ST. CATHERINES, Ont. The Rams women’s basketball has faced its share of hardships over the past couple of years: The Critelli Cup finals loss and early nationals exit in 2020, losing last season due to COVID and key players due to injury. On Saturday, Mar. 26, they faced adversity once again.
This time, it came in the form of a Brock Badgers team – the top ranked in U Sports – in front of a raucous home crowd at the Bob Davis Gymnasium. This time, it faced a 22-point deficit in the fourth quarter on an afternoon where it seemed things weren’t going their way.
Shots weren’t falling from numerous players. The three ball – one of the Rams’ hallmarks – wasn’t falling either much through 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Badgers offence was clicking. Their guards were finding driving lanes and finding open shooters from deep. Guards Mackenzie Robinson and Ivana Twumasi were particularly effective in penetrating. Meanwhile, rookie Madalyn Weinert was scoring in all areas of the court.
“Brock came out and played really, really well. They’re hitting their shots and we weren’t really able to contain them,” Rams guard Jama Bin-Edward said.
The Rams turned to their full court press early in the fourth. The game shifted from there.
“I thought we were getting good shots all game but we were a bit tight and [the press] just got us some easy layups and gave us some momentum and flow on offence,” Rams head coach Carly Clarke noted.
The Rams press caused problems for Brock as they forced turnover after turnover which led to layups and open threes. Suddenly, that lead began shrinking. Suddenly – after back-to-back threes from fifth-year UNB transfer and do-it-all point guard Mikaela Dodig – it was tied.
“We have a lot of players that are really good on-ball defenders and since we didn’t play [the press] the entire game, they weren’t really ready for the pressure and we were able to read off of the ball at perfect times, which created opportunities for us to score,” Bin-Edward noted.
As Robinson missed a shot at the end at regulation, the two teams were deadlocked in a defensive battle in overtime. Then Windsor transfer Eve Uwayesu scored near the rim to give the visitors at 71-70 lead that would last.
The bench emptied in celebration. Clarke embraced veterans Bin-Edward and Marin Scotten among others. The Rams supporters erupted in cheers as well.
The victory cemented Clarke’s second Critelli Cup as a head coach. Her first one was back in 2015-16 and this time, she celebrated with an entirely new group of players. “You go through different things with every team and I think they’re all unique and equally special,” Clarke added. This year’s team was a group that’s been through plenty of adversity over the past two years.
“A lot of these players waited through the pandemic to get to this moment,” Clarke said. “They worked hard, they stayed patient, they stayed hopeful. It just means a ton to all of them. Some of these players that will finish with us have had incredible years, incredible careers and are deserving of this moment.”
Two of those players were Bin-Edward and Scotten, who have both dealt with injury. Bin-Edward tore her ACL mid-way through the 2019-20 season and only returned to the court midway through this campaign. During her recovery, she built a bond with Regina redshirt transfer Kyia Giles, who was also recovering from a torn ACL.
Her and her team’s perseverance has stood out to her. “I think that’s what makes our team so good because everyone individually has gone through so much,” she added. That’s why we want to be here, we fight so hard to win because this is what we want.”
Bin-Edward added that the players have appreciated the ability and the want to play basketball. Against Brock, she stepped up, leading the team with 23 points and making a number of critical steals in the comeback.
Scotten meanwhile has been sidelined with an injury since February. The OUA all-star and Rams’ second-leading scorer came on briefly versus Brock, hitting a three before going off injured again. “She’s worked her tail off to be on the floor and her knee gave out on her again,” Clarke said. “There’s no one like her in terms of toughness and work ethic and I’m so happy she gets this moment.”
Bin-Edward said it was really hard for Scotten to be out of the game and called her a big loss to their team. “I think our team plays for her and plays through so much,” Bin-Edward noted. “We’ve had people come in and out through the entire season and we adjust so well and it’s another reason why we’re so good.”
One thing that does explain the Rams’ success is their bond and focus. “I think there’s a connection level like I’ve never had with a team before,” Clarke pointed out. “We’re all committed to the same goal, they want the same things and we’re willing to do what we need individuals on the team to do.”
Clarke mentioned she saw the connection in the fourth quarter on Saturday as the defence started rolling for them.
Bin-Edward noted the team has a goal every day and is focused on it. “We never look ahead,” she said. “We always look at what’s next, each week of who we’re playing and what we need to do to win and I think that’s why we come in prepared for games and it reflects in the score.”
The next step ahead of the Rams? A trip to Kingston for U Sports nationals, where they figure to be a top two seed and among the favourites to capture the Bronze Baby trophy. They’ve yet to capture a national title in Clarke’s tenure. Amid the celebration on the court, Clarke said nationals wasn’t on her mind just yet. “I think it’s just us being ourselves,” she noted of the mindset going in. “That’s what we’re going to talk about.”
For Bin-Edward, it represents a return to nationals after missing out in 2020 due to injury. She played in 2019 when the Rams hosted nationals, when they won the consolation finals and finished fifth. She said she’s excited to go with a new team. The players’ previous experience with the Rams (and Giles with Regina) will help, according to her.
“Having that experience at the national stage and having that composure and that experience will benefit us when we go there,” she noted. Part of that includes understanding what it’s like to play at a national championship, the environment that goes with it and the focus that’s needed, according to her. It’s something the veterans can pass along to the younger players as they experience it.
The nationals in Kingston await in the future but in the present, the Rams were celebrating a provincial title, an undefeated regular season and all the work, patience and resilience that went into it.
True to her team’s identity, Bin-Edward was focused on the game at hand while it was going on – her mind immediately went to getting a stop after Giles’ game-winning basket at the time. However, when the Badgers missed their last chance shot, the buzzer sounded and her teammates mobbed each other on the court, the gravity of the moment and what they accomplished hit her.
“So many emotions,” she recalled. “Happiness, like extreme happiness, like I literally was screaming and then tears just started coming. Like we’ve worked so hard to get to this point. This is what we wanted from the beginning of the year and this is what we got so I was just super happy.”
Featured Image: Michael P. Hall/Rams Athletics