Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Acadia Looks Back, Forward

Slight change of plans for the better with our eight team preview. As many know from this past weekend, we're fortunate to have Chris Kallan contributing to the site with his unique perspectives on AUS basketball. Tonight, we present Chris's preview/recap of the Acadia Axemen, AUS tournament finalists and wild card entry into the CIS Final 8. Thanks again to Chris for his tremendous work.

By Chris Kallan

Paulo Santana races down the court and scores on a fastbreak layup just four seconds into the game. What a start! Pat McIver steps forward and drills a three-pointer. What a finish! Yup. The Acadia Axemen had an incredible beginning and conclusion to last year's Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's basketball quarterfinal versus the Carleton Ravens. March 16, 2007, was a night to remember all right. Unfortunately, it was the middle part, a long, long, l-ooooo-ng drawn out process which caused fits for Les Berry's bunch at the Halifax Metro Centre. Dave Smart's Ravens put the boots to the Atlantic champs like nothing anyone had ever seen at the Canadian championship since the tourney's early years back in the sixties. It was basketball's version of Kill Bill, Terminator and Clockwork Orange all rolled into one. Once the carnage subsided, courtesy of the final whistle, and the blood was mopped up, modern day legend Osvaldo Jeanty and his gang had registered a 86-38 beatdown. The 48-point margin of victory was second all-time only to Assumption's (now Windsor) 59-point shellacking of Loyola (now Concordia) in the tourney's inception year of 1963.
In fact, McIver's three-ball at the buzzer enabled Acadia to sidestep the dubious distinction of lowest score in the 45-year pursuit of the W.P. McGee Trophy; only UBC (36 points in 1963) and Bishop's (37 points in 1967) had fewer totals. Still, Acadia's 10-40 (25 per cent) showing from the field was downright nasty. "We went from being an 11-9 team and, quite unexpectedly, winning the Atlantic championship to playing the defending four-time national champions in less than a week," Berry mused from his home in Wolfville on Monday evening. "And when you're down to Carleton they just continue to beat you up. They don't stop and ask 'Are you alright?' They don't give you a breather. Our guys weren't ready for that." Acadia also lost its consolation match by 14 to UBC to bow out with no wins and a pair of losses. Fast forward a year and the Axemen are back for another crack. Fifth-seeded Acadia (18-2 league, 25-6 overall), which lost last Sunday's Atlantic championship game by three points to the Saint Mary's Huskies but earned a wildcard berth instead, faces the Quebec champion and fourth-seeded Laval Rouge et Or (13-3 league, 21-9 overall) in Friday's 6 p.m. quarterfinal (The Score) at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. Atlantic league MVP Leonel Saintil (18.5 ppg, 13.9 rpg), first-team all-star Shawn Berry (16.6 ppg, 1.9 spg, 24 three-pointers) and conference defensive player of the year Achuil Lual are the top guns for Acadia. "We have Leo this year and Shawn (no relation) is playing at a much higher level than this time a year ago," Les Berry said. "Plus, everyone else has a year more experience under their belt." Acadia spent the entire season in the top 10 and never left the top five since late November. Hoop pundits both near and far had the Axemen circled as wildcard material in the event the squad fell short of its goal of a second straight league title as long as the school reached the conference final. Well, that's exactly what happened, but ... "We really wanted to go back to nationals as Atlantic champions and prove we're a better basketball team than the one that lost to Carleton last year," Les Berry said. "We are better than last year, but we haven't played like it lately." Perhaps a 14-day layoff from the end of the regular season until its Atlantic semifinal against Dalhousie was akin to a short snooze for the likes of Rip Van Winkle. But in the hoops world, it's an eternity. Acadia, the class of the conference and the stingiest defensive team (65.8 ppg), surrendered 42 first half points to the Dalhousie Tigers and endured a third quarter meltdown which saw starting guard Andrew Kraus and Saintil pick up technicals in less than a minute. The Axemen trailed by as many as nine before tearing off a 25-8 fourth quarter rally. Acadia gave up 49 in the opening half to Saint Mary's, but even holding the Huskies to eight points in the final quarter couldn't save them this time. Les Berry pondered and pondered, and pondered some more. Even after all that ponderage, he was still left scratching his head at his team's lack of intensity in the opening halves compared to the final 10 minutes. "I questioned our guys and asked 'Why can't you adjust your minds to setting the tone for the rest of the game and let the other team know what they're up against for 40 minutes instead of thinking giving up two points in the first quarter isn't going to matter,'" Les Berry said. "In the fourth quarter, we played with a purpose. The other three quarters ... I really can't say what we played with." To be fair, Dal and Saint Mary's weren't just happy to be there. The Tigers, who took out favoured Cape Breton the night before, scrapped tooth and nail and emerged from the tourney with legit playoff props. The Huskies? Well, their guys hit some tough, tough shots – even hitting five straight three's at one point despite registering just four in their previous two games. Les Berry was impressed with their shooting prowess, and he's not afraid to share some of his emotions on the topic. "Aaron Duncan's two dribbles and shot over Ach, I just couldn't believe it ... Derrick Coleman's two three's and that step back two, Ugh, that was painful ... Shane Morrison's shot while falling down? Holy Smokes!" You need some good fortune in any game, but Lady Luck jilted the Axemen over the final seconds against the Huskies. Kraus almost – almost – had a steal, but his momentum forced him to step on the end line. He would have had clear daylight and enough time to score the game-winning layup. Late game drama at its finest. Like most of the season, Acadia will only use 2006-07 league MVP Paulo Santana sparingly this weekend. The five-foot-11 guard injured his ankle on Nov. 5 and tweaked his knee on Saturday against Dal, causing him to labour noticeably. Second-year guard Pat McIver, who had five three-balls and 17 points against the Tigers, has logged more minutes in Santana's absence. "Paulo's such a difference-maker in transition for us so not to have him healthy like before is a huge, huge loss," Les Berry said. "If we can get 10 to 15 minutes out of him, that'll be great. But I have to give lots of credit to Pat for what he's done this year. I'm really excited to see what he can do over the rest of his career." Acadia (86.8 ppg) and Laval (81.4 ppg) can both fill the net – just not very well from the free throw line. Although considerably better in the playoffs, the Axemen's 60.6 percentage was one from the bottom amongst the 43 CIS teams during the regular season. Laval's 62.2 per cent offering rated them a solid No. 41. Laval put together a recent 12-game win streak and has won 14 of 15, but the Rouge et Or only spent one week in the coaches poll – No. 10, at that. Nobody has given the Quebec league much respect this season and Laval should relish the chance to prove they truly deserve the fourth seed. Six-foot-eight, 230-pound bruiser Jean-Philippe Morin (24.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg) and Jean-Francois Beaulieu Maheux (19.4 ppg, 10 three-pointers in a February win over Concordia) should draw plenty of attention. "He's an absolute horse," Les Berry said of Morin, the nation's top scorer. "If he's not player of the year, he's a close second. And Maheux, who shoots like that? I think everyone's just waiting to see what Laval's all about. I guess we'll see first-hand." Should Acadia succeed against Laval, they could face this year's ragin' Ravens in Saturday's semifinal. Carleton, which went undefeated against CIS competition (31-0) and held the number one ranking all season, tips off against the Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West runner-up) in Friday's 8 p.m. quarterfinal. "I'd be happy to get another shot at playing Carleton," Les Berry said. "They're the best, and you always want to play the best."

Appearances – 20
Titles – 3 (1977, 1971, 1965)
Runner-up – 4 (1988, 1981, 1978, 1963)
Won-loss record – 27-23 (.540)


This is the fourth in a series of articles previewing/summarizing the 8 teams at this weekend's CIS Nationals. Later tonight we'll preview Brock Badgers.

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