Saturday, 24 December 2011

Signature win under their belts, Pronghorns progress toward top of CW

Lethbridge Pronghorns Christmas Break Update

By Dave Wells

The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, under the direction of 53-year-old head coach Dave Adams (oldest bench boss in men’s Canada West hoops), aspire to make the playoffs this season. If fact, the current group’s objectives extend well beyond 2011-12, and much more lofty than simply qualifying for the post-season.  With no player on the roster in his fifth-year and a signature victory already under their belts, the goal of reaching the top of Canada West is very reasonable.

Long-term races are nothing new for Adams, a veteran competitor on Canadian national age-group triathlon teams.  Thus far in 2011-12, the U of L is 4-4 in Canada West, holding down a coveted post-season invitation slot. A ten point home victory over perennial Nationals contender UBC Thunderbirds on the final weekend of the first half, arguably the highlight of the season and probably Coach Adams tenure, in which the Horns finished the game on a 15-5 run before a season-high 1,245 fans, shows the Horns are ready to take that next step. The following evening's decisive loss to undefeated UVic Vikes also highlights that consistency is required before U of L can truly push up into the national rankings scene.  Two of their league losses came on consecutive night at Saskatchewan, another perennial Nationals contender, games in which Lethbridge was very much in - leading by as many as 13 in the first game and getting it to within 3 with 5 minutes remaining in the second game, showing U of L is not that far off.

Lethbridge remains one of the highest drawing programs in the country, with 3 of their 4 home games attracting crowds of 1,000 or more including the season-high attendance vs. UBC. Expect Southern Alberta fans to continue to flock to the gym as the Horns progress.

The U of L hired former CCAA women’s national champion (at Lethbridge College) head coach Brad Karren as director of basketball operations for both gender roundball teams last spring. Recruiting is his prime directive. Adams and Karren landed a large and experienced group of recruits this season. All told eight newcomers with post-secondary experience joined the program. As well, bouncy, crowd-pleasing, 6’6” post Tyson McIntyre chose the ’Horns directly out of area Raymond High School (provincial unlimited enrollment champs last year), selecting U of L over multiple other Canada West programs.

Only three returning players are in the rotation. In the post 6’7” fourth-year ’Horn Derek Waldner is tough around the basket. He’s averaging 8.1 ppg and 6.0 rpg in league play. This is Waldner’s third campaign as a starter.  Nikola Kovac started 20 of 24 league games last year. This season the 6’10” third-year eligible, GTA (Greater Toronto Area) product has primarily filled the third-post role. Kovac improved as the first semester progressed.

Julian Spear Chief-Morris, the tallest perimeter player on the squad, listed at a very generous 6’4”, missed 11-1/2 months of full-out practice and games with knee woes before finally returning to the court the very week this regular season began. It’s his fourth season of Canada West eligibility. Spear Chief-Morris only played 7.8 mpg in the first semester. If he earns more playing time through improved performances after Christmas, it will likely be a positive for the U of L.

Four of the U of L newcomers, all in their third-year of CIS eligibility this season, migrated across the river from Lethbridge College where they finished second nationally in the CCAA last season.  Dom Coward, a long and active post who often plays taller than his 6’6” program height, began his post-secondary career at the University of Calgary. Landing Coward was a coup for U of L. Although slowed by September hernia surgery Coward averaged 13.6 ppg and 7.9 rpg, including leading the Horns in rebounding in 6 of 8 league games, in the first semester. There is no doubt that if fully healthy Coward has the ability to put up significantly bigger numbers.

Logan Reiter (live 6’2” wing) and Morgan Duce (generously listed 5’11” gunner) averaged 8.9 ppg and 8.1 ppg in the first semester respectively. Dallon Martin (listed at 5’10”, perhaps using the same tape that got Duce at 5’11”) is a very solid back-up point, particularly when he remembers to shoot the open shot.

Two guard newcomers, both in their third year of eligibility, arrived from truly elite California Junior College programs. Point guard Daryl Cooper, is a multi-talented 6’ weapon. The potential Canada West all-star is averaging 14.3 ppg, while shooting 55.7 percent. His assist-to-turnover ratio is better than 1:1. Cooper is a presence on defence too, averaging 3.5 steals per game.

Alex Fletcher is suburban driveway shooter deluxe. The 6’1” wing is averaging 9.1 ppg.

Defensive stopper Terrence Blake came to the ’Horns having played at the University of Calgary and SAIT, a Calgary CCAA program. This is the fourth-year of CIS eligibility for the perhaps 6’1” wing.

U of L enjoyed extreme highs (beating UBC for the first time in 11 seasons) and suffered through devastating lows (losing the next night at home by 31 to UVic after besting the Vikes in their last ’Bridge visit two seasons ago) in the first semester. A much deeper and talented team this season with ten players averaging 10 or more minutes per game provides Adams with numerous choices down the stretch.  Will the lads settle into a playoff level of performance after Christmas? Time will tell.

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