Edmonton, AB – What do you when instead of an underdog story, you have an underdog story vs a different underdog story?
The underdog narrative is one of the oldest and best in sports. The team that nobody expected to get where they were goes up against the heavily favoured team. It’s drawn in sports fans because it reminds them that anything can happen in sports so long as you believe.
The Queen’s Gaels and the Saskatchewan each played the part of the underdog to get to the championship semifinal. Matched up with a spot in the National Championship on the line, the Huskies gave their fans reason to believe that they might be able to pull off the impossible.
Queen’s has been playing the underdog role for weeks. As it is well known now, the Gaels finished 9-5 in the OUA regular season but upset the undefeated Carleton Ravens 86-80 on the road in the OUA playoff semifinals to book a spot in the Wilson Cup. Queen’s lost the Ontario title to Brock but the Gaels came away with their first national championship birth in school history.
Faced with a Dalhousie Tigers side coming off a third straight AUS championship and a 2020 U SPORTS National Silver Medal, the Gaels kept their dream season alive with a 90-80 win and earned a spot in the national semifinal.
It wasn’t against the team they expected to play, though.
Thanks to the #8 Saskatchewan Huskies, the Canada West Bronze Medallists who became the upset underdogs of the 2022 U SPORTS Men’s Final 8 after their 77-73 win over the #1 Brock Badgers. It denied the Gaels a Wilson Cup rematch but set up a matchup of two teams riding the impossible high that being an underdog can give you.
The belief that everything can go your way is powerful.
As the night got underway on the campus of the University of Alberta, it was clear that there were two underdogs but one team taking over again, and that was the Saskatchewan Huskies.
The first quarter passed by relatively evenly, but the Gaels struggled to get shots to fall. Especially Cole Syllas. The Queen’s star could not find the bottom of the net in the first quarter as he finished scoreless after one.
Still, late in the quarter, a Henry Van Herk pump fake got the Saskatchewan defender to bite, and he dropped in the basket to give the Gaels their first lead at 14-13. He followed it up with his first three of the game to give Queen’s the 21-19 lead, and it was 21-20 for Queen’s after one quarter.
On the other side, for the Huskies, it was none other than Marquavian Stephens taking over on both sides of the ball. The third-year guard for the Huskies put up 19 points in the Huskies’ upset win over the Brock Badgers, and he followed it up with a dazzling 25 points and six assists as he was all over the court for the Huskies.
“We wanted to use the momentum from yesterday’s game to carry over,” Stephens said. “We wanted to set the tone early.”
Stephens and the Huskies dominated the second quarter. As Cole Syllas struggled, ending the quarter with just three points, Huskies up and down the lineup just kept hitting shots
Three-pointers from Alexander Dewar and Fisayo Moibi made it bad, but Nervens Demosthene nailed a step-back three with under thirty seconds to push the lead to 14 at 45-31 for Saskatchewan, where it stayed at recess.
Things went wrong in the second quarter; they only got worse for the Gaels in the third. A 13-3 run in the first four minutes stretched the Husky lead to 58-34, and the realization that the magic had run out was plastered all over the faces of the Queen’s Gaels.
Not to belabour the metaphor, but seemingly when the clock struck midnight on Queen’s underdog season, it struck it about as hard as possible. Because what looked bad for the Gaels just kept getting worse.
As the crowd grew louder and louder with every Saskatchewan basket, the Huskies rose to the occasion as they could not miss in the third quarter. Chan Di Ciman dunked home capper of a 9-0 that stretched the lead to 67-34 with 3:11 remaining, and he added another three as the lead peaked at 73-34 with 90 seconds to go.
“We need to kinda respond to the bell, and we just came out flat at that point; we didn’t have another gear to go to,” Gaels head coach Steph Barrie said.
The Queen’s Gaels finished with 7 points in the third quarter, but only two actual baskets on 2-18 shooting from the field. It was shades of Alberta and McGill a night ago where the Redbirds had a nightmare second quarter, being outscored 33-8 on the way to an 85-68 loss.
The fourth quarter was 10 minutes of garbage time, as the Gaels finally showed some life again, but it came against the far end of Chad Jacobson’s bench as the Huskies coach sat his starters down to prepare for the national title game tomorrow night.
When the final buzzers sounded and the stunned Gaels made their way off the court at the Saville Centre, the damage read 86-60.
An absolute decimation.
The hard part of an underdog vs an underdog story is that one team has to lose. One team has to have that magic that carries them to impossible heights and vanishes before reaching the peak they hoped to hit. For the Queen’s Gaels, they were the team forced to watch the dream of a national championship that seemed suddenly possible go up in smoke before they could even realize it. However, they still have one more opportunity in the bronze medal game.
“You have a chance to play one more game; you have a chance to get one more win; you have a chance to learn from what we didn’t do today and fix that tomorrow.”
Yet, at the same time, the best part of an underdog vs underdog story is that one does get to move on. The Saskatchewan Huskies probably didn’t plan to be the Cinderella story of the 2022 Men’s Final 8, but that’s the role they have embraced over the last two days.
“This is a really good group for guys to be around; waking up every day and being a part of this group and working with these guys is a blessing,” Huskies head coach Chad Jacobson said.
The Huskies didn’t expect to be in this position, but most underdogs don’t. Now they get the chance to go from being the underdogs to the champions.