Sidelined with an ankle injury in last year's championship final, three-time AUS all-star Alison Keough is back and she's playing to win.
By: Monty Mosher
Nobody was going to dispute Alison Keough's toughness last season. You don't get to where she got without a little pain.
So why in heaven's name would a little foot injury—at least that's what she thought it was—keep her from some of the most important basketball games of her life. It's a question she asked herself daily as she stared at her walking boot.
The Cape Breton Capers forward, finishing an all-Canadian season, was sore for the last three games of the regular season.
Nobody could tell her what was wrong, adding to her mounting frustration. The AUS championship tournament was just days away and the Capers had designs on challenging for a title and a much-sought trip to nationals.
But their best player could barely walk, let alone run.
It was after the Capers had to watch the Saint Mary's Huskies raise another banner that a bone scan revealed the damage in Keough's foot. It was a stress fracture that took six weeks to heal—and still gives her some discomfort to this day.
"Last year it really sucked not being able to play in the final," the 21-year-old Keough said this week. "Everything I did after that point led up to this season because this was really the season I was excited about. We're all older now and have more experience.
"My first year we got knocked out in the first round, the second year was the semifinals and last we made it to the final. This year, hopefully we can win it all."
A six-foot-one native of Marion Bridge who played basketball and soccer at Riverview High, Keough arrived at Cape Breton as a game breaker. Big and physical, she could score inside and out and take care of the defensive glass.
She was a second-team all-star and an all-rookie pick in her first year and a first-team all-star for the last two.
She was the national rookie of the year in 2013-14 and a second-team all-Canadian last year. She is the leading contender for conference MVP, maybe U Sports MVP, this year, ranking second in the AUS in scoring and rebounding for a Cape Breton team that is No. 1 in the standings. The Capers look to unseat the Saint Mary's atop the conference after four straight banners for the Huskies.
A win last weekend at Saint Mary's tightened Cape Breton's grasp on first place in the AUS. Those two meet again in Sydney for two games to close the regular season at the end of February.
"I saw us being a force in the league," Keough said about the current season. "We haven't lost anyone. We've had the same core group for about four years now. I saw us making an impact, especially this year."
But it's a tough league with five or six teams with a chance to make a dent when the tournament begins March 3 in Halifax.
"No team should take any team lightly because on any night any team can win," she said.
It's depth that has made a difference for Fabian McKenzie's Capers this season.
"Everyone understands the offence and everybody can get it flowing," said Keough. "If it's not, the bench is deep enough that we can put more people in and get it going.
"And we're more confident. We know what the coaches want us to do. We have experience. We know what the league is like."
So much of what happened last year is part of Keough's drive this year.
She got hurt at Saint Mary's in mid-February and finished the game. Despite her discomfort, she played the final three games of the regular season.
"I didn't think it was anything. I sat out practice coming up the tournament because I couldn't walk. I just thought it was a sprain at that point."
She played in the opening-round game against Dalhousie, scoring 15 points in 30 minutes as Cape Breton won 69-56.
But the next day she limped through 11 minutes on the floor as Cape Breton defeated Acadia 59-57 to take a spot in the final. She suited up for the final, but only played three minutes in a double-digit loss to the Huskies.
"The night before the final I went and got an X-ray and it didn't show a fracture. So I thought I could play. I didn't understand why I was hurting so bad.
"If I had stayed off it when it happened I probably would have been ready to play in the final, but I had to sit out and it was pretty hard. The doctors just couldn't see it on the X-ray. That was the problem."
Hoping for good health down the stretch this year, Keough wants nothing more than another chance to cut the nets at Scotiabank Centre and play in the nationals. The Capers last won in 2011, ending a string of three consecutive AUS titles.
"What else would you be playing for if you are not playing to win. Everyone is playing to win. Everyone wants to win AUS and move on to nationals."