BURNABY — Momentum is such a fragile intangible that once you’ve got it, you’ll do anything to keep it.
Well, almost anything.
On Saturday, on the final day of the regular season, the Simon Fraser Clan women’s basketball team had a huge upset in its sights.
The visiting Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, ranked No. 2 in all of NCAA Div. 2 basketball, had come up Burnaby Mountain looking to complete a perfect 20-0 season in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Simon Fraser, however, had taken a 59-49 lead with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter after star point guard Ellen Kett, playing her last home game for the Clan, drained a trey.
Not too soon afterwards, however, Clan head coach Bruce Langford elected to rest Kett, a workhorse who not only averages 35 minutes-per-game but takes a physical pounding with her ball-handling duties and penchant to step in and draw offensive charges.
Was it too much too much to say that during 1:33 of game clock which Kett sat and the Seawolves scored a pair of baskets, that momentum was ultimately lost en route to a 77-72 loss?
Well, maybe. Maybe not.
“When we had a 10-point lead,” said Langford, “it felt like we needed to give Ellen as much rest without destroying momentum,” said SFU head coach Bruce Langford, “but once we lost it, it was tough to get it back.
“In hindsight I should have run her into the floor,” Langford added figuratively as Anchorage became the first GNAC women’s basketball team to complete a perfect league slate since 2007-08 and the first in the 16-year history of the conference to do it over a 20-game schedule. “We might have gotten a big enough lead so that they couldn’t catch us. Ellen was brilliant in spots, but also a little tired in spots. We needed to give her a rest.”
It’s been Langford’s biggest conundrum all season.
How do you rest the GNAC’s version of John Stockton when she’s leading the all of NCAA Div. 2 basketball in assists-per-game (8.4) and total assists?
How do you take her off the floor when she brings a warriors mentality to the court, elevating the play of everyone around her?
On Saturday, as the Clan finished the season in third place with a 15-5 conference record, Kett’s collective fatigue was clear.
After never making more than seven turnovers in a game over her entire four-year stint on the hill, she committed a career-high 10 turnovers to go along with 14 points and 11 assists.
“Not the triple-double you would want,” deadpanned Langford. “But she had to work very hard against that team because we didn’t have people who could handle the ball and take the pressure off her. If we gave it to someone else, they just wanted to give it back to her.”
It was the final home game for both Kett and fellow senior Meg Wilson, and the pair were once again leading lights, Wilson scoring 18 points to go along with six rebounds.
Now, an SFU team ranked No. 4 in the West Region, prepares for the start of GNAC playoffs on Thursday at St. Martin’s Marcus Pavilion in Lacey, Wash.
The No. 3 Clan will face No. 6 Central Washington, the same team which beat them in overtime earlier this month, in a 12 noon opener.
The sudden-elimination winner gets No. 2 Western Washington at noon on Friday in the semifinals.
No. 4 Northwest Nazarene meets No. 5 Seattle Pacific at 2:15 p.m.Wednesday, with the winner drawing Alaska Anchorage in a 2:15 p.m. semifinal on Friday.
The two winners meet in the GNAC’s title game on Saturday (5:15 p.m.).
The NCAA D2 selection show follows the next week.
Heading into the postseason as a team which has shown it has the personnel and the potential to beat any team in the conference, does Langford feel like his team has momentum coming off a solid showing against the No. 2-ranked team NCAA D2 basketball?
“I think we’ve got to look in the mirror,” the coach said. “Mistakes were made that were in our control. It’s how much we care and how much we want it. We just played the No. 2 team in the country and it came down to a couple of possessions late in the game.”
There’s plenty for the Clan to do before Thursday’s noon tip, and one of them has to be to find a way for Ellen Kett to get some rest.
Of the six GNAC teams which will gather in Lacey, none has a single player more integral to their fortunes than the SFU point guard.
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