Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

Toronto was unable to stop a fourth quarter flurry of offense

Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team played the Carleton University Ravens on Friday — the number five ranked team in U SPORTS. They battled throughout the whole game, but were unable to prevent the strong Ravens offense in the final quarter.

The Blues jumped out to an early 13–6 lead in the first quarter, thanks in part to a pair of free throws and back-to-back three-pointers from Ellen Ougrinov. Toronto’s offensive rebounding served them well in the period, but they were unable to hit shots to close out the half, as Carleton went on an 8–1 run to close it out. The Blues were also unable to stop Alyssa Cerino, who had eight points in the quarter.

The Blues offense remained persistent into the second quarter, with first-year player Nakeisha Ekwandja driving into the paint and taking a foul, which was almost converted for an and-one, and hitting a free throw to open scoring in the second quarter. Ougrinov drove to the rim on a following possession and made a nice bounce pass to Nada Radonjic to convert the easy layup.

However, the Carleton offense quickly came alive, going on an 8–0 run and hitting two three-pointers in the process, forcing Toronto to call a timeout to stop the onslaught. Coming out of the timeout, there was no scoring and a few turnovers, but Carleton soon found their rhythm again, hitting another wide open three-pointer off of a kick-out pass. The Blues stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws. Ougrinov hit a layup, and Mikhaela Ekwandja converted an and-one layup, to cut the Ravens’ lead to only two points.

Carleton’s offense came alive once again, this time on an 11–1 run. The Blues were able to get the final two buckets of the quarter, with a three-pointer from Ougrinov, and a layup from Sarah Bennett. Despite the runs that Carleton went on, the Blues were able to stay hang in there, and didn’t allow the score to stay out of reach.

It was a similar story in the third quarter as the Blues started hitting some of their mid-range jumpers, and brought the deficit to three points. Toronto kept the score relatively close, despite signs that Carleton might pull away with it. Ougrinov kept them in it with another three-pointer, and the Blues remained hitting their mid-range shots. The score was 47–42 to end the third quarter — well within striking distance for the Blues.

Despite their tenacity, the Carleton offense was too much for Toronto to overcome in the fourth quarter. Cerino once again started the run with two made layups, and later on made two free throws. The Blues were unable to continue hitting their shots, and mainly got their fourth quarter points off of free throws.

The final score was 72–54 for Carleton, as the Blues let the game get away from them in the fourth quarter.

Ougrinov was the Blues’ leading scorer with 21 points. She made four three-pointers and some key buckets, keeping the score close throughout three quarters. Mikhaela was the Blues’ leading rebounder with seven rebounds and five points — five of the rebounds coming off the offensive glass.

This loss brings the Blues record to 3-13, and 1-7 at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Blues go 0-2 in Saturday night doubleheader

The men’s and women’s basketball teams both lost against strong Ryerson squads

Blues go 0-2 in Saturday night doubleheader

The Varsity Blues basketball teams fell in both games of their doubleheader this past Saturday against the Ryerson University Rams.

Women’s team

In the women’s game, the Blues donned eye-catching custom pink threads for their 12th annual Think Pink matchup for breast cancer. The Rams lived up to their U SPORTS fifth ranking early, storming out of the gates on a 12–2 run. A three from Ellen Ougrinov and some timely free throws by first-year players Mikhaela Ekwandja and Jasmine Lambert cut the lead to five, with only a few minutes left before the teams would trade buckets the rest of the quarter. It was 23–14 for Ryerson after 10 minutes.

In the second quarter, the Blues showed some fight, reducing the deficit to a manageable six points with four minutes and 51 seconds left on the clock as Ekwandja finished a tough drive through traffic in the paint, making the score 27–21 for Ryerson. Ekwandja would finish with a team and new career-high of 12 points for the night. The Blues found solace in their rookies, as Ekwandja’s twin Nakiesha Ekwandja connected on a corner three-pointer with the shot clock winding down a few possessions later. Fellow rookie Lambert also drew iron from beyond the arc. The squad showed good moments, but ultimately the lead remained at 39–29 for Ryerson at the half-time.

The Rams extended their lead in the third quarter as the Blues struggled to find a consistent scoring flow. A Sarah Bennett lay-in with less than six minutes left to play — which completed a beautiful Blues press break — followed by an Ougrinov pull-up jumper kept the score to a manageable 49–36 about halfway through the quarter. The Rams continued to push, increasing their lead to 58–38, but not before Nakiesha found Sara Cumby on a nice backdoor cut with about two minutes left in the period.

The Rams continued to hit shots in the fourth period, and the final score was 84–53 for the visitors off the backs of a combined 42 points from Ryerson veterans Hayley Robertson and Marin Scotten. For the Blues, Sarah Bennett hit her fifth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Nada Radonjic was solid as usual with nine points and seven boards. Toronto got 24 points from its bench and 25 points from rookies.


Men’s team

The men’s game was a high-tempo affair and both teams looked hungry from the opening tip.

Each side had already hit double digits in scoring just minutes in, and were tied at  11–11 less than seven  minutes after Chris Barrett and Evan Shadkami each connected from both the field and the charity stripe. The Blues’ run-and-gun game was matched by their aggressive zone press on defense, and the punishing pace saw Toronto use four bench players within the first five minutes alone. It was 20–16 for the visitors after one quarter.

The second frame was much the same, as both teams continued to score in flurries. The Rams slowly and quietly built their lead to as high as 12, fuelled by the efforts of floor general Tevaun Kokko, who put up a team-high of 31. Meanwhile for the Blues, Shadkami took his second charge — one of three on the evening — as he stepped up and disrupted a two-on-one transition play with a little over eight minutes  to go.


Later on in the frame, Jeremy Aibi hit a putback lay-in with two minutes to play before a Marshall Reed three-pointer and a few more Shadkami foul shots made the score 45–38. This should have been the half-time score if not for the heroics of Kokko to end the frame, as he would hit a Hail Mary, and beat the buzzer from about 75 feet down the court. The score was 48–38 at half-time.

Both teams would trade buckets in the opening minutes of the third period before a three from Shadkami cut the deficit down to just six. Each squad continued to push and the Blues would also get three-point baskets in the frame from Barrett, Elie Mouyal, and Daniel Johansson. Ryerson maintained an 11-point lead at 76–65 heading into the final period.

In the fourth quarter, Jeremy Aibi opened the scoring for the Blues with a putback layup with a little over eight minutes remaining on the clock. Aibi was an absolute warrior for the home side, grabbing a game-high 13 boards — including an incredible eight offensive rebounds — in 30 minutes off the bench. Ryerson began to push and the Blues’ heartfelt earlier efforts fell in vain as the visitors outscored the Blues 18–8 in the fourth, taking the game with a final score of 94–73.

Shadkami posted a game-high of 35 points in 36 minutes, exploiting his unique ability to draw contact as he went 13–15 from the foul line. Barrett was the other Blue in double figures, with 12 points as Toronto shot 35 of their 70 field goal attempts from beyond the arc.

Women’s basketball team upset defending national champions in a 76–66 decision

Blues earn second win of the season against the McMaster Marauders

Women’s basketball team upset  defending national champions in a 76–66 decision

After a slow start to the season, the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team came out hungry for a win on November 30 — and it showed. The Blues were the clear underdogs in their second match against the defending national champions, the McMaster University Marauders, but they fought hard until the last quarter to secure their second win of the season before heading into the second month of their season.

Early on during the first quarter, Blues forward Nada Radonjic got off to a hot start, marking the beginning of a streak that led to a stellar game-high of 22 points. The Marauders were not letting up easily though, and the score stayed close until the end, with expert offensive plays by Sarah Gates, a guard for the opposing team.

Despite their aggressive approach, McMaster kept shooting long and missing, and participated in rough plays that eventually led to their forfeiture of the win. Toronto scored big points off of multiple free throws, especially into the second quarter.

At the end of the third quarter, Toronto secured their lead after an unsportsmanlike call against McMaster, leading to two successful free throw shot by guard Samantha Robertson. With a 56–46 leading going into the final quarter, the Blues held on tight until the end for the win.

Although the Blues kept their heads down and fought to their winning finish, they had issues keeping possessions on rebounds, giving the Marauders undeserved second chances throughout. Luckily, a series of three-pointers from the likes of Radonjic and guard Ellen Ougrinov kept the Marauders on their toes.

Blues standouts on the court included forward Sarah Bennett, who had a big night on the boards, racking up 15 points, 14 rebounds, and one assist to help the team to victory. Robertson came in hot in the second half to pick up where Radonjic tapered off in the first, tallying an impressive 15 points herself.

The Toronto bench made an excellent job of cheering the team on, rivalling even the crowd’s enthusiasm. The nail-biting finish saw Toronto rack up a total of four points for the season so far, and snag the fifth place in the Ontario University Athletics Central division.

Blues basketball teams go 1–1 in doubleheader against Lions

Women lose a close contest, men win handily

Blues basketball teams go 1–1 in doubleheader against Lions

Women’s team

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team lost a heartbreaking 52–47 decision to the York Lions on November 15, dropping their fifth straight game of the season to their cross-town rivals.

The match was tight right from the opening tipoff, with both teams using their physicality and speed to force turnovers and errant passes.

York drew first blood with a pair of free throws, but Toronto stormed back, ending the first quarter with a score of 13–10, thanks to a pair of three-pointers from standouts Christine Jurcau and Ellen Ougrinov.

The physicality match continued into the second quarter, with Blues veteran Sarah Bennett using her speed and ball-handling skills to force York to foul in their attempts to defend from her. The Lions struggled to contain Bennett, as she went on to score a team-leading 18 points. Rookie Nakeisha Ekwandja was all over the court, scooping up six defensive rebounds throughout the game. The Blues ended the first half with a six-point lead.

As the second half wore on, it was evident that both teams were growing tired from the chippy style of play. Numerous players from both teams hit the deck, sacrificing their bodies in desperate attempts to gain their team precious points. The Blues saw their lead diminish to a mere two points by the end of the third quarter, despite the tenacious play from Bennett and Samantha Robertson. York began to roar to life toward the end, peppering Toronto with scoring attempts and capitalizing on their free throws.

Unfortunately, the Lions’ upward swing was too much for the Blues to overcome in the fourth quarter. York gained their first lead of the game with seven minutes left on the clock and eventually pulled away to win the match.

It was evident from the game that the Blues’ last-place standing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Centre conference is not reflective of their abilities. Despite the lackluster fourth quarter, the Blues displayed impressive skill and heart, and showed great potential for improvement over the course of the season. The Blues will return home to face the McMaster Marauders on November 30 — hopefully with a win in their pocket.


Men’s team

The Varsity Blues men’s basketball team showed off their shooting skills on Friday as they trounced the York Lions 95–81. The win moved Toronto up to a 2–3 record, while keeping York firmly at the bottom of the OUA conference table.

Despite the final score line, the first quarter was a tightly contested affair, with York notching the first four points of the game. The two teams traded the lead position repeatedly, but Toronto eventually pulled away as Evan Shadkami, Chris Barrett, Eric Rwahwire, Eli Mouyal and Jeremy Aibi all notched at least one basket from outside the arc. Using their impressive accuracy — a 75 per cent success rate on their three-point shots alone — the Blues headed into the second quarter with a commanding 32–21 lead.

York struggled to contain the surging Blues, resorting to taking four team fouls before the half was over. The Lions were able to cut slightly into Toronto’s lead, but the Blues’ pinpoint accuracy was too much to overcome. Toronto led the game 55–48 at half time, boasting a 66.7 per cent accuracy rate for three-pointers versus York’s paltry 18.2 per cent. Rwahwire and Shadkami scored 14 and 13 points, respectively, with sophomore Somachi Agbapu notching an emphatic block.

The third quarter saw Toronto extend their lead once as the chippy Lions garnered their 10th team foul ­— a number which continued to grow throughout the quarter. Toronto continued to stand tall against the onslaught, using their speed to both force and capitalize on York errors. This led to a total of six steals by the end of the game.

Toronto entered the final quarter with a 12-point lead and would not let up, sinking an additional 19 points in the final frame alone on their way to their second season win.

Rwahwire and Shadkami were the indisputable stars of the game, notching 24 and 21 points, respectively, while Barrett was a crucial playmaker in his 12-point performance. Daniel Johansson was a pivotal force on offense, notching a team-high three offensive rebounds. The men will return home on November 30, where they hope to deliver another electric match against the McMaster Marauders.

Moving away from “mental toughness”: VanVleet, Brittni Donaldson talk mental health at Goldring

Speakers discussed personal growth, difficulty with balancing mental health with sports

Moving away from “mental toughness”: VanVleet, Brittni Donaldson talk mental health at Goldring

The Varsity Blues Basketball Excellence program hosted a mental health panel at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on October 29 with Toronto Raptors guard Fredderick VanVleet along with Brittni Donaldson, and Jarred Dubois among others. The speakers discussed their relationship with mental health on a day-to-day basis, and how they have learned to interact with others while keeping mental health in mind.

VanVleet’s personal growth

VanVleet spoke about the challenges that he faced growing up and the evolution of his relationship with his own mental health. Growing up, VanVleet faced a lot of personal troubles, which he said he needed to block out due to the expectation of “mental toughness” in his basketball career. He said that mental health was not something that he felt he had to deal with, especially when his whole life was revolving around basketball.

“But it wasn’t until I had kids that I really started thinking about what that means for me as a person and what my parents passed down to me, what I’m able to pass down to them,” said VanVleet. “You just start thinking… ‘how do I better myself and better the people around me so that we’re not passing down destructive emotions, feelings, thought processes,’ whatever the case may be. So you took the flip from ‘okay, I have to be mentally tough’ when I’m playing a game, but also what does that mean for me as a man, as a father, as a son to pass that on to my kids so they have a clean slate.”

He said that he needed to revisit a lot of personal trauma that he hadn’t dealt with, and thought back on certain experiences that shaped him into the man he is today. VanVleet stressed the importance of having conversations about mental health, and passing on these conversations onto the younger generation.

The difficulty of discussing mental health in sports

Brittni Donaldson, Assistant Coach of the Toronto Raptors, who played four seasons for the University of Northern Iowa basketball program, discussed her personal difficulties in being asked to leave her emotions aside in athletic settings. “Mental toughness is a term that’s used almost daily in our environment and what it means in the environment of basketball and [other] sports is suppressing any sort of emotion or feeling,” Donaldson said. “Putting [them] on the back end in order to complete the task that’s in front of you.”

She said that this not only applies to her emotional state, but her physical pain as well. “You’re kind of conditioned as an athlete to just push through those types of things or just ignore them completely in order to complete the task at hand,” she continued. “For me personally that manifests itself in a physical form. I played collegiate basketball and every day [I] was preached to about mental toughness. If you weren’t mentally tough, you weren’t going to play.”

“I ended up pushing myself so far away from my inner dialogue and the things that were going on in my body and my mind that I was playing through injuries and not even realizing it. And it got to a point where I had to have reconstructive leg surgery and to be told I could never play again for me to realize [that] I’m that far away from my inner dialogue and what my body, my mind is telling me.”

Getting the discussion started early

Jarred Dubois, Assistant Coach for the Detroit Pistons and Founder of the non-profit organization, Everyone Has a Story, spoke about how he wanted to make sure young athletes at his kids camp were receiving proper help. “We started with bringing in mental wellness professionals to speak to the parents,” Dubois explained.

“We all know that a lot of parents — especially in youth sports — are very forceful in trying to get kids to perform at a high level. You’ve got to be the next Fred, you’ve got to be the next ‘this person’ or ‘that person.’ Every player can’t be the next NBA star. And the psychological breakdown of [that on] a child takes a toll.”

He went on to explain that many kids who go through traumatic experiences do not know how to process their emotions and are often given inadequate resources to deal with them. He wanted to have a way to listen to and connect with other people with similar experiences, which is why he started his non-profit, which hosts other similar panel discussions, and intends to “promote compassion for others one story at a time.”

“Understanding [that a lack of communication] was the case for me and my story and I wish that I had something like this where I could come and listen to people who I could connect with, people who do things that I’m engaged with from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of expertise,” DuBois continued. “And so I created this panel process.”

Varsity Blues hosts panel discussion with Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse

Nurse discusses championship run, managing players

Varsity Blues hosts panel discussion with Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse

On Monday, November 4, the Toronto Varsity Blues Basketball Excellence Program hosted a talk featuring the Toronto Raptors Head Coach Nick Nurse which touched on topics including managing underdog teams and working under pressure. The talk was moderated by Sportsnet’s NHL reporter Elliotte Friedman. The event was held at the Toronto Region Board of Trade and touched on topics including winning the championship and staying calm in high pressure situations.

Nurse started the discussion by holding up his NBA championship ring, and later passing it around the room for everyone to hold. “Somebody asked me, ‘When do you wear it?’ I said ‘when I come to things like this.’ We just got them so I think I’m going to give it to people, share it with them. That was the… best experience for me about the whole title… sharing it with everybody from Toronto and Canada.”

Nurse spent his formative coaching years in the British Basketball League (BBL), with his first stop being the Birmingham Bullets. Before Nurse took over, the Bullets, much like the Raptors, had a rather underwhelming history.

He recalled one game where his player grabbed a rebound in a tie game at the end of the fourth quarter, forgot the score, and dribbled out to the half court line to let time expire — much like JR Smith’s infamous mistake in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA finals. “Two stats guys [were] sitting next to me that have been keeping stats for 20 years for the team. One of them looked at me and said ‘typical Birmingham Bullet basketball,’” Nurse recalled.

“This guy motivated me, that I needed to change everybody’s mindset in the whole organization. So I went back and I titled this little letter. I wrote at the top ‘expect to win.’” Nurse’s motivation seemed to work, as the Bullets would go on to win the BBL title in 1996.

Nurse went on to discuss his experience coaching in the NBA Development League, now known as the NBA G League. He said that in his countryside house, just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, he had several large whiteboards where he would draw up plays for late-game situations. “I mean just literally hundreds of scenarios end-of-game. But we sat there and thought of everyone we could think of.”

Friedman asked Nurse if coaching in high-pressure situations like NBA Finals brought him back to his basement just outside of Des Moines. Nurse said, “I don’t know about that, but what I do believe is this: you’re totally there. That’s the one thing you don’t even notice: the 20,000 [fans]… the 800 media, you don’t notice the pressure of the situation. You’re not really thinking about ‘oh my God, this is the NBA Finals.’”

Nurse continued by saying that he wanted his players to mirror his calm. “I wanted to be confident so our guys would be confident… I don’t always pick the best play, I don’t always pick the guy to shoot it, but when we do leave that huddle, we’re going to walk out there together, knowing what we’ll do.”

The summer after the NBA Finals, Nurse met with Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA Championships as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. When coaching in England, Nurse would watch tapes of Jackson’s Bulls, keeping an eye out for his famous ‘triangle offense.’ He finally got to meet Jackson this August in Montana and recounted a story of driving in Phil Jackson’s truck. “We drive around for like three hours eating cherries and spitting the seeds out the window. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’m sitting here eating cherries with 11 time NBA Champion, Phil Jackson.’”

Nurse recalled the two best pieces of advice he got from the coaching legend on their last day together. “He said, ‘number one, don’t underestimate the power of the basketball gods… you’ve been hired by your owners to make, at all times, the best decision for the team. And you have to keep that in mind. That’s not going to be easy.’”

The next piece of advice was the most memorable, and one that Friedman included in his weekly 31 Thoughts column. “I want you to imagine you got this sword. He said that one end, the sharp end, you’re going to have to push those guys. You [have] got to prod them. You have to get on their asses. But every now and then I want you to turn around and look at the handle. And I want you to have that symbolize compassion because you have to understand where they come from and what they’re going through,” Nurse recalled.

“And then poof — he disappeared,” Nurse joked.

Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

Men win home opener while women yet to win in OUA play

Blues basketball teams split doubleheader against Brock

The Toronto Varsity Blues basketball teams went 1–1 against the Brock Badgers in their double-header home opener on Saturday, November 2. The women’s team lost in the first game, and the men’s claimed victory in the second.

Women’s team 

The women’s side took the court first, seeking their first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) victory of the season, following a tough loss on the road the previous night to the York Lions.

Brock drew first blood in the opening quarter after a fast break layup by the Badgers’ Meagan Charbonneau in the second minute. The Blues responded, however, as Nada Radonjić connected from distance on back-to-back possessions. The Blues led by as many as five points in the quarter and held an 18–16 lead after 10 minutes of play.

Toronto continued to dictate the pace into the second quarter, throwing out an ever-changing concoction of aggressive zone, press, and defenses to frustrate Brock’s shooters. The Blues limited the Badgers to just one field goal over the first five minutes of the quarter, and turned defense into offense, where they got great looks off of penetration.

Christine Jurcau, tasked with the unenviable assignment of guarding OUA All-Star selection Melissa Tatti, held the star Badgers guard to just four points on three field goal attempts in the first half — far from Tatti’s typical average of 16.6 points per game. The halftime score was 34–30 in favour of Toronto.

Toronto forward Sarah Bennett — averaging a near double-double of 9.3 points and 8.5 boards per contest thus far in her comeback season from injury — was benched with her third foul just 10 seconds into the third quarter. The two teams traded buckets briefly before Radonjić pushed the Blues’ lead back to six with 7:10 minutes remaining on the clock by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.

However, the injury-plagued Blues, who have seen up to seven of their 16-woman roster sidelined at some point this season, showed signs of fatigue and inexperience later in the game, while Brock’s shooters were hitting shot after shot. The Badgers went four-for-four from a distance in the quarter, and went on an 11–0 run before Jurcau stopped the bleeding with only 4:59 minutes left in the quarter, sinking a pair of free throws. Unfortunately, that was the last of the Blues’ scoring for the period, and the Badgers pieced together a 12–0 run to make it 58–43 for the visiting Badgers after three quarters.

The Blues continued to fight into the final quarter but ultimately could not recover from the deficit. They cut the lead to as little as 11 points, with 7:26 minutes to play on a three-point basket by Jurcau. Unfortunately, Brock’s shooters could not be denied, hitting a blistering 64 per cent of their three-point attempts in the second half and 50 per cent of their field goals overall. The final score was 78–59 in favour of the visiting Badgers.

Radonjić posted a double-double with a team high of 20 points and a game high of 11 boards, while fellow veteran Bennett wound up with 14 points and seven boards. Fiorella Granda led the team in assists with four, and first-year forward Nakeisha Ekwandja was solid with six points and six boards in only 29 minutes of action. Jurcau was a workhorse for the Blues, logging a career-high 40 minutes on the night and contributing 10 points to the scoring spread.

“I thought we opened up the game with a lot more energy. We played pretty well; we shared the ball well,” noted Coach Michèle Bélanger after the game. “Defensively, we were really alert, we rebounded the ball well. We boxed out. So those were all really great positives.”

Jurcau said that she was “extremely proud” of her team’s efforts, commending the work of rookies Ekwandja and Sarah Cumby in particular. Jurcau sees room for improvement but has faith in the team’s promise.

“I think people are starting to step up more… We have moments and spurts where we show [promise]… we’re just not at that consistent spot yet… We’re still a fairly new team and [have] a lot of stuff to deal with already, like injuries, but I definitely think… slowly but surely, we’ll be working together very well,” explained Jurcau.


Men’s team

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss the night before to take down the Brock Badgers in a stunning comeback fashion.

Daniel Johansson opened up the scoring for the home side 1:43 minutes into the first quarter with a three-point bucket, and the teams traded baskets for much of the quarter. The Badgers took a one-point lead heading into the second with the score at 14–13.

In the second quarter, the Badgers continued to gain easy buckets in the paint off of some clean back cuts and crisp ball movement, quietly increasing their lead to as much as nine points with only 5:22 minutes remaining on the clock before the home side caught fire. The Blues swung the momentum on the backs of a 9–0 run over the span of just 70 seconds into the quarter, as Elie Mouyal breathed life into teammates and fans alike with back-to-back three-pointers and rookie Alec McGregor added another three-ball on the next Blues possession. The Blues and Badgers once again kept the contest neck-and-neck, and the Badgers maintained a 36–35 lead at halftime.

Just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Toronto’s Eric Rwahaire accomplished a rare four-point play as he caught a cross-court pass from Evan Shadkami and connected from beyond the arc on the right wing, while being bumped and sent to the ground by his defender.

After Rwawhire hit the ensuing free-throw to put the Blues ahead with a score of 39–38, the Badgers went on a mini 6–0 run. Shadkami responded, hitting a triple with 7:17 minutes left in the period. However, the Blues’ shooting suddenly went cold, and Shadkami’s three pointer would be Toronto’s last field goal of the quarter. The Badgers held their largest lead of the game, 53–42, after three quarters of action.

The Blues found a second gear in the fourth, a testament to their veteran experience and leadership. Iñaki Alvarez and Shadkami respectively sunk a layup and a three-point shot on the Blues’ first two possessions to open the frame, and then Johansson made good on a crafty Eurostep through two Brock players in the low block to cut the lead to 53–49 with 8:29 minutes left to play.

The Blues threw out a stifling 1-2-2 match-up zone that proved to be highly effective, forcing the Badgers to turn the ball over and take contested, low-percentage outside shots. Some timely scoring from Anthony Daudu, Shadkami, and Johansson tied the game at 63 apiece, with only two minutes left in the game.

The Badgers clung to their 66–65 lead with under a minute left. Though, when they failed to convert, the Blues regained possession with 24 seconds left on the clock. The home squad would end up getting statistical contributions from every player that saw floor time, but in the end it was the Blues’ dynamic fifth-year duo that secured the victory for their team.

Johansson would sink the go-ahead basket with about 12 seconds remaining, a clutch face-up long range jumper near the top of the arc that sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Blues a 68–66 lead.

After Godsman Kwakwah threw up a prayer on the ensuing Badgers possession, it was none other than fellow fifth-year, floor general Chris Barrett — the smallest player on the court in stature, but clearly not in heart — secured the crucial rebound on the miss. Barrett was sent to the line to stop the clock and calmly drained both foul shots, icing the game and capping off 28 points for Toronto in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the final score was 70–66 for the Blues.

The win marked Toronto’s first OUA victory, moving them to 1-2, and was also their first win of the year over a nationally ranked team. Shadkami had a team-high 19 points, including five three-pointers, on 7–13 shooting from the field, and added five assists. Daniel Johansson added 18 points and eight boards, and the Blues got 18 of their 70 points from the bench.

Assistant Coach Mike De Giorgio was pleased with the team’s perseverance, noting that “last year, we kinda quit when we got down. And this year, when we [get] down, we [fight] back.” He noted, however, that the team will continue to work on being “more consistent with our effort… at the ‘smart things,’” including “trying to follow the game plan, trying hard to take the right shot, [and] not just the easy shot… really working hard at boxing out and going to get the ball.”

In addition to fifth-years Johansson and Barrett, the Blues are also enjoying the services of Division 1 transfer Eric Rwahwire, who De Giorgio has credited for vocal leadership on the court.

Opinion: In conversation with U of T Raptors fans

The defending champions look to remain competitive after the loss of two key starters

Opinion: In conversation with  U of T Raptors fans

After winning the NBA Championship this past June, the Raptors are in a unique position to start the 2019–2020 NBA season. Despite being the defending champions, they are still considered underdogs.

ESPN, Bleacher Report, and Sports Illustrated all do not list the Raptors as a top-eight team in their preseason power rankings. Analytics website FiveThirtyEight gave them just a two per cent chance of repeating as NBA champions.

These tempered expectations are understandable: very few teams lose two starters — one of them being arguably the best player in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard — in the offseason and still remain competitive, much less title contenders.

What is left is a mixture of wily playoff veterans, like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, alongside young talent like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. The latter will be asked to step into even greater roles with the absence of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Despite these losses, the Raptors can still compete for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. Team President Masai Ujiri will have to decide whether he wants to run it back with the roster he has or liquidate his assets by trading away veterans and betting on the youth.

The precariousness of this position has not been lost on the numerous U of T Raptor fans. However, it is undercut with a sense of optimism that comes from having witnessed history as a Canadian team won the NBA Championship for the first time — a feat that awed even the most casual of Raptors fans.

“I’m a bandwagoner, “ admitted third-year life sciences student Deepak — but that didn’t stop him and other fairweather fans from being drawn into the fervour that swept Toronto. “The energy I felt when the Raptors won was incredible. It felt like the whole city went absolutely nuts… and I think the after-effects of that are still here.”

These good feelings even extend to the departures of Leonard and Green. “It’s heartbreaking,” acknowledged Dillon, a second-year engineering student, “[but] I would have been more resentful if they hadn’t won. I think the mindset now is ‘thank you, you won us a championship. If you want to leave now and do other things, more power to you. You don’t owe us anything.’”

Though interviewed students conceded that the Raptors’ ceiling had been lowered, they also expressed their strong faith in the Raptors front office, with Masai Ujiri being mentioned glowingly.

Thomas, a third-year medical science student, said “Masai is a special kind of genius… The Kawhi trade showed that he was willing to take big risks, [DeMar DeRozan] was loved by everyone and [Ujiri] knew that… but the trade gave us a championship… I have faith he knows what he’s doing.”

This faith is not without the expectation that the Raptors remain competitive. A general consensus among interviewees was that the rebuild should be held off for at least this year, and that the Raptors still have the talent to be a mid-tier playoff team. “We just re-signed [Lowry], and if the young guys take another leap, I don’t see why we can’t win a playoff round,” reasoned Dillon. He and others said that calls to ‘blow it up’ can wait for the offseason, or, as Thomas suggested, “at least until the trade deadline if they’re very bad.”

This season may not come with the expectations of a typical defending champion, but fans still expect the Raptors to be successful, and the afterglow of that magical time in June allows for them to believe in both the present and the future of this organization. 

The Raptors will start their 2019–2020 campaign with a banner raising ceremony at Scotiabank Arena, followed by a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on the NBA’s opening day. The game will be followed by a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers — for the fans who are still not over the departure of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who signed with the Clippers and Lakers, respectively.