LANGLEY — All week long, it’s the question that has been begging for an answer.
Is this the potential start of a new three-year dynasty for ultra-young Semiahmoo Totems of Surrey?
Or is there still one more final chapter to be written, that of a championship finale, for the battle-tested, senior led Walnut Grove Gators of Langley?
It’s been a campaign which has played those very polar-opposites against each other since the season’s opening tip in November, and now the verdict is set to be delivered.
At 5 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre, it’s No. 1 Semiahmoo vs. No. 2 Walnut Grove.
It’s a ‘Welcome to the spotlight’ moment for the Totems’ blue-chip quartet of Deja Lee, Tara Wallack, Izzy Forsyth and Raushan Bindra.
It’s a farewell finale for the Gators’ three university-bound stars in Tavia Rowell (Grand Canyon), Jessica Wisotzki (Simon Fraser) and Rolande Taylor (Trinity Western).
On Final Four Friday, Semiahmoo punched its ticket with an 82-64 win over the defending B.C. champion Kelowna Owls, while Walnut Grove returned to the title game with a 73-63 win over the crosstown Brookswood Bobcats.
Here’s our look at both games.
No.1 SEMIAMOO 82 No. 5 KELOWNA 64
LANGLEY — Raushan Bindra from one baseline corner. Bingo. Three-ball.
Deja Lee from other baseline corner. Bingo. Three-ball.
One of the scariest things about the Semiahmoo Totems is that they never rely on any one element of their game to beat you.
Take Friday’s Final Four clash with the defending champion Kelowna Owls.
The Totems hit in 11-of-32 three-point attempts. These days, that’s pretty standard fare.
Yet it’s the context of when those threes begin to fall. Are they a reaction to what is happening on the floor? Or are they tone-setting in nature, intended to set the table for yet another facet of their game plan?
“We had them on the ropes for the first half,” said Owls head coach Darren Semeniuk of the way his team’s zone defence performed. “It kind of played out the way we wanted it to. We packed the paint on them, we tried to take away Izzy and Faith (Dut’s) flashes in the middle, because once the ball gets deep like that, even if they miss they are getting their own rebounds.
“So we forced them to shoot from the outside and it worked,” he continued of an opening 20 minutes in which the Totems led 34-33. “But then (Semiahmoo head coach) Allison (McNeill) went a little smaller (in the second half). She put more shooters around the outside, and then as soon as a couple of them got hot, they extended their lead. But that was our plan, to give those (jump shots) up. We had to pick something.”
And if you decided to change things up, and play man defence in reaction, like the Owls eventually did, the initial reasons you started in a zone immediately were brought back to light.
“Even when we went back to man (-to-man defence), it’s a really hard match-up to guard Izzy and Faith in there, especially now that they are shooting the ball and we’re extending our defence,” Semeniuk summed “We leave a lot of gaps when we go man-to-man.”
Ask the Totems, and they just kept it simple.
“The score was almost tied at the half,” Forsyth said. “We knew we had to bring it in the second half because they were never going to give up. Our team has a saying that the first five minutes of the third quarter are the most important minutes of the game.”
A 26-16 Semiahmoo run over the 10-minute frame of the third quarter illustrated how effectively they took the mantra to heart.
And then veteran coach McNeill added: “We just said we were going to stick with what we were doing, and that we didn’t get here by being a bad team. I just think in the second half, we made some shots that we didn’t make in the first half. I thought Raushan and DJ (Deja Lee) really stepped up. I thought the whole team did.”
Forsyth led the Totems with 23 points and 14 rebounds, while Tara Wallack added 18 points and 11 rebounds. Lee had 15 points and Bindra 12.
Kennedy Dickie of the Owls got into early foul trouble and was never able to get into a full flow en route to 11 points and 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Jaeli Ibbetson continued on a most impressive tourney run with 30 points and 14 rebounds. Rylee Semeniuk had 10 points and Jordan Kemper 10 rebounds.
No. 2 WALNUT GROVE 73 No. 6 BROOKSWOOD 63
LANGLEY — There is no telling just when all of the figurative lights will come on, signalling that phase of team development which prompts a head coach to proudly pronounce that his players finally ‘get it.’
That is precisely what has happened with the Brookswood Bobcats over the final weeks of their 2018-19 campaign.
And while none of that was of any consolation to ‘Cats head coach Chris Veale and company who probably wish the season could start from scratch right now minus all the fatigue, their efforts in a Final Four clash with Walnut Grove very likely serves the Gators well going forward into tonight’s title clash with the Semiahmoo Totems.
“They were grinding the whole game, that was a good semifinal game,” reported Gators’ star Tavia Rowell after the ‘Cats contested every bounce, pass and cut on the LEC South Court floor. “But it’s better than having an easy win because now we are ready to work. Now we know what level we have to play to beat Semi.”
The ‘Cats have easily the deepest big-game rotation at the tournament, and it’s scary to think how much better they are going to be next season with such a youthful base of players who love to play defence.
All of that said, in Friday’s first half, they forced the Gators to prove they had scorers other than Rowell and Jessica Wisotzki, and with the emergence of Grade 10 Sophia Wisotzki, and the Taylor sisters, Rolande and Fania, there was just enough to allow the Gators to build for their second-half breakthrough.
But nothing about it was easy, or easy on the eyes of basketball fans who might have watched the up-and-down entertainment factor provided in a game from earlier in the evening, G.W. Graham’s dramatic overtime victory over Langley Christian.
“That was hard work,” said Grove head coach Darren Rowell of a game which did not resemble an oil painting. “They are a tough team, they made us work for everything, and they really made it difficult for us to do what we want to do on offence.”
Yet Walnut Grove took a deep breath, slowed it down in the half court, and by the fourth quarter, there was more of a semblance of ball movement. That allowed Tavia Rowell (25 points, six rebounds) and Jessica Wisotzki (14 points) to help their team gain the separation they needed to push the lead to as many as 16 points with 2:26 remaining.
Brookswood’s standout senior guard Jenna Dick did her best to battle through a tough shooting night. Sophia Wisotzki, last season named the tournament’s top defender, was a constant presence, as Dick was held to 14 points.
Jenessa Knapp added 12 and Karsen Look 12 points and 11 rebounds.
For the Gators, Sophia Wisotzki had 14 points, Fania Taylor 10 points and Ro Taylor 15 rebounds, eight points and four steals.
What are the Rowells thinking about today’s matchup with the Totems?
“They were two different teams,” Darren Rowell said of watching their win over Kelowna. “In the first half, everything was inside. In the second half, everything was outside. That makes it really tough, when a team can be tough inside and out. It’s going to be a tough battle, but we’re ready to take it on.”
Added Tavia Rowell: “We’ve got to work hard in post, we’ve got to get rebounds. That is one of our big weaknesses, and we’ve to stop their best players. We have to play our best to win.”
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