U Sports — formerly known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) until October 2016 — had a busy yet exciting weekend in both Halifax, NS and Victoria, BC as the best final eight teams in the country faced off to become national champions.
The gold medal game on Sunday was a match-up everyone in the province of Ontario had been familiar with and had seen a few weeks earlier in the OUA Championship game in Ottawa, ON.
For the Carleton Ravens, they won their back to back to back to back to back to back… to back (x7) national championship while defeating the Ryerson Rams 78-69, which also served as redemption as they lost to the Rams on their home court before heading to Halifax.
The Ravens started the game strong going up 9-2 early in the first quarter and outscored the Rams 19-13 in the first quarter. All 13 of the Rams’ points in the opening 10 minutes came from a combination of Adika Peter-McNeilly and Roshane Roberts.
Peter-McNeilly lead all scorers with 23 points in the loss and was named the player of the game during his last season in a Rams jersey.
The Ravens never once gave up their lead and pulled away by 24 in the third quarter before the Rams outscored the Ravens 18-15, but it wasn’t enough.
“We made a run in the fourth to make it a game, and we just didn’t execute when we had our opportunities and they came back and made some big plays and that was the difference in the game,” said Rams head coach Roy Rana post-game. “I just don’t think we were as good offensively as we were last week.”
That was no secret to those watching. The Rams were ranked first in the country going into the 2017 ArcelorMittal Dofasco U SPORTS Men’s Final 8. The multitude of ill-advised shots beyond the arc which lead to shooting 20% from the three seemed foreign to those who followed the Rams all season long.
Coach Rana has done an astounding job with the Rams basketball program, as they made history this season, following back-to-back Final 8 appearances and OUA championships. Although the loss of seniors Peter-McNeilly and Juwon Grannum will be felt, there is no doubt that this won’t be the last time we see the blue and yellow in the U Sports finals.
Following an exceptional effort from Ravens player of the game Kaza Kajami-Keane with 11 rebounds and four assists and the scoring effort from Ryan Ejim with 19 points, the Carleton Ravens chanted Russell Westbrook’s commercial “Now I Do What I What I Want” in the locker room, popping champagne, with their gold medals hung around their necks.
Earlier on the Sunday in Halifax, the bronze medals were well-deserved by the Dalhousie Tigers as they topped the McGill Redmen 69-63.
It was a nail-biter, as each quarter the two teams went back and forth until the tournament hosts pulled away in the fourth, outscoring the Redmen 27-13 to pull away for the bronze.
McGill’s Jenning Leung game-high 17 points weren’t enough for the Redmen to leave Halifax with a medal.
McGill’s head coach David Daveiro admitted post game to being disappointed, whilst acknowledging the successful teamwork by Dalhousie, “they did a lot of things we couldn’t handle today (Sunday, March 11th), their press changed the whole style of the game and we didn’t have an answer for it. It felt like they had seven guys on the court at times.”
After starting the third quarter on a 14-6 run, which was their first lead since early in the first quarter, Dalhousie’s defense covered the floor which frustrated the Redmen in the final quarter.
Two AUS championship banners, and now a bronze national medal, two fifth-year players have permanently left their mark on the Tigers basketball program.
Senior guard Ritchie Kanza Mata had team-high five assists and scored 9 points alongside fellow senior forward Kashrell Lawrence. But it was senior forward Sven Stammberger, and Halifax native, who was the catalyst, scoring a game-high 20 points, including a clutch three-pointer in the third quarter to help give the Tigers the lead.
Prior to the Final 8 tournament, Lawrence touched on what it meant to play his final game in a Tiger jersey at home. “It definitely means a lot more finishing where you started. We all started here in Halifax and the fact that we can end our career in the same place we started is very important. Knowing that we’re playing in front of people that have supported us for so many years and that love to watch us play is a great thing and it definitely pushes us to give our best effort and produce when it really matters.”
Kanza Mata said playing in Halifax gave him “a beautiful perspective of Canada and I love it here. There’s a lot of friendly and amazing people on the East Coast and it’s been home for the last five years, so I’ll always have that attachment to Halifax.”
Every team that made it to the final games in the U SPORTS Final 8 were deserved, and the level of intensity was shared in Victoria, BC as the women battled for their medals.
The bronze medal game at the CARSA Performance Gym in Victoria was a similar to the men’s gold medal game, as it was a rematch of the OUA Final for the Carleton Ravens and the Queens Gaels. The Ravens defeated the Gaels 49-41 weeks ago in in-front of a packed gym in Kingston, ON. The Ravens showed their consistency, as they took home third place as they held onto the 53-43 win .
The number one seed Carleton Ravens out-rebounded the Gaels 52-38 and made the most on transition as they outscored the Gaels 18-7 on points off turnovers alone.
Catherin Traer scored a game-high 18 points, snatched five rebounds and made two assists which got her named player of the game for Carleton.
For the Queens Gael’s, fifth-year Robyn Pearson registered six points, six rebounds and three blocks which got her named player of the game, respectively for the Gaels.
The Gaels shot a disappointing 25.9% from the floor, but despite the loss Queen’s head coach Dave Wilson — who also was the 2017 U Sports Coach of the Year — was happy with the way his team performed this season. He looks at this an opportunity to look forward, “we set goals, made strides and were able to get almost all the way to the goal we set for ourselves.”
The gold medal game was one for the history books, as McGill Martlets succeeded the Laval Rouge 66-55, and were able to go home with their first national title in the history of the women’s basketball program at McGill.
Laval head coach Guillaume Giroux confessed he would have never expected to play in the national championship just two years after signing on as head coach, but he gives all credit to his players: “They worked very hard, and believed in what we do. I am still happy because we have a bright future.”
McGill set the tone in the final quarter, as the women outscored Laval 24-14.
Alex Kiss-Rusk had a monster game being dominant on both ends of the floor with 15 points, 20 boards, and five assists.
Martlets head coach Ryan Thorne said their slogan this year was “‘together, we’ll get up/ensemble, nous nous lèverons’, and now we have climbed to the top with a U SPORTS championship.”
A huge congratulation goes out to all the teams that surpassed their conferences to make it to the U Sports final 8, but also to every team in Canada.
And just like that, the offseason begins.