Shaking off the rust is how Western Women’s Head Coach Brian Cheng, described how he feels his team played Thursday evening. Although the term usually refers to getting back into the swing of things after a long layoff, Cheng is more than likely looking for the return of the basketball touch and feel, court vision, sharpness, and conditioning, when referencing said rust. These things tend to hibernate in players during the off season and Cheng knows this all too well. Western took the court against the MacEwan Griffins at Alumni Hall on Thursday evening. MacEwan is located in Edmonton, and the Griffins are in the Canada West conference of USports. MacEwan may not be a familiar sight to the Mustangs or their fans, but who they are and how many times Western faces them was not as important as execution and effort. Perform or sit, that’s how this game unfolded for Mustang players.
Now it was time to put up or shut up for Western. The Mustangs showed great effort, poise, and consistency with their play, but if the offseason is supposed to produce rust, someone failed to tell the visiting Griffins. Despite Western’s best efforts to shake the pesky squad from out West, MacEwan hung right with the Mustangs, leading to an early timeout by Western’s Head Coach. In fact, the Mustangs were ahead 10-9, with 5 minutes left in the opening quarter, before Coach Cheng called his team over to the sidelines to chat. Whatever was said, it worked. Exiting the timeout, Western went on a 5-0 run. After 1 quarter of play, the Mustangs led 17-11. Back and forth, like a tug of war, neither team wanting to give up any ground, the lead exchanged hands several times in the 2nd frame. At halftime, Western went into the locker room up 34-30, in a low scoring affair. Had it not been for the strong guard play of Mustangs’ guards Mackenzie Puklicz on offense, and Jade Codinera on defense, Western could have very well been trailing at the half.
The 2nd half was even more see-saw action. The Mustangs would make a mini-run, and then fail to execute, force a bad shot, or turnover the ball. The rust that Coach Cheng spoke of was ever present in the 3rd quarter. Western held onto a slim lead of 47-43 heading into the 4th quarter of play. The Mustangs finally wrestled control of the game away from the Griffins and they did it mostly with their defense. Several times, guard Jade Codinera would sub into the game, ramp up the team defensively by diving for loose balls, or getting deflections or straight up steals, leading to plenty of fast break opportunities. The steady attack of Western wore down their opponents from the West, who could not deal with the pressure by the Mustangs on both ends of the court. The final score was 69-60 for Western. The leading scorer of the game was Mackenzie Puklicz, who dropped 20 points, 8 rebounds, while dishing out 4 assists. Honourable mention to Victoria Heine, who finished the night with 15 points, and Julia Curran, who had a solid game with her 9 points and 5 rebounds.
The Mustangs will take to the court next on Friday October 13th versus the Saints of St Clair College, followed by a date with the McGill Redman on Saturday the 14th. As the regular season nears (October 25th), the bench will become a little shorter, and the margin for error will decrease, game by game. The coaching staff of Western will be watching closely, making any and every adjustment necessary in order to shake off the rust from the long offseason. The regular season is around the corner, less than 3 weeks away, only then, will the Mustangs truly know whether they have fully become rust-proof.