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Sarah-Jane Marois was chosen the best player in women’s Canadian university basketball and now she’s chasing a national championship to go with it.

The fifth-year guard scored 17 points to lead Laval to a 73-51 quarter-final win over the host Ryerson Rams at the Women’s Basketball Final 8 on Thursday night. It came a day after Marois was selected U Sports player of the year at the All-Canadian awards gala in Toronto.

Laval, the tournament’s top seed, is looking for its first national title in program history after a near-perfect campaign. The Rouge et Or fell just shy of the first undefeated season in their 48-year history, finishing 15-1, and winning an RSEQ title.

The Rams, earning their berth in the Final 8 by being the host in this tournament, hung tough with the heavily favoured Rouge et Or for much of the game. Sofia Paska and Bronwyn Williams had some especially feisty battles in the paint with Laval’s RSEQ defensive player of the year and Texas Longhorns transfer Khaléann Caron-Goudreau.

Claudia Émond also contributed 17 for Laval, while Williams led Ryerson with 10 points and nine rebounds.

In Saturday’s semi-finals, Laval will face the No. 4 Ottawa Gee-Gees, who beat the No. 5 Regina Cougars in a 65-63 nail-biter in Thursday’s late game behind 26 points from Amélie Hachey. McMaster and Saskatchewan booked their spots in the other semi-final. Saturday’s winners will go to Sunday’s gold-medal game, and play for Canada’s top prize in women’s university hoops, the Bronze Baby.

“It’s fun to be No.1 in the country. Yes, we have a target on us, but we have a lot of fifth-year-players on our team, so we’re good with the pressure,” said Marois, who was part of the Laval squad that lost in the quarter-finals last year to Regina. “I want to have a national championship for sure, that’s the one still missing for me.”

Thursday’s evening crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre was heavy on gold-shirt-wearing Ryerson students cheering against Laval, loudly banging drums, pots and pans inside the converted Maple Leaf Gardens.

Earlier in the day, it was elementary school kids setting the tone, as they hollered and whacked thunder sticks during matinee action. A busload of university students from nearby McMaster also amplified the afternoon ambience.

The fans who made the hour-long jaunt from Hamilton watched second-seeded McMaster – OUA champions – beat the No.7-seeded Concordia Stingers 86-68. That sets up a McMaster-Saskatchewan semi on Saturday.

McMaster guard Sarah Gates had a career single-game record 32 points as her school tries to win its first women’s basketball U Sports championship.

Concordia, RESQ finalists who received an at-large berth, was making its first appearance in the Final 8 since 1999.

Caroline Task exploded for 16 of her 27 points in the third quarter for Concordia as the Stingers tried to narrow the gap and make things interesting going into the fourth.

Concordia pulled to within nine points in the final six minutes. But the Marauders were able to keep Task off the scoreboard completely in the fourth, regain control and run out the clock.

Concordia guard Myriam Leclerc, who on Wednesday was chosen the U Sports rookie of the year, added 13 points.

In Thursday’s second afternoon game, the No. 3-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies beat the No. 6 Acadia Axewomen, 77-69.

Power forward Summer Masikewich, also a member of Canada’s junior national team, led Saskatchewan with 25 points, while centre Kyla Shand had a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Jayda Veinot led Acadia with 22 points. The Axewomen’s star 5-foot-5 guard Hayley McDonald, who scored a conference-record 51 points in last weekend’s AUS semi-final, had 20 points and helped carry Acadia to within three points in the final two minutes on Thursday.

But the veteran Saskatchewan team pulled through, one lead by 20-year veteran Huskies coach Lisa Thomaidis, also the head coach of the Canadian senior women’s national team.

“That was way too close, we let it get too close today,” said Masikewich, a third-year forward. “But that’s good stuff, because it prepares us for the games coming up here.”

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