Mustangs Take OT-Thriller In Home Opener
There is a lot to consider when preparing to play in your debut in the regular season in front of your home fans. Friday was the home opener for the Western Women’s Basketball team at Alumni Hall, and Head Coach Brian Cheng had many things running through his mind before the opening jump ball. The weeks and months of preparation, practices, exhibition games are now over and done with. Now the time has come to put in motion, the plan set out by the coaching staff. Family, friends, and loyal supporters of the Mustangs and the visiting University of Toronto Varsity Blues, will be filing into the stands as the players warmup and stretch. Are the players ready mentally? Physically, is anyone nursing a nagging injury, or trying to fight through anything? What are the Varsity Blues going to run to counter our preparation? Will the team and individual defense of Western, be able to handle whatever U of T is attempting to execute on offense? Let us not forget the added pressure of not wanting to disappoint the fans, or coaches, from the players’ perspectives. The only way to truly find out if you are ready to face a test, is to take the test. Western was not starting Friday night’s contest against the Varsity Blues completely green to the regular season. The Mustangs have 2 games under their belt, both on the road, splitting the results. The only pressure felt, is the self inflicted kind that goes along with playing in your home opener. It is completely subjective and totally a mental obstacle that the host side will need to overcome in order to win the game. An explosive run, and early defensive stops, are 2 ways that nerves and pressure are erased instantly.
Even though it may be seen as a sign of contentment by the coaches, they must have been smiling internally when they saw their Mustangs open the game on a 13-0 run. Western hit 2 3’s, and held U of T scoreless before their Head Coach, Michele Belanger called a timeout with 5:38 remaining in the 1st quarter. What was said by Belanger to her troops, is unknown, but whatever it was, it worked to perfection. Out of the timeout, the Varsity Blues reeled off 3 straight baskets to close the lead to 13-7. U of T appeared to find their groove as they outscored the Mustangs 10-4 after their timeout. The score after the 1st quarter was 17-10 for Western, in a closely contested opening quarter.
The Varsity Blues found a weakness in the offense of the Mustangs, and exploited that weakness as much as they could. Western fell victim to the traps and pressure defense that U of T was effectively executing. From quick hands in the passing lanes that resulted in deflections or turnovers, and full court trapping and pressure by the Varsity Blues, both rattled the Mustangs. Western was unable to get set up for their offense, and out of frustration with not properly breaking the pressure put on by U of T, turnovers were caused by undisciplined cross court passes, and mental breakdowns. The Varsity Blues pumped out the 1st 8 points of the 2nd quarter, and took their 1st lead of the game at 18-17 with 6:08 left to play in the 1st half. Much credit to the coaching staff of the Mustangs, as the preparation for situations such as this, began to emerge from Western. The Mustangs were able to regain control of the game, finish the 1st half strong, and head into the locker room at halftime leading 25-23.
All of the nerves, confusion, and pressure from the opening half of their home opener were left in the locker room at halftime for the host Western Mustangs. U of T, however, continued their excellent play from the 1st half. Although the 3rd quarter was close, the Varsity Blues hit a couple of 3’s and took a 33-29 lead midway through the 3rd quarter. U of T were now hitting shots and executing their offense. On the flip side, Western continued to battle and keep the game close. This game was heading down to the wire, and mistakes of any kind were more than likely going to determine the outcome of the game. The Varsity Blues’ 3rd year guard, Keyira Parkes, went off on a scoring outburst. Parkes had timely dribble drive penetration leading to layups for herself, a drop off under the basket as she drew the defender to her, or Parkes kicked the ball to the outside for open shots, as her drives forced the Mustangs defense to collapse every time she entered the key. When the defense would sag off of Parkes in anticipation of her driving to the hoop, or were too busy scrambling to adjust to the ball movement of U of T, Parkes killed Western from beyond the arc. Parkes hit 7 3-pointers in the game, and the Varsity Blues held a 44-37 lead after 3 quarters.
In this game, it seemed as though a 7 point deficit would be nearly insurmountable for the host Mustangs. Turnovers and pushing the pace of the game led to an 8-2 run by Western. Suddenly, as both teams traded baskets and tried not to lose the game, they found themselves going into an extra quarter of basketball. Overtime would decide this game where once again, Keyira Parkes outside shooting was a factor. Parkes gave U of T the lead late until a clutch game-winning layup by the Mustangs’ 5th year guard Mackenzie Puklicz ended an overtime classic of a home opener. Puklicz’s clutch play led to 21 points, and the Radio Western Player of the Game award. The Varsity Blues perhaps deserved a better fate after a brilliant individual performance by Keyira Parkes, who finished the game with 25 points in the 60-59 loss to Western.
There was no time to enjoy the thrill of the comeback win for the Mustangs. They needed to rest up and get ready to welcome the 1-1 Ryerson Rams to Alumni Hall on Saturday. Western’s Head Coach Brian Cheng will have his side ready to face any opponent as long as his Mustangs stick to the game plan and trust that everything they have been implementing in practice, will keep them in any game. Using their home opener as a litmus test, Western will be giving every team that they face in the OUA, the game of their lives. Mustangs’ opponents will need to be flawless or ride the wave of a superstar player in an effort to beat a very disciplined Western Mustangs Women’s Basketball team in the 2017 regular season.