Wednesday, 21 November 2007

UBC, Regina and Lakehead Updates

Off to another strong start at 7-1 in Canada West league play and 8-1 overall, UBC Thunderbirds are once again one of the favorites to capture the Canada West championship and a spot in Ottawa in March for the CIS Nationals. In fact, the Birds have won 47 of their past 51 Canada West league games over the last three seasons including this one and are on a streak of four CIS Nationals appearances in the last 5 seasons. During that time, UBC has captured a pair of Canada West championships and were finalists two other seasons. In fact, since a 9-13 league/12-17 overall start to his coaching tenure at UBC, Head Coach Kevin Hanson has had 6 consecutive winning seasons including four 20 win seasons and two 30 win seasons. In this his seventh season at the helm since moving over from Langara College, Hanson has possibly his deepest and most balanced team albeit with an emerging All-Canadian talent in 6'3" Chris Dyck, who averages 21.2 ppg as a scoring wing, stepping in to the shoes of graduated All-Canadian Casey Archibald. Dyck has range beyond the three point line and can get to the rim equally well. He made his homecoming back to his hometown of Winnipeg a successful one this past weekend with games of 31 points against Winnipeg and then 38 against Manitoba including 22 in the second half to break the game open. But there is much more to this UBC group as 6'2" Brett Leversage (3rd year) leads Canada West in field goal percentage (66.7%) and more importantly sets the tone defensively as a lock-down defender, whether it be on the wing or guarding the point. Leversage's long wing span allows UBC the flexibility of matchups on or off the ball and has been a key in improving the T-Birds overall team defense, a point of emphasis this season. In 6'6" Brent Malish, the Birds have a tremendous scorer off the bench (although Malish did start this weekend as 6'5" freshman Graham Bath missed the weekend with a muscle strain), who leads the team in rebouding, defends posts and wings and contributes offensively, shooting 60% from the field while averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Malish had 17 points this past weekend in the win over Manitoba. Bath has been inserted into the starting lineup and gives the Birds a physical presence inside. Bath has temporarily replaced veteran 6'8" post Bryson Kool in the starting lineup after Kool missed much of the summer rehabbing from a knee injury and then promptly reinjured his knee during the Labour Day weekend NCAA games. The lack of gym time and fitness have set Kool back but he appears to be headed back to normal quickly, playing his best game of the season Friday night at Winnipeg when he recorded a 16-point/11-rebound double double. 6'7" Matt Rachar starts at another forward spot, averaging 11.9 ppg/4.4 rpg including a season-high 27 points against Fraser Valley. Probably UBC's most pleasant surprise has been 6'4" Blain LaBranche, who missed the first 4 games of the season with an ankle injury but immediately upon his return has been an explosive scorer off the bench for the T-Birds, averaging 13.0 ppg while shooting 46% from downtown. 6'2" sophomore point guard Alex Murphy has been very steady, especially at home, as he is second on the team in minutes played and third in Canada West in assists. As he continues his rapid maturation, Murphy's ability to lead the team through rough spots on the road will continue to improve, especially as a scorer in key spots. Backing up Murphy is 6'2" freshman Nathan Yu, who is getting his 10-15 minutes per game spelling Murphy and is settling in to his role nicely, playing probably his best game since the NCAA Labour Day weekend against Manitoba during which he hit a big "3" down the stretch. The T-Birds are locked and loaded for a run at their fourth Pacific Division title in six seasons and another berth at the Nationals, where UBC is anxious to eliminate a streak of losing their first game at the Nationals in their last 4 appearances. With the depth and talent of this group, a shot at a National championship is very realistic.

After a 4-0 start that included wins over Winnipeg (twice), Simon Fraser and Trinity Western at home, the Regina Cougars hit a bit of stumbling block this past weekend in dropping games at Alberta and at Saskatchewan. Much of the troubles this past weekend had to do with being outrebounded including an inability to eliminate second chances. Up front, Regina has been held back by the lingering ankle injury to usual-starter 6'5" Jamal Williams, who, when right, is one of Canada West's top rebounders but has battled a bad wheel after earlier missing an entire week to be with his ailing grandmother in the U.K. Expect Regina to clean up their issues on the glass consistent with a healthier and more fit Williams, who should return to the starting lineup full time when finally healthy. Regina has been very happy with the work up front of 6'5" sophomore Kris Heshka, a tough defender who is becoming more comfortable with a feature role offensively. This weekend also saw the return to action of scrappy 6'7" wing/post Paul Gareau, who immediately picked up where he left off last season in his first two games of the young season last weekend, taking charges, grabbing loose balls and igniting things offensively, going 7 for 10 from the floor against Alberta in limited minutes. Gareau has retuned to the lineup after dealing with some difficult family issues and his return gives Coach James Hillis at least 7 top players in the rotation. The Cougars have an opportunity for redemption this weekend as they travel to Brandon to face their arch-rival Bobcats in a pair of games. Regina/Brandon games have been legendary over the years recently as the teams have battled for Great Plains division supremacy.

After winning just one league game last season, finishing 1-21 in OUA West, the Lakehead Thunderwolves welcomed back 6'5" Kiraan Posey, the OUA's leading scorer in 2005-06, plus a number of new faces, bringing optimism back to one of the better supported programs in Canada, ordinarily drawing one of the loudest and most boisterous crowds in the CIS to the Thunderdome. The Thunderwolves matched their league win total from last season by defeating visiting Ryerson handily this past Saturday night and with continued progress, pushing for a playoff spot in the OUA West is not out of the realm of possibility. Posey showed that he has not missed much after sitting out last season as he went off for 30 points in the win against the Rams one night after scoring 28 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against U of T. Posey is capable of putting this team on his shoulders offensively and with some help from the supporting cast, Lakehead could be a tough out for anyone. The Thunderwolves are hoping that 6'3" Lerry Williams from Montreal's Dawson College can become more consistent. Williams has been up and down after returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for the first 6 weeks of practice and, when right, his quickness and outside shooting could add alot to this lineup. Lakehead also hopes to have Matthew Powell, who played his high school at Toronto power Henry Carr Crusaders (last played in 2005), in the fold in the New Year and if eligible should provide that reliable third scorer after Posey and 6'6" Warren Thomas. Among the new faces who have contributed are 6'1" Kyle McConnell out of London Beal who is beginning to provide another perimeter threat, dropping 18 points on Ryerson. Lakehead travels to Laurentian and York this weekend in search of building on that first league win of the season.

No comments: