It all comes down to this.
Five months of relentless hustle and hard work all to earn one shot, one opportunity to be the last team standing. The wins no longer matter, even if there were seventeen in all. The buzzer-beaters, the number one U Sports national ranking, and the six-game win streak all just means to an end as the Marauders stare down their closing obstacle, Final Four weekend.
And is it ever shaping up to be a good one. There were no Cinderella stories in this year’s playoff run, with the final four comprised of the respective number one seeds from each Ontario University Athletics division. But in the end the fans will get what every basketball fanatic dreams of, the undisputed four best teams in the OUA going head-to-head for playoff glory.
Leading the way for the Marauders will be senior guard Danielle Boiago, who was named both the OUA Player of the Year — the first Marauder since Emily Degroot in 2007/2008 — and the OUA Defensive Player of the Year, becoming only the fourth woman to win both awards in the same year. Boiago led the OUA in points per game (25.5) and third in total assists (81), while shooting a career high from the field and from beyond the arc. She also made the All-OUA First Team alongside teammate Linnaea Harper.
For Mac, their first test will come in a much-anticipated rematch against the Carleton Ravens in the OUA semi-final game. When these two teams met in December the Marauders suffered their first and largest loss of the season, falling 77-51. Struggling to find their rhythm offensively, Mac shot just 31 per cent from the floor and 20 per cent from three. They were also on the tail end of back-to-back games in Ottawa, and were playing without sharp-shooter Vanessa Pickard, who received the Tracey McLeod award recognizing determination and perserverance.
If there is one thing Mac can do it is find a way to score. If Carleton tries to slow the place by sitting in a zone, Mac can look to their ball movement to create open looks and knock down shots from the perimeter.
The Ravens are an interesting match-up stylistically for the Marauders. Mac tends to play best in the open floor and when dictating the pace with their fast style of play. The Marauders had the highest number of possessions per game in the OUA. They enter the playoffs with the no.1 ranked offence in the OUA, leading the league in in points per game with 78.6 and an offensive rating of 102.8. Carleton will counter with one of league’s best defenses. Through the regular season, they allowed the fewest points per game and had the second-best defensive rating at 74.3.
Expect the Ravens to try and slow the game down early as they play the lowest pace of teams remaining in the Final Four. Carleton’s use of guards Jenjen Abella and Nicole Gilmore will also be interesting, as they both have the quickness to run with Mac’s speedy backcourt, but not necessarily the ability to counter their efficient shot-making.
On the defensive end of the floor, Mac will have to contest with a big frontcourt from Carleton, who average 40.4 points per game and are responsible for most of the Raven’s production on offense. Senior forward Heather Lindsay is especially dangerous, averaging just over 14 points a game with a frighteningly efficient 55.8 per cent from the field. The last time these two teams met Lindsay had 25 points, three steals and three blocks on the night.
Fifth-year forward Clare Kenney will need to have a big game defensively for Mac to try and slow the inside game of Lindsay, and make Carleton earn their scoring opportunities down low. She will also have to partner up with forward Linnaea Harper to compete with Carleton on the glass, capitalizing on missed shots to limit second chance opportunities.
But if there is one thing Mac can do it is find a way to score. If Carleton tries to slow the pace by sitting in a zone, Mac can look to their ball movement to create open looks and knock down shots from the perimeter. If they change their look to include more man coverage, Mac will look to their speed and individual play-making ability.
And momentum is on their side. If their opening playoff match against Western is any indication the Marauders are as fine-tuned as ever, flying off to a 21-8 start before putting up 82 points on the night.
Mac also boasts a gritty defensive backbone, relying on hustle plays, ball pressure and steals rather than just rebounding and shot-blocking. Playing to those strengths could limit how easily Carleton’s backcourt is able to get the ball into their scorer’s hands and give Mac the chance to focus on helping their bigs contest down low.
In the end, fans will be in for a wild ride that is nothing else will feature the team of phenomenal athletes leaving everything they have ever played for on the court. The wins, the losses. The heartbreaking defeats, and the triumphs no one saw coming, they all come down to this.
And the Mac women are ready.