LONDON, Ont. (from Western Mustangs) — Fifth-year guard Mackenzie Puklicz put up a game-high 28 points to lead the Western Mustangs women’s basketball team in a tight 83-80 loss to the McMaster Marauders on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Hall.
“The resilience was fantastic. Two weeks ago, we talked about having no excuses, and we’ve really started to live up to that,” said Mustangs’ head coach Brian Cheng following the team’s numerous comeback efforts against the Marauders. “Walking the talk is always hard, and I’m proud of our players today. A few more bounces our way, and we’d be looking at a victory.”
Puklicz, who put up a team-high 18 points in her previous game against the Gryphons, led the team once again while adding four rebounds and three steals on the day, putting in work on both sides of the ball.
Three other Mustangs scored in double figures for the purple and white, as Maddy Horst recorded 12 points and four assists while Julia Curran added 13 points and six rebounds. Fifth-year forward Victoria Heine came off the bench and just missed out on a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds on 7-10 shooting.
“Victoria always has a wealth of potential within her. If she decides to bring it on any given day then we’re always going to be in a good position,” said Cheng on Heine’s production coming off an injury. “She made some really good plays and some really good passes out of the high post. It kept us in the game.”
“Whether it’s starting or coming off the bench, I approach every game the same. I’m fresh off an injury, so it’s still hurting a little bit, but I’m still going to play my game,” said Heine on her ability to remain a spark off the bench.
The Mustangs came out of the gate with a purpose to begin the opening frame, as Laura Graham showed her aggression on the offensive end of the floor early to spark the purple and white. However, McMaster quickly proved why they’re one of the most potent teams from behind the arc, scoring from a distance and spreading the Western defence thin. The Mustangs’ defence would tighten up to end the frame, creating turnovers and allowing the purple and white to create on the fast break. Western’s late defensive composure would be rewarded as they headed into the second frame with a 19-18 lead.
Western’s defence looked porous in the paint to begin the second quarter, preventing long range shots but allowing easy opportunities at the rim. The Marauder’s offence would quickly find their footing, moving the ball with purpose as they began to connect from three after controlling the paint.
The Mustang offence, which had been an efficient 7-16 from the field in the first quarter, dropped off significantly in the second, as pressure from the Marauders allowed McMaster to find themselves on a sustained run. However, one final surge of energy from the purple and white would once again ignite the fast break and get them back in the game as they faced just a 36-34 deficit heading into the half.
Foul trouble would hinder the Mustangs early in the second half, allowing the Marauders to get to the line and convert on foul shots. However, Western would once again find their defensive identity midway through the quarter, forcing turnovers and sparking the fast break. Puklicz led fast breaks for the purple and white to help force a comeback while Heine came off the bench to provide post scoring against a smaller McMaster lineup as the Mustangs went into the fourth with a slim 55-53 advantage.
The game continued to be a back and forth affair through the final frame, as both sides traded threes early in the quarter. However, Western’s zone defence began to get picked apart by McMaster shooters, as the Mustangs found themselves on the wrong end of a Marauder run. Despite the poor defence in the quarter, Western would find themselves down just three points with under a minute remaining until Graham would tie the game with a clutch corner three. The game would ultimately be decided by an identical corner three from the Marauders’ Jelena Mamic as Western was unable to convert on the final possession of the game, giving McMaster the 83-80 victory.
“There was some confusion on our last set, and we hadn’t run it in forever, but there was confusion from both teams at the end of the game. It comes down to execution without excuses, and the team that executes just a little bit better is going to walk away with the victory, and today that was McMaster,” said Cheng.
With the loss, the Mustangs move to 8-8 on the season as they remain securely in fourth place in the OUA West Division. The Marauders’ win will give them a 12-4 record as they overtake Lakehead for the number one spot in the OUA West.
The Mustangs will be back in action this Friday, Jan. 26, when they will be back on the road for the first time since late November for a meeting with the Algoma Thunderbirds in Sault St. Marie. The game is scheduled to begin at 6 pm EST.