Saturday, 8 March 2008

AUS Semi-Final Report by Chris Kallan

By Chris Kallan
AUS PLAYOFFS -- Boatloads of rain pounded the province as the men's Atlantic Universities Basketball Conference playoffs tipped semifinal Saturday at the Halifax Metro Centre. Noah briefly poked his head inside, smiled approvingly at the play of the hoopsters and the large crowd of 6,677 specators, then went back outdoors to climb aboard his Ark. Indoors, the joint was jumpin'. The top-seeded and defending conference champion Acadia Axemen survived a scare from the upstart and No.5 Dalhousie Tigers en route to an 83-75 victory, while the third-seeded Saint Mary's Huskies upended the No. 2 St. Francis Xavier X-Men by a 76-64 count. In a rematch of last year, Acadia and Saint Mary's face off in Sunday's Atlantic final at 2 p.m. The Huskies chase their first title since winning all the marbles in 1999. Sunday's winner advances to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship, which begins Friday at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ont.

ACADIA AXEMEN 83 DALHOUSIE TIGERS 75 -- The Axemen pulled out a secret weapon with their season on the line. Patrick McIver, a second-year guard, provided a much-needed spark and drained a pair of key three-pointers as part of Acadia's 25-8 advantage over the final quarter, including a 16-2 run over the final five minutes. McIver played the final five minutes in place of star guard Paulo Santana, who banged his knee in the second quarter and missed the entire third. "Paulo gave us everything he could, but Pat came in and hit some big shots for us," Acadia head coach Les Berry said. "We needed a spark and he gave it to us." Acadia scored its first 16 points about a foot from the rim, including a game-opening two-handed dunk from Leonel Saintil and a pair of slams from Shawn Berry. The Tigers played their second straight game without starting forward Gemain Bendegue, who broke a finger in practice earlier in the week. The pressure got the best of the Axemen late in the third quarter when Andrew Kraus and Leonel Saintil were whistled for technical fouls in less than a minute. The Tigers, courtesy of multiple trips to the free throw line, closed the third on an 11-0 run to erase a four-point deficit. Dal led 69-60 after guard Simon Farine's 12-foot jumper with 8:40 left in the fourth. "They came in as the number one seed in the conference and they rose to the occasion," Farine said. "I think we put Dal basketball back on the map. Lots of people will look back at this tournament as the year we turned it around." Shawn Berry scored 23 points for Acadia, while power forward Saintil had 20 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals. McIver tallied 17 points, including eight in the decisive fourth-quarter run, and Achual Lual had 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Axemen won all four league games against the Tigers. Farine scored a game-high 24 points for Dalhousie, which won its first playoff game in nine years over Cape Breton in Friday night's quarterfinal. Andrew Sullivan added 18 and Drew Stratton 13. Dal won its only conference title in 1996.

SAINT MARY'S HUSKIES 76 ST. FRANCIS XAVIER X-MEN 64 -- It doesn't matter what went on before as long as you win the one that matters. The Huskies, which lost three straight and four of five overall to the X-Men, used a late 12-4 run to lead 70-59 with 43 seconds remaining. The Saint Mary's victory put off St. F.X. head coach Steve Konchalski's quest for win No. 700 for another year. The longtime coach is 699-386 over his illustrious 33-year career. Seldom-used Huskies rookie forward Derrick Coleman hit for six points during the final minutes, including back-to-back buckets which turned a three-point advantage to seven. Coleman finished with 17 points and six rebounds. "It was about coming out and proving we could beat them," Coleman said. "We had to stop their transition game and we did that for the most part. All the times they beat us we couldn't stop their running and we did today." Throughout the building, fans joked the most logical strategy for the Huskies was to get third-year Mark McLaughlin the ball and clear out. McLaughlin did his part by hitting 11 of 20 shots for a game-high 30 points as he played the entire 40 minutes for the second straight game. Forward Ikeobi Uchegbu showed his might down low with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Second team all-star guard Shane Morrison played a limited role after suffering back spasms in Friday's win over UPEI. The X-Men, which lost for the second consecutive year after securing a first round bye, led 18-11 after the first quarter. Tyler Richards, the only fourth-year player on the X-Men, made just five-of-21 shots, but finished with 22 points. Dwayne Johnson had a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.


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