UNBC moving on to second round

T-wolves edge Spartans 80-78 for first-ever Canada West playoff victory

For the first time in their seven-year U Sports Canada West Conference existence the UNBC Timberwolves are moving on to the second round of playoffs.
They went in to the Langley Events Centre and defeated the Trinity Western University Spartans 80-78 in the sudden-death thriller to advance to the best-of-three quarterfinal round next weekend.
Mara Mongomo was simply magnificent. The fourth-year guard from Las Palmas, Spain set the tone with one of her best games of the season, scoring a game-high 29 points, none more clutch than the two she sank with 33 seconds left to cap a 10-2 run which gave the T-wolves the lead, after Vasiliki Louka blocked a shot at the other end of the court from Kianna Wiens.
There was a still plenty of drama left. Mongomo came up with another big block with 9.6 seconds left and the ball came to Madison Landry at the sideline, where she got double-teamed by Wiens and Nicole Franson and was called for travelling. Sarah Buckingham in-bounded for the Spartans and got the ball back, letting go a shot from inside the key that bounced in and out of the rim into the hands of Louka, who killed the clock, cinching their first-ever playoff win.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Louka. "We are so happy that we did it for the first time. It was a really nice game to watch and play. This 'W' it's really important for us.
"Maria had a really good game from the beginning so we as a team tried to get her the ball and that's what  we did in the end. The ball went to the best player in the game and every other player tried to help with everything else. We were down by eight points the last three minutes of the game and we played great defence and we won. It was a really great team win."
Tessa Ratzlaff and Jessie Brown warmed up their shooting arms in the fourth quarter and the Spartans led 76-68 with 3:25 left but the T-wolves had an answer for that. Mongomo started the comeback with a pair form the foul line and with the T-wolves launching a full-court press, Mongomo stole one under the bucket and sunk another two as she got fouled, then completed the three point play. Franson answered with a field goal to make it a five-point game. But Alina Shakirova hit for a triple and Landry tied it, setting the stage for Mongomo.
Landry scored 17 points and Shakirova collected 13 and had six rebounds. Louka, the T-wolves six-foot-three post, was her usual dominant self with 13 rebounds and 12 points.
The T-wolves were deadly from the foul line, making 16-of-17 attempts. They shot 47.5 per cent (28-for-59) from the field and 47.1 per cent (8-for-17) from three-point range.
Ratzlaff finished with 20 points and had eight rebounds, Brown shot 13 points and Buckingham had a 12-point game. Wiens picked up four assists and four steals and nine points.
The T-wolves held a slight edge at the end of the first quarter, leading 22-19. Mongomo, who averaged 20 points as the league's third-most productive scorer, got off a great start with eight first-quarter points.
Mongomo kept up her torrid pace in the second quarter, hitting two triples and she had two more field goals for an 18-point half. The Spartans put together a seven-point run in the second quarter took their first lead of the game, prompting Sergey Shchepotkin to call his first timeout of the game. The T-wolves responded immediately. Abby Gibb hit from three-point range and Mongomo did the same, then put one in off the glass to tie the game 32-32. She hit her second three off the night and put in another from short range which gave UNBC a 39-34 lead to take into the locker room.
In the third quarter, the Spartans started winning the battles off the boards, led by Wiens, a five-foot-six guard, who ran her total to nine rebounds while her team outscored the T-wolves 24-15 in the quarter to put them ahead 58-54.  
There wasn't much to separate the two teams in the regular season. In their only two meetings  Nov. 16-17 at the Northern Sport Centre the T-wolves beat the Spartans 78-77 and 83-54. Trinity finished eighth in conference with a 12-8 record while UNBC went 11-9. The Spartans won the right to host the playoff game because their rankings performance index (RPI) which reflects the quality of their opponents throughout the season was two-hundredths of a point better than that of the T-wolves.
As the lowest remaining seed, the T-wolves will advance to a best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series against the second-ranked Calgary Dinos (17-3), which starts Friday in Calgary. The Dinos are ranked seventh nationally.
"I'm proud of all the team," said Shchepotkin. "In the game we were down three or four times and I'm proud that they followed the system and didn't give up. We just wanted to play good defence and press the ball and I believe our defence was the key to the win.
"Maria provided leadership and played really good but its not only Maria. Everybody created a good situation for her and I'm glad she was focused all the game and she showed her leadership.
"For me it was really big that we got a playoff win because our program is still very young. Five years go it was difficult to dream about this and I'm happy with this group of kids we could do that, We tried our best last year and lost. I'm especially happy for V (Louka and Abby (Gibb) in their last year, that we could do that."

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