Memorial Sea-Hawks coach Doug Partridge can't remember the last time the top four teams were so close in points going into the Atlantic universities women's basketball playoffs.
Only six points separated Cape Breton (46), Memorial (46), Dalhousie (42) and St. Francis Xavier(40) at the end of the season and heading into the AUS quarter-finals Friday at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.
It's the closest the top four teams have been in at least five years.
Two of the top four teams have a little momentum on their side. The St. FX X-Women are on a seven-game winning streak, including a final regular-season win against the Dalhousie Tigers. And first-place CBU heads to the post-season after taking two games from the Sea-Hawks at the MUN Field House last weekend.
"I think this is the most open it has been," said Partridge.
"I would expect Dal and X (St. Francis) to advance (from the quarter-finals) on the first day and, if they do, I think you could see any two of the remaining four teams in the final," said Partridge. "But I feel that if we are confident and making shots and focused defensively, then we will be very tough to beat.
"Athletically, we have an advantage over most of the other teams. Even playing as badly as we could play (last weekend), CBU was not able to really blow us out. Even when I emptied the bench with nearly five minutes left (in Saturday's regular-season finale), his (Capers coach Fabian McKenzie's) starters couldn't open any bigger gap.
"For this reason," contends Partridge, "I feel we are in a good position as long as we show up to play at both ends of the floor."
MUN lost that Saturday game 74-61 and slipped to second in the standings when St. Francis beat Dal the following day. However, Partridge notes that if the seedings hold into the semifinals, every possible matchup will be a tough one. He says Dalhousie brings the overall size and experience; St. Francis brings athleticism, three-point shooting and pressure and CBU brings the best individual player in the league and one of the best scorers to play in the AUS in scoring champion Kelsey Hodgson.
AUS first-team all-star and Sea-Hawks top scorer Vicki Thistle is confident MUN can defend its crown.
"We had a little mental breakdown against Cape Breton, but we still finished second and I don't think many people expected that from us this season," said the third-year player, who credited the young talent on the team for helping keep the Lady Hawks contenders again this season.
"All the rookies coming in knew they had to step up because we lost so many players. Doug (Partridge) said if we played good defence, we could still be successful, and we did that.
"We may have lost the last two games, but we'll learn from that and were going to be positive going into the playoffs. We're confident we'll bounce back," Thistle said.
The AUS women's basketball championship schedule at Dalhousie University (all time s Newfoundland time):
Quarter-final No 1: Dalhousie (3rd) vs. Acadia (6th), 6:30 p.m.
Quarter-final No. 2: St. Francis (4th) vs. UNB (5th), 8:30 p.m.
Semifinal No. 1: Cape Breton (1st) vs. lowest remaining seed, 6:30 p.m.
Semi-final No. 2: Memorial (2nd) vs. highest remaining seed, 8:30 p.m.
Championship Game: Semifinal winners, 2:30 p.m.
Note: The Atlantic University Sport champion will advance to the 2009 CIS women's basketball championship, March 6-8 at the University of Regina.