One down, two to go.
With a 64-48 win over the Quest University Kermodes, the Kwantlen Eagles women have punched a ticket to tonight’s semifinal bout against the top-ranked Capilano University Blues.
But despite getting that first W, no weight or pressure has been lifted off of the Eagles. If anything, the monkey on their back has become a gorilla.
“It’s one game at a time. It’s been our theme this year of not filling in the blank with either we’re gonna win or we’re gonna lose,” said Kwantlen’s head coach Dan Nayebzadeh. “Just go out and play as hard as we can and let the chips fall as they may.”
After two quarters, the teams were knotted up at 25 apiece. It wasn’t until late in the third that the Eagles started to make a push, with point guard Jessica Villadiego knocking down back-to-back three pointers. It fired up the girls and sent a chill of silence throughout the mostly pro-Quest crowd.
The fourth started off rocky as both squads traded airballs from beyond the arc, but the Eagles settled down and went on to get bucket after bucket in the paint.
Still maintaining an eight-plus point lead throughout the fourth, Kwantlen put the game away at the free-throw line, hitting 17 of 26 freebies and icing the game in the final minutes.
“I thought they showed some maturity at the end. I mean we’re still young, yet we kind of beat mature, older teams,” said Nayebzadeh. “So we showed some maturity and some grit. Sam [McPhail] was wonderful on the boards – she got every rebound that was available even though she was getting hacked the whole time.”
McPhail anchored Kwantlen’s post presence and finished with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds, while hitting six of eight from the stripe.
Villadiego paced the Eagles with 14 points, with nine of them coming from long range. Her fellow second-year backcourt mate, Jeanneine Yngreso, also reached double-digits with 13 points – the bulk of them from the free-throw line.
Nayebzadeh couldn’t have summed up their late-game push and composure from the line any better.
“We’re just a second half team,” said Nayebzadeh. “We’re fitter than the other team usually. So we came out and scored 20 in the third and 19 I think in the fourth and we played decent defense. Usually the other teams seem to drop a bit in the second half while we pick it up a bit.”
The Eagles, ranked fifth going into the playoffs didn’t complete much of an upset, with Quest only ranking one spot above them in fourth – but their semifinal tilt isn’t as evenly matched.
Just don’t tell Kwantlen’s second-year bench boss that.
“There’s a little bit of a rivalry there,” he said after Thursday’s win. “And they’re also our size, they’re not super big, they play like us. They’re a little older and more experienced, but I like the matchup for some reason, I don’t know why, but I like it.”
Although the Blues have got the best of the Eagles in their three regular season games, their margin of victory didn’t exceed 10 points in any of those bouts, the last of which saw a Cap pull out a 59-53 victory at Kwantlen’s Surrey home.
“I like the matchup,” added Nayebzadeh. “If we’re going to get anyone in the second round, rested, I like Capilano to be honest.”
The Eagles and Blues are set to tip off at 6 pm at Camosun’s Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence.