It’s often said that football is a game of inches, where a small margin one way or another makes and breaks champions.
Saturday afternoon’s AA senior girls provincial final between GW Graham and South Kamloops at the Langley Events Centre proved that basketball is a game of bounces, good ones that create champions and bad ones take titles away.
We’d zero in on 3.9 seconds and a Deanna Tuchscherer finger roll that didn’t drop, dooming the Grizzlies to a 73-67 loss to the Titans. But before that, so many times before that, there were shots that rattled in and out and rebounds that hit arms and and knees and feet, bouncing away from a blue and white jersey.
Any one of these plays goes GW Graham’s way and the school is celebrating the first provincial banner ever won by a Chilliwack based high school team in basketball. Just one of them is all they needed in a game that was tied 64-64 in regulation time.
Game of inches? Yeah. Football doesn’t have a monopoly on that.
On that fateful play in the final seconds of the final minute of regulation, Aliza Dueck inbounded to Jaya Bannerman. Bannerman flipped a pass to Tuchscherer near the top of the key and No. 14 went to work. With her back to the basket, Tuchscherer dropped her shoulder as she pivoted on her left foot and set her sights on the hoop. The game settled into slow motion. Tuchscherer driving. A Kamloops defender sliding over to help on D.
Her clear lane to the net taken away, Tuchscherer stretching out with the ball and releasing it in an arc toward the hoop.
And in even slower motion, the ball impacting the orange iron, circling the back of it lazily and dropping out the other side, into the waiting hands of a Titan rebounder.
Off to overtime where, five basketball minutes later, South Kamloops rushed the floor to celebrate while the Grizzlies retreated to their locker room.
”All provincials long she (Deanna) has seen coverage where she’s got two, three or even four players on her and it’s not easy,” head coach Sarah Mouritzen mused afterwards. “You have that many people on you, you can’t see. You don’t know where you are and where your teammates are. She gets beaten up but she just keeps going and handles all of that with poise.
“She’s a superstar who can do things other players can’t, and the fact that teams have to do play that way against her is a testament to how good she is.”
Give South Kamloops credit. They were the top seed coming into the tournament and played like it against the third-seeded Grizz. Five-foot-seven guard Lauren Walkley played like a giant in the first half, gashing the Grizzlies on drives to the paint and dropping bombs from the outside. She had 12 points at the break, and when she cooled off in the second half, backcourt mate Maddi Gobeil heated up. Gobeil went fearlessly to the basket, earning her way to the free-throw line for 16 shots. She was Steve Nashian from the charity stripe, hitting 14, including 4 of 5 in the final minute of OT as GWG was forced to intentionally foul.
The biggest threat on the South Kam roster was supposed to be six-foot-six center Olivia Morgan-Cherchas. While she was disruptive defensively and pulled down her share of rebounds, her offensive contribution was limited to five points. In the battle of Basketball Canada prospects, Tuchscherer was easily the better player.
South Kamloops did indeed have three or four players collapsing on the teenager every time she tried to get to the hoop, which limited her effectiveness. She compensated by draining four shots from three point land en-route to a game-high 28.
Bannerman started out with five early points including a three pointer, and finished with 10 points.
Dueck and Sydney Fraess hit back to back threes late in the third quarter as the Grizzlies took their first lead, clawing back from a deficit that once stood at 12. Fraess knocked down three from beyond the arc. Sydney Owens knocked down a huge three and Julia Tuchscherer hit a couple big shots before an ankle injury forced her to the sideline.
Starting forward Sydney Fraess fouled out in the closing minutes, which proved crucial.
“We had a few personnel issues with Julia tweaking her ankle and Sydney fouling out, which was a big thing,” Mouritzen explained. “I had to throw Julia Sprott into the post where she’s not comfortable. That was a big part of it and I think we got nervous too. It was one of those things where we had no zip. No energy and we couldn’t execute.”
In the minutes after the game ended there were tears on the court and in the GWG dressing room, and the feelings from this loss will last a while longer.
But in time, these girls will realize that finishing second in the province was no small feat. That’s the message Mouritzen delivered in her post-game talk and she hopes they were listening.
“It sucks to lose. It is painful and disappointing, but they’ve done more than anyone in our city has ever done.” she admitted. “Not only have they represented our school but they’ve represented Chilliwack and they’ve made history.
“I couldn’t be more proud.”