MUN faces a huge task this weekend in Antigonish, but one it's done before
It's a .500 team which needs to win three games in three days, but the Memorial Sea-Hawks women's basketball team is exuding confidence heading into the AUS conference playoffs this weekend in Antigonish, N.S.
The Lady Hawks open the playoffs Friday night with a quarter-final match against the host St. Francis Xavier X-Women.
If MUN can reach the final - win or lose - it earns a qualifying shot at the CIS championship tournament March 17-19 in Calgary.
But first things first.
It's an uphill battle for a quarter-final team to win an AUS title, but in 2000, fifth-seeded Memorial an off three straight wins to capture the conference championship. MUN coach Doug Partridge sees no reason why the Lady Hawks can't do it again and win their eighth AUS crown this weekend.
"Whatever you have to do, you have to do. It's not about the number of games, it's about how you have to play," said Partridge.
"We have to take care of the ball and we have to rebound. If we do those two things, well be tough to beat."
If the Sea-Hawks, losers of four of their last five regular-season games, get past fifth-seed St. FX, they'll have to play the first-place Acadia Axewomen, who beat MUN twice this season.
That was then, this is now, said Partridge.
"We don't have to beat the best team three times," he said. " We've just got to get them on that day."
But first they have to get past the X-Women.
Memorial (10-10) and St. FX (10-10) split a pair of games in mid-February at the Field House. St. Francis, whose only AUS title came in 1996-97, is coming off a win against Saint Mary's Huskies to end the regular season.
So what's MUN's strategy going into Friday.
"It's easier to win if we shut down (point guard) Vanessa Pickard," said Partridge.
"They run so much of their offence through the point guard, if we make it tough for her (Pickard) to get the ball in her hands, it's tough for them to run the offence," added Partridge.
"(In the regular season), we did an excellent job in controlling the post game, which is the other side of their offence. So if we make it difficult for them in the post and we do a good job on Pickard, they don't have a lot else that they do."
Fourth-year Ally Forsey led the team in scoring (16.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.5 per game).
Senior Robyn O'Rielly was second in team scoring with 12.8 ppg. and was second in the conference in three-pointers with 51. Grace Fishbein, who only played in half the team's games because of illness, was third with a 10.2 ppg.
Partridge said Fishbein "had some good moments" last weekend against Acadia "and other times she looked a little fatigued."
The fourth year player played 15 minutes Saturday, with 10 points and two rebounds, and came back with eight points and four rebounds in 14 minutes of floor time Sunday in Wolfville, N.S.
However, while she attended Wednesday's practice session at the Field House, she didn't participate, saying she "didn't feel the best." However, Fishbein felt she could put in 20 minutes of floor time for Friday's quarter-final, "then take it from there."
Fourth-year Kim Devison was MUN's fourth highest scorer with 9.7 ppg.
"She's very quietly had a really good year," said Partridge of Devison.
"She's shot the ball at a high percentage. She's not a great athlete, but she defends her (guard) position well when called upon."
Third-year Emily Jameson followed Devison in team scoring with 7.6 ppg.
St. Francis coach Matt Skinn said his team learned some things from the last time the teams met.
"We learned Fishbein is rounding into form just in time for playoffs. She is a difficult match-up as an inside-outside threat," said Skinn.
"We also learned how good Forsey and O'Rielly can be when they get going. And because they have so many good three-point shooters, they are tough to handle in the half court."
"On top of that, Doug's track record as a coach during the regular season and in playoffs means they are going to be prepared and are going to play hard. We are going to have to match their intensity."
Skinn said home-court advantage means his players will feel comfortable "because we get to sleep in our own beds and do our regular home routine.
"But, at the end of the day," he added, "I don't know how much it means."
Cape Breton has won the AUS crown the past three years, but the longest championship streak is owned by the University of New Brunswick, which ran off 10 straight titles from 1962 to 1972.