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2011 CIS womens basketball championship: Lancers, Huskies lead wide-open field

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Ottawa - The tournament host Windsor Lancers and the Saskatchewan Huskies are considered favourites for this week's CIS women's basketball Final 8, which marks the 40th anniversary of the national championship and features one of the most intriguing fields in recent years.
The final leg of the expanded 2011 championship gets underway Friday at the University of Windsor's St. Denis Centre with the quarter-final round and culminates on Sunday with the gold medal final, live on TSN at 4:30 p.m.
SSN Canada will have live webcasts of all games except the title match, while TVCogeco will televise six contests locally including the first three quarter-finals, both semis and the bronze medal match.
Coming off their third straight OUA title, the Lancers earned No. 1 status for the tourney, while the Canada West champion Huskies were ranked No. 2.
Also competing for the Bronze Baby Trophy will be No. 3 Carleton Ravens (at-large berth), No. 4 Cape Breton Capers (AUS champions), No. 5 Toronto Varsity Blues (East Regional winners), No. 6 St. Francis Xavier X-Women (Central Regional winners), No. 7 Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks (West Regional winners), and No. 8 Laval Rouge et Or (RSEQ champions).
Friday's quarter-final matchups will see Carleton face StFX at 1 p.m., Saskatchewan battle Laurier at 3 p.m., Windsor take on Laval at 6 p.m., and Cape Breton square off against Toronto at 8 p.m.
New national champions will be crowned on Sunday as the Simon Fraser Clan, winners of the last two Bronze Baby Trophies and five of the last nine banners, played their final CIS season in 2009-10 and now compete in the NCAA. The Bronze Baby has spent the last nine off-seasons in British Columbia following triumphs by SFU (5), UBC (3) and Victoria (1).
In fact, all teams competing in Windsor this week will be looking for their first-ever CIS title, with the exception of Toronto, which claimed its lone banner back in 1986.
No. 1 Windsor hopes to make CIS women's basketball history by becoming the first team to triumph on home court. Surprisingly, the feat has never been accomplished in the first 39 presentations of the event.
The Lancers also hope to put an end to the 19-year stranglehold on the Bronze Baby Trophy by teams currently competing in Canada West (including former Great Plains conference schools). The OUA champs came close last spring in Hamilton when they reached their first-ever national final before dropping a 77-56 decision to Simon Fraser.
The last team from outside Western Canada to hoist the Bronze Baby was Laurentian, which captured back-to-back banners in 1990 and 1991.
Led by OUA MVP Jessica Clemençon, Windsor is enjoying a spectacular season and enters the Final 8 sporting a stellar 32-2 overall record versus CIS competition. The Lancers' two losses to CIS opponents occurred at home against Toronto on Nov. 12, a 66-61 setback in their third game of the regular season, and on the road against Western on Jan. 5, a 57-54 defeat in their first conference matchup coming back from the December break.
Clemençon, a 6-foot-3 forward from France who was named CIS rookie of the year in 2009-10, is a candidate for CIS MVP honours this season after finishing first in Ontario and third in the country in scoring (19.0 ppg) and sixth in the OUA in rebounding (8.2 rpg).
"It would definitely be very special to win our program's first national championship at home," says head coach Chantal Vallée, in her sixth season at the helm in Windsor. "We would love to share it with our fans and community who have showed unconditional support over the last few years. It would make the championship that much more special. It's the best gift I could ask for, to win it in front of them."
No. 2 Saskatchewan is also enjoying a remarkable campaign and heads to the Final 8 with a 32-3 overall mark against CIS rivals. Canada West MVP Kim Tulloch, a fifth-year guard from Regina, led the way in conference play with 16.9 points per game, tops out West and good for seventh in CIS.
As they vie to extend the Canada West streak of consecutive Bronze Baby triumphs to an even 20, the Huskies find themselves in a very different situation than in recent years. Saskatchewan will be the only CWUAA representatives in Windsor, marking the first time since 1997 there will be less than three Western teams at the CIS tournament.
"We're really happy and excited to be representing Canada West on the national stage," says 13-year Saskatchewan head coach Lisa Thomaidis, who led her team to a third-place finish and a first-ever CIS podium a year ago. "It is certainly a far different feel from previous years, where we had at least two other teams from our conference there with us and had a better feel for the competition. There are a lot of new faces at the tournament, so we need to do a lot of work to get up to speed with the style of play that we're going to be facing."
"With the new Regional format, we are definitely seeing one of the most competitive fields at a national tournament. Everyone here is playing great basketball and is coming in off the high of having to win to get in."
No. 3 Carleton will be making its first-ever Final 8 appearance after receiving the at-large berth. Following a solid 18-4 regular season, the Ravens pushed Windsor to the limit in the OUA title match at St. Denis Centre before dropping a two-point decision (46-44), and then hosted the Central Regional tournament where they lost 64-59 to StFX in the final.
No. 4 Cape Breton captured its third straight AUS championship thanks to a 65-50 gold medal win over UNB. The Capers, who finished fifth at last year's Nationals, also topped the AUS in conference play with a 16-4 mark.
No. 5 Toronto returns to the Final 8 for the first time since a seventh-place finish in 2008 thanks to a 65-57 victory over Western in the final of the East Regional in Fredericton. On Friday against Cape Breton, the Varsity Blues will be looking for their first CIS quarter-final win since 1997, when they downed Lakehead 73-59 en route to finishing fourth.
Thanks to its upset win over Carleton in the final of the Central Regional, No. 6 StFX advanced to the Final 8 for only the second time in team history. In their lone previous appearance, in 1997, the X-Women went 0-2 against Manitoba (109-88) and Victoria (97-61).
No. 7 Laurier shocked the tournament host and nationally third-ranked Regina Cougars 82-67 to win the Western Regional. The Hawks went 0-2 in each of their only two previous Final 8 appearances, in 2003 and 2004.
While No. 8 Laval is a regular at the CIS championship, it certainly didn't look like the Rouge et Or would make the trip this time around when they finished the regular season in fourth place in Quebec with a sub-par 5-11 record. The perennial contenders from Quebec City rebounded in the playoffs however upsetting top-seeded McGill and UQAM to claim their seventh straight RSEQ title.
The Rouge et Or, sixth at last year's CIS tournament, scored a 62-51 pre-season victory over second-ranked Saskatchewan back on Oct. 17 in Toronto.