Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Western: Late season surge brings 'Stangs back to the top

Four seasons ago, when the last of the veterans from Western's OUA championship teams of the early 00's graduated, the Mustangs faced a major rebuilding challenge and brought in what was at that time rated by most close observers as a fairly non-descript recruiting class that included 6'1" Matt Curtis and 6'2" Jason Milliquet. Later 6'5" Andrew Wedemire and 6'6" Brad Smith, regarded almost as a walk-on, joined. Little did anyone know then that this group would mature into an OUA West championship team under second-year head coach Brad Campbell, showing the value of keeping teams together for extended periods in their careers until their experience takes over. Plug in a couple of pieces up front in 6'9" Colin Laforme and in the back court with 6'3" Alex Brzozowicz and 6'1" freshman Ryan Barbeau, and the Mustangs displayed the depth, poise in big spots and confidence needed to win big games on the road including key playoff wins at Windsor and at Brock to make their first Nationals appearance since 2001. Western also benefited from a couple of solid transfers, including Laforme, who finally gives the Mustangs a consistent inside presence at both ends, providing more room on the perimeter for Milliquet, a deadly long range shooter when right, and Brzozowicz, a U.S. import from Chicago via the University of Michigan, where he was a walk-on. Curtis, who combines quickness, confidence and great floor vision, is one of the more underrated lead guards in Canada and is the offensive key to the Mustangs. In transition, Curtis loves to find Milliquet and Brzozowicz spotting up or Laforme or Wedemire trying to beat their checks down the floor. In their half court sets, Smith usually is the focus with his ability to put the ball on the floor and remain active around the rim. Western will likely want to keep the tempo high and rotate through their bench with reasonable frequency. The Mustangs have an opportunity to continue to grow with a solid performance in Ottawa.

This is the third in a series of articles on each of the 8 teams in the CIS Nationals; later today, we'll preview Brock.

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