Thursday, 12 March 2009

Gee-Gees look for consistency

If the difference between the Nation's Capital's two university basketball teams could be distilled down to one notion, "consistency" might be the most appropriate descriptor. For the uOttawa Gee-Gees, getting the same, steady mental and physical approach, even from possession to possession, has been a challenge in big games over the years. The results this season: an 0-3 record against Carleton with losses at the Raven's Nest, Montpetit Hall and Scotiabank Place and an 0-5 mark overall against teams qualifying for the Nationals. Still, several coaches and observers realize that with a consistent 40 minute effort, Ottawa's talent, athleticism and explosiveness makes them a scary team to play and a side very capable of putting it all together.

Ottawa was able to overcome their inconsistencies enough to capture a spot in the Nationals with a victory over Windsor in last Saturday's OUA Bronze medal match. Some offensive possessions were a thing of beauty, especially down the stretch, with the ball getting to the post and 6'9" fifth-year forward Dax Dessureault making quick, wise decisions either getting his shot off or reading the double down and finding teammates for easy layups or open threes. Just as quickly, Gee-Gee possessions could end with off balance, desperation 3's or questionable shot selection off one pass and done without any flow. Defensively, when Ottawa is right, there is energetic, early help on the ball and crisp, intelligent rotations closing out shooters causing bad shots and one-and-done possessions which generally making life miserable for opponents. Just as easily, Ottawa ball defenders can display what New York Knicks legend and radio broadcaster Walt "Clyde" Frazier eloquently calls "matador 'd'", getting beat off the dribble with wide open, unabated paths to the basket where help defenders heads are turned away from the play or wide open 3's or layups in transition.

Still, the Gee-Gees put it together when they had to down the stretch against a solid Windsor group and for the most part dominated the second half, led by former OUA East defensive player of the year Dessureault and 6'4" OUA East First team guard Josh Gibson-Bascombe. Gibson-Bascombe has generally dealt well with the arrival of 6'2" Josh Wright, a transfer from Syracuse U. (NCAA Division 1) and in spurts has flourished as a scorer without the responsibility of constantly starting the offense and leading the break. Gibson-Bascombe has range well beyond the three point line, at 6'4" can shoot over smaller guards, get to the rim in transition and has even started to display some semblance of a post up game on occasion, again when the matchup is favorable. Wright, who has an explosive first step and is a streaky shooter, is gaining comfort as the lead guard offensively and when motivated can put extreme pressure on the ball defensively although he tends to reach and look to pilfer the ball which can be feast or famine.

6'3" fourth-year guard Donnie Gibson is an in-rhythm, catch-and-shoot marksman who has hit several big late game shots over his career with the Gee-Gees including a dying seconds 3's at Windsor earlier in the year that gave Ottawa a big win down there. Gibson is at his best attacking the rim early to set up his perimeter jumper and is usually the recipient of draw and kicks from Wright or Gibson-Bascombe.

Maybe the most underrated member of Ottawa's starting five is the scrappy 6'4" forward David Labentowicz, who will fight for every inch on the floor, plays with alot of emotion and could be Ottawa's strongest competitor. Labentowicz usually guards the opponent's tough physical player and gets his in and around the rim. Labentowicz's efforts and value to the Gee-Gees have earned him the respect of none other than Carleton Head Coach Dave Smart who says: "I respect how hard he works and the fact that he backs down from no one no matter what the situation. He has worked his way from getting no meaningful time early in his career and persevered to become a key member on one of the best teams in the country." Labentowicz, who has shaken off various ailments over the last 2 seasons but appears healthy again, shares time at the four spot with 6'5" Nemanja Beletic, who has more of an overall offensive package. Beletic is another Gee-Gee who paid his dues, going from not even making the roster in his first year to getting a uniform to now a key role in the rotation.

6'2" sophomore Jacob Gibson-Bascombe was emerging as a legitimate CIS point guard through the first semester but since has had his minutes reduced with the arrival of Wright. Josh's brother can fire it from downtown and does a nice job leading the group from the point. All-OUA East freshman team selection Warren Ward has very good offensive skills and is especially explosive on the break and on the offensive glass. Ward, who was averaging over 20 minutes per game early in the year, has seen his minutes diminsh recently as teams ratchet up their "d" and as defending in a team concept becomes more important. Still, Ward has an extremely bright future as a CIS swingman.

Ottawa's tussle with Western in Friday's first round should produce some interesting personel matchups beginning with who will guard Mustangs feature player, 6'6" Keenan Jeppesen. The Gee-Gees tend to switch alot of screens meaning Jeppesen is likely to see several different defenders. Still, assuming the same recent starting lineups for both teams, I would expect Josh Gibson-Bascombe to at least start on him. Expect Labentowicz to have the challenge having to deal with 6'7" lefty Brad Smith and his array of perimeter and back-to-the-basket offensive skills. The Mustangs have played much more man-to-man with the emergence of 6'5" sophomore Garrett Olexiuk and he may be the resposibility of Dessureault, who at 6'9" has reasonably quick feet which serve him well when defending on the perimeter or in the high post. 6'10" Colin Laforme is a better matchup for Dessureault but his minutes have been chopped down the stretch. Wright and Western's solid 6'1" fifth-year pg Matt Curtis should go at it at the point with a key for Wright being stopping Curtis at the point of attack in transition. Donnie Gibson should matchup with 6'3" Alex Brzozowicz, a very strong defender and probably Western's most consistent three point threat. Western is much deeper than Ottawa which may preclude the Gee-Gees from aggressively double teaming ball screens, something they've traditionally done with deeper groups. Both teams have the personel and athleticism to score in transition with Curtis and Jeppesen leading the Mustangs. Surprisingly, despite having legitimate transition threats in Josh Wright and Josh Gibson-Bascombe, Ottawa has not looked to force the issue in transition to the extent that some may believe they could given the personnel on hand.

Both Ottawa coach Dave DeAveiro and Western head man Brad Campbell are sticklers for preparation and likely have each other's sets and out-of-bounds plays well scouted. The key in the half court offensively for both teams will be which team can read and play off certain situations. This game may be most evenly matched of the first round and expect a game in the low 70's that should come down to a possession or two at the end but probably determined in the end by how consistent Ottawa is over the 40 minutes or more at both ends of the floor.

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