The Carleton Ravens women’s basketball team headed to this year’s National Championships in Nova Scotia riding a wave of momentum after soundly defeating the No. 1-ranked Queen’s Gaels 70-57 and capturing Carleton’s third Critelli Cup in seven seasons.
The Ravens defeated the Cape Breton Capers 56-51 in the quarterfinals of the U Sports women’s basketball Final 8 championship on Thursday.
And Saturday afternoon they defeated the Saint Mary’s Huskies 65-46 in one semifinal. Queen’s won the other semi over the Alberta Pandas 72 to 62.
The national championship game Sunday is a rematch against the Gaels, with the Ravens on the verge of their second national title in five years, with the last triumph happening in 2018.
The Ravens are in much better shape now than at the start of the season which wasn’t their best.
Early on, the team struggled to get scoring from their bench and had to rely on one or two starters — most often talented guard Kali Pocrnic — to carry the load offensively. The bench was outscored in four of the first six games of the season.
The Ravens still managed to win all four of those games as Pocrnic led the team in scoring — recording 29, 25, 26 and 22 points respectively.
In other games, the bench outscored the team’s opponents, but the starters, however, couldn’t consistently generate enough offence to put the team in a position to win.
The Ravens’ ability to get scoring from multiple starters and from its second unit has led to prolonged success.
In the Ravens’ 63-53 win against the Western Mustangs on Nov. 26, Carleton’s bench outscored the Mustangs’ 16-7, but they still relied on Pocrnic to lead the way on offence. She scored 22 points; the four other starters combined for 25, which isn’t good enough.
In Carleton’s 73-65 loss against Brock, Pocrnic was held to two points, one for 14 from the field. The bench exploded for 34 points, but only two starters recorded over 10 points.
At times, there have been signs of improved scoring from the bench and a handful of starters, but the team has continued to rely heavily on Pocrnic’s production to consistently win games.
The Ravens finished the fall with a 7-2 record, but dependence on the 5-foot-3 guard from Oakville wasn’t a sustainable way to win games.
In January and February, the Ravens rattled off 11 straight victories to propel themselves into the Critelli Cup playoffs with the second-best record in the OUA. The main reason for the stronger showing has been the starters and the bench.
In nine of their 11 wins, the Ravens had two or more players wirth at least 10 points. In five of those wins, they had three players reach double-digits.
Pocrnic has been the backbone of the team, scoring huge buckets at big moments of important games. Averaging 16.3 points per game in 22 games played, she’s often the difference maker and the Ravens’ most consistent offensive weapon. During the 11-game win streak this winter, she registered a whopping 17.73 points per game and scored 15 or more points in seven of those matches.
But in the second half of the season, the rest of the Ravens have given her a lot more help on offence and it’s been a key factor in the run of 11 straight wins. The four other starters began to find their rhythm around the opposition hoop and the bench players provided an additional boost on the stat sheet every night.
The scoring efficiency and overall performance of forward Jacqueline Urban and guards Dorcas Buisa and Emma Kiesekamp improved over the course of the win streak and they reliably put in one great game after another to take some pressure off of Pocrnic.
Pocrnic has been the backbone of the team. But in the second half of the season, the rest of the Ravens have given her a lot more help on offence and it’s been a key factor in the run of 11 straight wins.
Urban posted six games with 10 or more points, and her rebounding prowess — she dominated both the offensive and defensive glass — helped the Ravens keep possession and create additional scoring chances.
Buisa had three games with 10 or more points and three more with at least eight. Her speed, ball handling and ability to drive the rim drew defenders toward her and created open shots for teammates.
Kiesekamp scored 10 or more points in five games and had two others with nine. Her knack for protecting the ball and scanning the floor to make the best pass helped limit turnovers and opponents’ points in transition.
The Ravens’ starters are now all consistently making an impact on the scoresheet. There were only two games — both against Ontario Tech — when the Ravens had only one player score more than 10 points. Urban scored 16 in each of those games. However, in both of those contests, the Ravens replaced the lack of production from their starters with clutch performances from the bench.
In their win on Jan. 13, Carleton’s bench outscored their counterparts 36-4. Guards Teresa Donato, Oceanne Kounkou and Zerina Duvnjak each recorded nine or more points off the bench. In their second win over Ontario Tech on Jan. 28, Donato scored 13 of the Ravens’ 24 bench points and the second unit outscored their opponents 24-10.
In nine of the 11 games during their win streak, the Ravens’ bench outscored their opponent’s bench. Donato, Kounkou and Duvnjak were the big reasons why.
Donato’s willingness to shoot and ability to hit some of the toughest ones were key to some of those Carleton wins. The 5-foot-7 Ottawa native scored nine or more points in four games during the Ravens’ win streak. Kounkou did that three times and Duvnjak twice.
The Ravens’ ability to get scoring from multiple starters and from its second unit has led to prolonged success in the regular season and earned the team the second seed in the OUA playoff bracket. This strong, whole-team performance continued in Carleton’s impressive Critelli Cup playoff run, capped with the Ravens’ third recent Ontario championship after back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
In their 67-64 OUA quarterfinal win against Toronto Metropolitan University, Pocrnic led the way with 14 points, but three other starters also recorded 10 or more points: Kiesekamp collected 13 while Buisa and Urban each scored 10. Donato and Kounkou combined for 17 off the bench, outscoring TMU’s second unit 17-6.
In their 69-55 Ontario semifinal victory over McMaster, Pocrnic again led the way with 21 points, and three other starters recorded 10 or more points. Buisa scored 12, Poulin notched 11, and Urban had 10 while adding seven rebounds. While Carleton’s bench was outscored 14-9, the Ravens’ defence eventually tightened up and only allowed one McMaster player to hit double digits.
If they hope to win the National Championship, they’ll have to continue following the same formula that brought them so much success throughout the 2022-23 season: get everyone involved on offence.
In their 70-57 Critelli Cup final match against Queen’s, Pocrnic was the driving force with 23 points, and Buisa added 17. Urban scored eight and added 11 rebounds, while Poulin scored six points and collected nine rebounds. Donato led the way off the bench with nine points, as she’s been doing all year.
Pocrnic commands the court and typically leads the Ravens in scoring. However, Carleton is at its best when everyone is involved offensively.
The stellar finish to the regular season and provincial playoffs set the Ravens up perfectly for the Final 8 national tournament in Sydney, N.S.
If they hope to win the National Championship Sunday, they’ll have to continue following the same formula that brought them so much success throughout the 2022-23 season: get everyone involved on offence.
Leave a Reply