They were once coach and player. They’ve been close friends ever since.
But there will be no friendly catching up between Theresa Burns and Lisa Thomaidis between now and Saturday’s semifinal clash at the U Sports women’s basketball Final 8. On the line is a berth in Sunday’s final, and a chance to hoist the Bronze Baby.
“(We’ll talk) probably just in passing,” Thomaidis laughed. “Congratulate her. She’ll congratulate us. And then it’s down to work, getting ready to try and stop the other.”
Sarah Gates scored a career-high 32 points to lead Burns’ McMaster Marauders 86-68 over Concordia in Thursday’s opening game of the Final 8.
Then Thomaidis’s Saskatchewan Huskies held off a late Acadia rally in the second quarter-final to book their spot in the semis with a 77-69 win. Summer Masikewich led the Huskies with 25 points, while Kyla Shand had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Now two of Canada’s finest women’s coaches face off in their biggest battle to date.
“I don’t know if fun is the word,” Thomaidis said with a smile. “If it’s going to happen, I wish it was the national final. Obviously I have a ton of respect for her and her program, they’re playing really really well, I thought they looked very dangerous today.
“But to play in a national semifinal against your alma mater and your former coach, it’s pretty special.”
No. 1 seed Laval was the third team to clinch a semifinal spot, beating host and No. 8 seed Ryerson 73-51, while the No. 4 Ottawa Gee-Gees beat the No. 5 Regina Cougars 65-63 in the last game of the day to earn a spot against the Rouge et Or in the other semi.
Thomaidis’s third year as a player at McMaster was Burns’ first as coach. Thomaidis went on to become a McMaster Hall of Famer, and is also Canada’s senior women’s head coach. She coached Saskatchewan to the national title in 2016, and a silver medal last season.
Burns is in her 26th season as McMaster’s head coach.
Their previous major matchup was the first round of the Final 8 in 2009. A more experienced McMaster squad won.
“The first couple of times we actually sat on a bench across from each other and looked down was kind of funny . . . ‘Hey!’” Burns said — and made like she was waving down the sideline at the opposing bench.
“We are really very close dear friends, we’re colleagues,” the veteran coach added.
“We have nothing but respect for each other. We cheer for each other when our teams aren’t in it and when we play each other, it’s always a great game. I think our teams are similar in that the culture that’s on the team is very similar, her team is classy all the way.”
The Marauders went 21-3 in the regular-season but laid down a couple of 50-point victories down the stretch before upsetting Ottawa 79-75 in the conference final.
Thursday, they raced out to an 18-point lead in the second quarter, and barely looked back.
“There’s a quiet confidence in this group and it’s hard to describe and we’ve talked about having this aura around this team,” Burns said.
“We don’t play scared, we’re confident, we believe in each other, we’re happy, we’re in a good mood — that all goes a long way to being successful.”
McMaster led 26-19 to end the first, stretched their advantage to 44-28 at halftime, and were up 71-54 to start the fourth. The Stingers, which earned the at-large berth after finishing second in the Quebec conference, pulled within nine points midway through the fourth, but that was as close as they would come.
Caroline Task scored 16 of her 27 points in the third quarter to top No. 7 Concordia, which was making its first national championship appearance since 1999.
In the second game, Jayda Veinot topped Acadia with 22 points, while Haley McDonald, who scored a conference-record 51 points last weekend, had 20.
Acadia led 14-13 to end the first, but the Huskies broke the game open with a big second quarter to lead 38-28 at halftime. Saskatchewan led 62-51 with one quarter to play.
The Axewomen sliced the deficit to three points with just over two minutes to play, but Saskatchewan’s Sabine Dukate replied with a three-pointer to seal the victory for the Canada West champions.
“A lot of times the first game at nationals is the toughest one,” Thomaidis said.
“You kind of have these expectations around how your team can play, and your opponent has something to say about it. And Acadia played hard. They made things difficult for us today.”
The losers of Thursday’s games play on the consolation side Friday.
Laval Rouge et Or 73 Ryerson Rams 51
Claudia Emond and Sarah-Jane Marois scored 17 points apiece as top-seeded Laval ran roughshod over host and No. 8 Ryerson to begin its quest for its first national title in program history.
Khaleann Caron-Goudrea grabbed 12 rebounds.
Hayley Robertson topped Ryerson with 16 points, while Bronwyn Williams chipped in with 10.
Laval led 20-11 after one quarter, and 32-19 at halftime in front of Ryerson’s noisy home crowd. The Rams pulled to within seven points in the third quarter, but Laval closed hard, and went into the fourth with an insurmountable 52-35 lead.
The Rouge et Or flirted with their first perfect season in team history before losing to McGill in the last game of the season to go 15-1.
Ottawa Gee-Gees 65 Regina Cougars 63
Amelie Hachey had a game-high 26 points as Ottawa jumped out to an early lead and held off a second-half surge to beat Regina.
Hachey added 10 rebounds while shooting 9-of-16 from the floor to help the Gee-Gees to a 13-point lead at the break.
Macaela Crone led the Cougars with 21 points.
Regina outscored Ottawa 22-15 in the third quarter, and held its opponent to just 13 fourth-quarter points as the game came down to the final 30 seconds before the Gee-Gees pulled it out.
The Cougars were without guard Kyanna Giles — their top scorer and rebounder — after a season-ending knee injury in last weekend’s conference final loss to Saskatchewan.