June 25th, 2024

Pronghorns headed to the Final Four

By Dale Woodard on March 8, 2022.

Danielle Nadeau came into the game.

Thanks in part to that, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s basketball team is off to the Canada West Final Four.

The Pronghorns downed the Trinity Western Spartans 76-67 in the Canada West quarter-finals Sunday afternoon in Calgary.

Trailing by nine late in the game, the fifth-ranked Horns went on a 15-0 run to rally back and stun the 15-3 and fourth-seeded Spartans with a win that sends Lethbridge to the Canada West Final Four March 18 at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Down by nine and calling a timeout to regroup, Pronghorns head coach Dave Waknuk looked down his bench to Nadeau.

It was an immediate spark plug.

“She came in off the bench and she had not played before that,” said Waknuk, whose team beat the Manitoba Bisons 80-77 in round two Saturday to earn a berth in Sunday’s quarter-final.

“She came in right away and played with a lot of energy, which she always does. She got fouled and it was a one-situation, so the basket counted and it seemed like that’s where our run sparked.”

Suddenly, the Horns stingy defence led to offence as Lethbridge outscored Trinity Western 27-15 in the fourth quarter.

“But her coming in as a first-year and being ready for it when she was called upon to make an impact offensively and defensively, it seemed like it sparked the team,” said Waknuk of Nadeau, who went on to score six points, grab four rebounds and add one assist.

“When she comes in, she has been making an impact with her athleticism and how hard she works and she does it on both ends. She’s a good rebounder and a good defender. She only ended up with about eight minutes of play, but all that came late because she came in and played confident and finished the game out.”

On the men’s side, the Pronghorns defeated the UBC Okanagan Heat 91-81 Friday night at the 1st Choice Savings Centre, but bowed out 79-55 in the quarter-final to the Victoria Vikes Saturday night.

But thanks to their victory Sunday, the Pronghorns women will keep playing as they take on the host Huskies March 18, while the Winnipeg Wesmen will play the Regina Cougars.

And it all started with an impressive late comeback.

“We were down nine with a timeout I called with around six minutes to go,” said Waknuk.

“We had played really well defensively, we just couldn’t get the ball to go through the basket. I think we knew we just had to keep doing what we were doing. Our turnovers were low, we were only at 13 for the game and we had rebounded pretty well. We did what we could, we just had trouble scoring. Toward the end the defence picked up, especially in the last six minutes and that led to offence and I think that has been our story all year. Our intensity on defence led to offence. We were stressing that going in and we saw that get executed in that final five-and-a-half minutes.”

After losing the 2021 season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pronghorns return to the Final Four.

“It’s fantastic,” said Waknuk. “It’s such an achievement for the adversity we’ve faced and everybody has faced, but this team in particular has faced over the past two years through the COVID season and everything with it.

“But for us to be in the last four teams standing in the league is a huge accomplishment. The message to the team was enjoy this, but we’re not done. We still have more to play for. But enjoy what we’ve done so far and be excited for what’s ahead.”

Haily Weaver had the double double with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Jessica Haenni and Savannah McMahon added 14 and 13 points, respectively, in the win over Trinity Western.

McMahon and Weaver also had three steals each.

In Saturday’s win over the Bisons, Haenni had 26 points and Amy Mazutinec had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the double double.

Weaver also grabbed 10 boards.

After a wild win over the Heat Friday night, the Horns men came up short to a superior Vikes team in the quarter-final.

“First of all, I want to tip my hat to them,” said Pronghorns head coach Jermaine Small. “(They’re) well coached, experienced and they were good at exposing our weaknesses. We watched film and I talked to coaches in their conference on what they do well. But seeing it on tape and seeing it in person are two different things.”

Shae Gibb had 12 points for the Horns in Saturday night’s loss, while Jeff Rodehutskors added 11.

Chad Oviatt pulled in 10 rebounds.

“Obviously, we played (Friday) night and got a little big banged up, that’s part of the war,” said Small. “I think we had a lot of growth this season. We lost six in a row and we came out and fought to the end and that’s all you want as a coach. You want to make sure you maximize the group and I felt we had nothing left in the tank and I’m proud of the guys.”

Deng Dak narrowly missed double digits with nine points.

We have so many bright spots,” said Small. “You look at a kid like Deng Dak (Friday) night and he’s a freshman. You have Angelo (Mbituyimana), many people didn’t know who he was and now he’s made a name for himself.”

Small said losing Oviatt and Zachary Coleman-Bock will hurt.

“They were both guys who were here prior and helped me with my transition. I think going forward the future is bright and I’m really excited about adding more to it.”

The Pronghorns earned a spot in Saturday’s quarter-final with a 91-81 win over UBCO in which they outscored the Heat 30-19 in the fourth quarter to complete their comeback.

“That was a real character win for us,” said Rodehutskors, who had 19 points and nine rebounds in Friday’s win. “We talked after the game that in the first semester we probably lose that game. I think we weren’t as strong getting to the foul line and we certainly weren’t as mentally strong to be able to play a team like that. Their (UBCO) ranking was probably not accurate to the level they played at, they grind it. It wasn’t an easy win regardless of what their ranking was.”

Dak had 24 points in Friday’s win and Mbituyimana had 23.

The Pronghorns finished the regular season 9-9 to earn a bye to the second round last weekend.

“I think there were some tough times and we certainly peaked at the right time,” said Rodehutskors. “I think in the second semester we were building up and played some really strong basketball down the stretch. We obviously had to battle through some injuries. We didn’t get hit hard by COVID in crucial times like other teams did, but we certainly felt it a little bit and we got through it. We’re young and we have a lot of guys who can make a difference going forward. I think it was a hugely valuable season for them to get this experience.

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