CALGARY – After overcoming a 12-point deficit in the first half, the University of Calgary Dinos dropped a heartbreaking 80-78 result to the Alberta Pandas, decided in the last minute of their Canada West semifinal on Friday night.
With the victory, the Pandas will move onto the Canada West final where they will face the Saskatchewan Huskies next weekend in Saskatoon. It'll mark the Pandas first trip to nationals since 2016, and their first appearance in the Canada West Final since 2007.
“I really felt our athletes rose to the occasion today, we were super excited to get to this game and play such an incredible team like the Dinos,” said Pandas bench boss Scott Edwards. “We continued to battle despite mistakes, my team didn’t let screw-ups get to them and just played through it. We put ourselves in a position to make plays and I’m just really proud of my athletes.”
“I really hope the Dinos will be able to get a wildcard through Canada West, they deserve to be at that championship, they’ve had a heck of a season,” added Edwards.
The Dinos’ main offensive weapon Erin McIntosh championed some gritty comebacks throughout her final game as a Dino in the Jack Simpson Gym. The senior wing dominated all scorers with 28 points and nine rebounds. Third-year Liene Stalidzane trailed closely behind with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
On the Pandas end, scoring efforts arose from fifth-year all-star Vanessa Wild, who led her team with 15 points and five rebounds.
Tough Pandas defence dictated the first quarter, as their efforts to protect the paint limited Dinos scoring opportunities. The Dinos pushed back but struggled to find momentum against a larger Alberta lineup that had no difficulty picking up 23 points in the first 10 minutes of play.
In the second quarter, phenomenal drives to the rim from McIntosh triggered a 15-3 Dinos run over four minutes of action. An electric four-point play from Stalidzane brought the crowd to their feet, taking the Dinos to their first lead of the night at 33-32. Free-throw opportunities kept the Pandas hot on the Dinos’ heels but Alberta did not have an answer for the Dinos 24-point quarter.
The Pandas emerged in quarter three shooting 50 percent on field goals, forcing rushed and contested shots from six turnovers and four steals. The Dinos hustled to set themselves up for prime shot opportunities, outrebounding the Pandas 13-8, but 12.5 percent shooting woes from beyond the arc kept the quarter tight. In the final minute, fourth-year guard Reyna Crawford took the offence into her own hands as her buzzer-beater three propelled the Dinos into the fourth up by two.
In the final frame, it all came down to the wire as two evenly matched teams left it all out on the court to fight for a guaranteed spot in the U SPORTS Final 8. It was bucket for bucket until Brooklyn Legault secured a three-point play, lifting the Pandas up 78-72. Nonetheless, the Dinos did not relent and a clutch downtown three-pointer from Bobbi-Jo Colburn kept the Dinos hopes alive. McIntosh tied it up at 78-78, but two free throws in the last 20 seconds from Megan Tywoniuk sealed the victory for the Pandas at 80-78.