’ve got a bunch of good recruits and rookies, and the future is bright.”

McGill takes some time off before hitting the road for a date with the first-placed Laval Rouge et Or on February 12. The Martlets play their final game of the regular season against the Citadins at UQAM on February 27.