Monday, 10 March 2008

Alberta Golden Bears: Winning under Horwood is a tradition

Note: all statistics quoted are for Alberta's 7 post-season games only (24-11 overall, 3-4 in post-season). This season's somewhat-unlikely appearance is the 11th at the Nationals in the legendary career of Bears Coach Don Horwood, who, with 3 prior CIS titles, again this season was able to guide his Bears through adversity to the Nationals, something he had been able to do throughout his career Don Horwood Profile from earlier this season. As is usually the case, Alberta's posts are fundamentally-sound defenders and scorers, but the real strength of the Bears is in the back court and on the wing with 6'2" Alex Steele, Canada West Player-of-the-Year leading the way. Steele was instrumental in pushing the Bears to their biggest win of the season over Brandon in the Canada West semi-final with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Alberta has a main rotation of 8, led by Steele (17.1 ppg/5.4 rpg/4.8 apg/80% ft) and 6'4" Andrew Parker (8.7/5.6, 79% ft). Steele is fearless when trying to get to the rim and hits big shots while Parker is the best athlete in the tournament. Parker was at his best in the deciding game of the Best-of-3 Central Division playoff series against Saskatchewan, scoring a team-high 16 points and he can be unstoppable when he gets it going in transition and is athletic enought to guard almost anyone when right. Alberta has recently got a lift from 6'1" C.G. Morrison, who missed virtually the entire first half of the season due to injury. After 5'10" Scott Leigh (3.6 ppg) started the first 5 games of the post-season, Horwood inserted Morrison (13.1 ppg, 81.3% ft) into the starting lineup for the Brandon semi-final game and Morrison responded with a huge fourth quarter including a pair of critical threes as Alberta came back from 5 down to win by 6 and cement their spot at this season's Nationals. 20 of Leigh's 28 shot attempts in the post-season have come from behind the arc. Steady, undersized post Justin VanLoo (10.6 ppg/3.7 rpg) provides athleticism inside and had a team-high 25 points in the Canada West championship game loss to UBC. Forward Harvey Bradford (6.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) starts but shares time with 6'10" Richard Bates (8.0 ppg/5.3 rpg/19 blocks, 19 "o" boards, 33% ft) up front. 6'5" Neb Alkesic (6.0 ppg) is another wing who is put on the floor primarily to stretch defenses and shoot 3's (21 of his 36 shot attempts from behind arc in post-season, 38% 3's. Bottom Line: With proven scorers on the wing and at the point, Alberta's perimeter offense is solid. How far the Bears get in the tournament could be predicated on the contributions they get from their forward trio of VanLoo, Bates and Bradford, who were dominated in the pair of losses to Calgary but rebounded reasonably well in the Canada West Final Four. If history repeats, Horwood will have them playing as well as they can, taking care of the basketball, running tight sets and not beating themselves.

(This is the first in a series of articles this week previewing each of the eight CIS Nationals participants). Tuesday: Brock and Western.

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