Edging toward the playoffs

By Gordon Anderson

February 16, 2017 12:00 AM

Nobody asks how you won—just how many.
The Lakeland College Rustlers women’s basketball team moved one step closer to a playoff spot with a 58-52 win over the Augustana Vikings in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference play at the Lakeland gym on Friday night.
With the victory the Rustlers (11-10) move four points ahead of the Vikings (9-10) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North division.
The Rustlers close regular season play with a two-game set against the Grande Prairie Wolves next weekend at the Lakeland gym.
The Vikings are in Concordia next week to face the Thunder and finish off their regular season with a two-game series against the NAIT Ooks the following week.
Both teams came into the game near the mid-pack in terms of offensive output but there wasn’t much offence in evidence during the opening 20 minutes.
In fact, there was a stretch of nearly four minutes in the first quarter where neither team scored.
The first point of the game wasn’t registered until nearly two minutes in. Layups and open looks be damned, there was a glass bubble on the rim for both teams.
The Rustlers built a 23-21 lead at the break. In the first half the Rustlers shot 33 per cent from the field while the Vikings shot 38 per cent.
“We were so bad in the first half … ” Rustlers head coach Chris King said.
“It was bad basketball on both sides. We came out on the second half with a more decisive plan, as a team, and the girls executed better.”
As is the case on most nights that “plan” usually involves Shaunike Lee.
The Brentwood, Calif., native had five points in the first half but finished with a game-high 23 by the time the post-game handshakes were finished.
The guard also went 11 for 12 from the line.
The coach was quick to point out post-game the Lee performance was what he envisioned when he picked up the transfer student from Southwestern Oregon Community College Lakers.
“I thought Lee was super aggressive getting to the rim,” King said.
“She got us a lot of quality looks and got us to the free-throw line and ... that gave us the cushion. In the first half we were soft and I thought they dictated play even though we had a small lead.”
“It was a huge win,” Lee said with a smile. “These two games (against the Vikings) will help us get into the playoffs. Our big focus this weekend is to win these games and get our official spot in the playoffs.”
In what has become a reoccurring theme in the second semester is the teams ability to play with their backs to the basket.
Once again, the defence was the star of the night.
In 10 games since the start of the second semester the defence has kept the opponent to 60 points or less in seven games.
“It’s all personnel, it’s all energy and athleticism and that’s what keeping our team in every game,” Lee said about what makes the defence so successful.
“We might not be able to score (enough on some nights) but, at the end of the day, our defence is saving the games and helping us get the wins.”
But this is the Rustlers, after all, and there’s always downside with the upside. It’s been that kind of year for King and his coaching staff.
Forward Anna Mbuyi left the game with a right-knee injury with 6:06 left in the third quarter, reducing the bench down to eight players. Meg Ferraz, who missed last weekends games against the Keyano College Huskies, was less than 100 per cent while battling tonsillitis.
Ferraz had seven points in 31 minutes played.
Mbuyi had five points in 15 minutes played before crashing to the floor near the endline.
“We want everybody to be healthy, of course, but if one person is down we can’t let that stop (us) and we keep the positive,” Lee said.
“People are going to get hurt but we have to keep positive and keep pushing.”
At least King still had his sense of humour.
“It’s getting easier and easier (to manage the bench) because, eventually, we’re going to be down to five players and they can play the whole game and I don’t have to do anything,” King quipped before addressing the topic of his band-aid brigade.
“It seems every weekend someone else is injured,” King said.
“All the girls are stepping up and the freshman are playing big minutes. When they screw up they come back to the bench but they have to go back in. They’re learning from it and that’s fantastic for them. We’re one serious injury away from being in a whole lot of trouble. Our team is well-rounded and we need everyone. When you take out one piece it hurts us and there’s no way around it. The worry is real.”
Having said the Rustlers were 7-5 in the first half with 10 players on the roster and they have a chance to get near that record with just eight players or less on some nights this semester.
“I consider the second semester a success because we’re playing the way the coaching staff and the players envisioned,” King said … We have the possibility of going six and six this semester. If you look at us playing seven or eight players, and (maybe) ending up 13-11, it’s pretty impressive.”
While the Rustlers are just a couple of wins away from locking down a playoff spot,  the business of next year is in full swing.
On Friday the Rustlers announced the signing of former University of Saskatchewan volleyball player Bailey Johnson.
The six-foot-one forward will be an important piece as the team tries to climb back to the penthouse of the division, where they have found themselves in the past few years.
“(Johnson) has some size and athleticism and she’s a big piece of where we’re going next year,” King said. “I think she’s going to be a huge addition for us.”
On Saturday night the Rustlers gave it right back to the Vikings in a 74-51 defeat in Canmore.
With the win the Viking (10-10) climb to within one victory of the Rustlers (11-11) for the fourth and final spot in the ACAC North Division playoff chase.
Taiya Paylor had 15 points in the loss and Shania Magnusson added 14. The Rustlers played with eight players. The club shot 31 per cent from the field

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