Western came out hot as guard Julie Lamparski led the charge with two steals and two three-pointers early, giving the Mustangs an 18-8 lead. The athletic Gryphons bounced back and eventually took the half-time lead at 34-32.
Foul trouble forced Lamparski to the bench, and once again the depleted Mustangs stepped up. Turning to an inside game, forwards Cheryl Atkinson and Rebecca McColl dominated the offensive glass, putting Western up 45-36.
Unfortunately, poor defensive rebounding gave Guelph too many second chances and Western found themselves down one with less than six seconds left in the game. Alana Juzenas’s last second prayer went unanswered and the Mustangs fell 63-62.
It was an inspired effort from a shorthanded squad that used a well-balanced attack to keep pace with the top team in the Ontario University Athletics West division.
The game had a playoff-type atmosphere as Western currently sits tied for second place in the OUAWest and now eyes a possible rematch in the post-season.
“I know we can beat them in the playoffs now,” remarked Atkinson, who went six for eight from the field for 17 points.
Western’s guard play was equally stellar. The Mustangs were surgical from outside, shooting a blistering 58 per cent from behind the arc. Karenina Aguilar dropped 14 points, including four threepointers.
Charlene Tortosa was a big spark off the bench, helping to break Guelph’s full-court pressure.
“We’re confident going into the playoffs — we know we can beat every team,” Tortosa said, adding, “[This loss] just pushes us to the next level.”
Western head coach Mike Milne was proud of his team, but acknowledged there is still some work to be done.
“We didn’t clamp down on weak-side rebounding and that really hurt us.”
Guelph coach Angela Orton noted the quality of the Mustangs’ transition game. “They ran us — we couldn’t run them.”
With only one game remaining and the playoffs around the corner, Western sits poised to make a serious run this year. “This is our time to win,” an enthusiastic Atkinson said.
Atkinson could be right. If the Mustangs continue their tenacious defense and clutch outside shooting and tighten up their rebounding, they could be contenders — especially once they play with a full, healthy roster and leading scorer Paula Romkey returns.