Last year the Tigers stumbled into the playoffs, finishing 1-3 in their final four games. A big four-point game on the final day of the season gave them the fifth seed.
The Tigers won’t have that luxury this time around. They’re 5-5 and are tied with Acadia and UPEI for fifth place in the tightly contested AUS conference, where the 12-0 Saint Mary’s Huskies rule supreme, and only one other team is above .500 (Cape Breton).
A mere six points is all that separates second and seventh place. This is a league where anything can happen, and anyone can beat anyone on any given day.
The team’s success could very well hinge on a four-game swing in February that features four-point games against Memorial, Cape Breton and StFX.
Tessa Stammberger has been phenomenal for the Tigers all year, and has been making her case for the team’s MVP game in and game out. She’s averaging close to a double-double this year, with 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
If the Tigers are to make any sort of push in the playoffs this year, their bench will need to make significant strides between now and March. The Tigers starting core has been solid all year, but there has been a big drop off offensively since Anna Stammberger has been forced to work through her rotation.
Shalyn Field has had a great rookie campaign and is providing a solid offensive punch off the bench with 7.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. The Sackville, NS native has helped jumpstart the Tigers offense when it hits a rut mid-game.
The Tigers offense has been efficient this year, getting good looks down low, with Stammberger and guard Courtney Thompson leading the charge. The dynamic inside-outside duo are fifth and eighth in the AUS in scoring, respectively.
Thompson drives the lane with confidence, drawing fouls and making her opponents pay with an astounding 100% free throw percentage.
Their defense, however, hasn’t been one of the team’s strong suits this year. The Tigers allow their opponents to shoot an AUS-high 41.8% from the field, as well as a 36.0% from beyond the arc.
They say defense wins championship, so the Tigers will need to tighten up their perimeter defense and prevent their opponents from getting into the key for easy buckets.
It will be a surprise to most if the Tigers aren’t in the playoff picture come March, but by no means is it a given. The rotation of Stammberger, Thompson, Rebecca Nuttall and Robbi Daley, to go along with Field, Ainsley MacIntyre, Melissa Ellis and Korenda Colley will have to carry this team and play excellent basketball from here on out.
And if any coach can lift the team from mediocrity to a championship contender, it’s tough-nosed head coach Anna Stammberger, who demands the most from her players.
Today is January 22. The push begins now.
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