While Americans – and, admittedly, most Canadian basketball fans – focused on the completion of Tournament Week and Selection Sunday, Canada’s college basketball season reached its conclusion this weekend at the USports Final 8.
It is an event that deserves far more coverage than it receives in Canada and constantly delivers quality stories that are overlooked by our country’s media. So today on The Open Man, our resident Canadian basketball expert (myself, of course) is taking the task upon himself to ensure the stories of Canada’s college basketball National Champions receive at least some exposure south of the border.
Following is a recap of the proceedings in both the men’s and women’s USports Final 8. Events that included an end to a seven year National Championship reign, a Saskatchewan rivalry game upset in Regina, and the completion of an undefeated season for the Carleton Ravens.
Ryerson ends Carleton’s seven year streak, fall to University of Calgary in National Championship Game
In the men’s tournament, the end of collegiate basketball’s most dominant dynasty came to a stunning end in the Final Four as the Carleton Ravens were finally toppled by the Ryerson Rams.
After winning every national championship since 2011, the Ravens entered the national semifinal on a 22-game winning streak. They also boasted a 26 point win over Ryerson in the Wilson Cup to enter the game as decided favorites over their Ontario rivals.
However, it was the experience of Ryerson and the presence of Canada National Team coach Roy Rana – the architect of Canada’s U19 World Championship glory this past summer – that proved the difference in the semifinals.
Backed by a heroic effort from guard Manny Diressa, who played through injury to score 28 points on the night, the Rams were able to finally surpass the Ravens and kill off the streak in an 84-76 win where the Ravens were chasing Ryerson from the opening tip to the final horn.
It was a stunning upset, notably so due to the Ravens lengthy title streak and regular season success over Ryerson this season. At the same time, it was the culmination of the past few years of work from Rana and the Ryerson program to finally catch up to the unstoppable force that is Carleton’s men’s basketball program.
BREAKING: For the first time since 2010, the Carleton Ravens won't be Canadian men's basketball champs. @RyersonRamsMBB defeat @CURavens to advance to @USPORTSca gold medal game. @theeyeopener. pic.twitter.com/BAHYkOdjNn
— Ben Waldman (@BenjWaldman) March 11, 2018
Unfortunately for Ryerson, their upset of Carleton only earned them a spot in the National Championship Game the following day against the University of Calgary Dinos in a game where both schools would play for their first ever men’s basketball National Championship.
In the final, both teams delivered a classic game that went down to the wire. Ryerson clawing their way back from a late six point hole to tie things up at 77-77 before the Dinos would clinch their first ever W.P. McGee Trophy with a game-winning layup with 2.0 left on the clock to sink Ryerson’s dreams at the final buzzer.
Montreal’s Mambi Diawara was the game-winning hero, beating the Rams defender and taking advantage of a missed help side rotation to clinch glory in a game that won’t soon be forgotten by those close to the Dinos’ program.
While it was heartbreaking to see Ryerson fall painfully short 24 hours after ending Carleton’s dominance of Canadian college basketball, the Dinos moment of glory was a welcome change of pace for a USports landscape that has been controlled by Ontario for nearly the entirety of a decade.
To see two teams finally match the talent of Carleton and break the streak was a welcome payoff to those who tuned in and supported Canada’s college basketball scene. In a game that arguably deserved overtime after 40:00 of razor thin margins, Diawara’s layup will live forever in the history of the W.P. McGee Trophy.
Carleton Ravens Women complete undefeated season over Cinderella University of Saskatchewan
In the women’s Final 8 – held in Regina – the University of Saskatchewan Huskies entered the tournament field as experienced underdogs who had a point to prove. Winners of the National Championship in 2016, the Huskies entered the tournament as the sixth seed and knew they would need to knock off the host University of Regina just to make it to the final.
The Huskies did exactly that, exacting revenge on the U of R after the Cougars won the Canada West title in the Final Four. Backed by lights out three-point shooting in a fast paced game, the Huskies outlasted the hosts from Regina in front of a sold-out crowd.
WBB | It's GAMEDAY! Let's get loud tonight, Regina!
Cougars, Huskies will play in a national semifinal game for the first time ever. #WeAreUofR
— U of R Cougars (@ReginaCougars) March 10, 2018
Losers in the Canada West final on the same floor in a 75-55 drubbing, the Huskies returned veteran guard Libby Epoch in the national semifinal and Epoch proved to be the X-Factor. The Saskatchewan offense dictated the pace throughout a game that featured 13 lead changes to delight those in the province who came out to support women’s basketball.
In the end, a late three pointer from Epoch put the Huskies up 74-68 in the final minute and was enough to give the Huskies the upset over the second seeded hosts. A seminal moment for Saskatchewan women’s basketball, as the province’s two programs brought 2,500 to attend the game on a weekend where the Tim Horton’s Brier men’s national curling championship was also in Regina.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, their win over their hated Saskatchewan rivals was followed by the task of knocking off the undefeated Carleton Ravens in the National Championship Game. A daunting task for a six seeded team in the U of S, who emptied the gas tank significantly just to knock off the Cougars in the Final Four on Saturday night.
For 20 minutes the Huskies managed to dig deep and hold on against the heavily favored Ravens. At halftime, Saskatchewan held a 25-24 lead in a low scoring affair that was the polar opposite of the shootout the Huskies enjoyed in the semifinal.
After the halftime break, the Huskies found out they missed the opportunity to put distance between themselves and Carleton in the first half. The Ravens finally found their shooting stroke in the third quarter, building a nine point lead before opening the fourth quarter on a 12-1 run to compile an insurmountable 20 point lead.
The clock hit midnight quickly for the Huskies in the final. 14-28 three point shooting in the semifinal gave way to a 48 point offensive performance against the best defensive team in the nation. In the final, the Huskies shot a woeful 2-13 from behind the arc in what was the deciding factor in the 69-48 final scoreline.
Carleton’s women proved why they were the best team in the nation all season on their way to an undefeated national title. The first women’s crown in the program’s history, despite the school’s seven consecutive men’s national titles.
— Carleton Ravens (@CURavens) March 12, 2018
The championship win was vindication for fifth year forward Heather Lindsay, who earlier this season complained about the lack of coverage for the undefeated women’s program compared to the Carleton men’s team.
It’s a shame the local media ignored reporting on the women’s game last which also featured 2 of the best teams in the country. A whole page spread in the paper on the men’s game & nothing about the women. It’s a setback for women’s sports @ottawasuncom @CURavens @uOttawaGeeGees
— DHB (@heathesauruss) February 3, 2018
Lindsay’s tweet then still holds true as Canadian college basketball is woefully covered in our country, and especially the women’s game as most Canadian basketball fans and media pay attention to the Raptors or the glamour of the NCAA to get our basketball fix.
The bare minimum we can do as a country of basketball fans is tune in to our Final 8 weekend. Those who gave our athletes attention were treated to a weekend of great basketball and great stories on the Canadian hardwood. Those who didn’t tune in and chose instead to focus on Selection Sunday, while they missed out on everything that makes Canada’s hoops scene greater than what is realized on the surface, hidden by the bright lights of the NBA and NCAA.