TORONTO — The McMaster Marauders are one win away from their first Canadian women’s university basketball title.
Sarah Gates scored 21 points to lead the No. 2 Marauders to a 73-66 victory over the third-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies in the first semifinal of the women’s Final 8 tournament on Saturday.
McMaster faces either No. 1 Laval or the fourth-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees who were set to battle in Saturday’s late semi.
The bronze and gold-medal games are Sunday at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Hilary Hanaka added 19 points, while Christina Buttenham had 16 points and 10 rebounds for McMaster.
Summer Masikewich had 21 points and 12 rebounds to top the Huskies, who won the tournament in 2016 and were silver medallists last year. They beat Acadia in the quarterfinals to advance to Saturday’s semis.
McMaster, who booked its semi berth with a win over Concordia, went 21-3 in the regular-season but laid down a couple of 50-point victories down the stretch before upsetting Ottawa 79-75 in the Ontario conference final.
The Marauders led 16-13 to end the first quarter and stretched their advantage to eight points in the second. But Saskatchewan closed the half strong, and when Megan Ahlstrom connected on a three-pointer with a minute to play, her basket sent the teams into the halftime break tied 33-33.
The Marauders outscored Saskatchewan 26-14 in the third to take a 59-47 lead into the fourth. The Huskies battled back and a three-pointer by Sabi Dukate with 57 seconds left cut McMaster’s lead to four points with a minute to play. But that’s as close as Saskatchewan would come.
The game featured a matchup between McMaster’s veteran coach Theresa Burns, and Huskies head coach Lisa Thomaidis who played three seasons for Burns at McMaster and is a McMaster Hall of Famer. Thomaidis, who’s also Canada’s women’s head coach, credits Burns as the reason she got into coaching.
The matchup was almost a home game for McMaster, whose fans — most wearing maroon and white scarves — didn’t have far to travel from Hamilton.
Canadian women’s star Kia Nurse sat courtside, and while she joked that her allegiances were a bit torn — Thomaidis is her national team coach — Nurse’s heart was with her hometown Hamilton university, where her mom Cathy played.
Nurse also grew up playing with Hanaka, Buttenham and Erin Burns.
“They’re a big reason why I am where I am today. So I got a lot of loyalty for Mac,” Nurse said. “Those are the girls who allow me to play pickup with them in the summer when I come home. Mac is a place where I work out. It’s where I know people, and my mom went, so it’s absolutely incredible to see them playing the way they do.”
When Hanaka hit a big third-quarter shot, Nurse leapt to her feet.
“I’m not a very calm fan is what I’ve learned,” she laughed.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press