Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Wayne Thomas Canada West Report: Races Tightening

Canada West Races Tighten

T-Birds, Spartans, and Bisons Get Sweeps and Climb Standings

The UBC T-Birds needed 2 wins against top Prairie rivals this past weekend, and they got the job done in the friendly confines of War Memorial Gym.  The ‘Birds, who had stumbled so badly back in late November at Calgary and Lethbridge, were losing ground to Pacific rivals, UVic, but they came out on top on Friday against Alberta in a most improbable finish to regulation time.
On Saturday , despite some sketchy ball-handling, the T-Birds cooled off Jamelle Barrett, the often dominating guard for Saskatchewan, and gouged out another tense win to pop into the Vikes rear-view mirror at 6-2. UBC travels to Kamloops next week to face the hungry WolfPack, who want what the ‘Birds have enjoyed for some time.

Perhaps counted out far too soon by Canada West observers (like you, WT ?) , the Trinity Western Spartans feasted on some porous defense from Lethbridge (105-97) and Calgary (107-97) to at least get a peek at a playoff possibility.  Kyle Coston and Calvin Westbrook were chucking ‘em in ‘like they can’, and athletic newcomer Sean Peter was doing a 1 man lay-up drill for the Langley ‘Faithful’ as Trinity climbed to 4-6. Tristan Smith looking more like a set-up point guard every game, passed for 19 assists in the 2 games , as the Spartans found their groove. They get 2 games against the last place UBC-O Heat up in Kelowna this coming weekend.

Coach Kirby Schepp’s Manitoba Bisons (6-4) swept their 2 games in B.C.’s Okanagan, and put themselves right in the mix for top spot in the Prairie Division.  The Bisons took care of business, expectedly, with an 80-65 team effort over UBC-O on Friday, as all 5 starters hit double figures.  Manitoba halted the momentum of Scott Clark’s TRU WolfPack in Kamloops on Saturday with 3rd year guards, Jonar Huertas (23 pts.) and Kurtis Sansregret (22 pts.), long-time teammates at Winnipeg’s Sisler High School and Red River College, providing the scoring.  They host Regina next weekend with an eye on another sweep keeping them in the rarified air with Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Vikes and Huskies Top Their Divisions

It was a case of mixed results for both Saskatchewan and Victoria in the ‘Big 4’ go-round on the Coast ... Vikes Coach Craig Beaucamp was pleased that his team bounced back after having lost to the Huskies Friday ... "Tonight, we made more big plays when the game was on the line,’’ said Beaucamp. "That win was an important confidence builder for us.’’ (From The Victoria Times-Colonist, following an 83-77 win over Alberta).  Victoria is in great shape at 9-1, ahead of UBC (6-2) and Fraser Valley (6-4), and Beaucamp says they will focus on developing as a team over the next weeks, building towards success in March.  Victoria stays at home for a key match-up with the UFV Cascades in a 2 game set next weekend.

The Huskies, through the magic of Jamelle Barrett (32 points), and the consistent tenacity of Michael Lieffers, who had a terrific weekend with 15 ppg, and 14 rebs./game, beat the Vikes 86-81 coming from behind.  On Saturday, with Barrett getting extra security attention from multiple UBC defenders, the Huskies were worn down, and edged 69-60 in a close, but often sloppy affair in Vancouver. Saskatchewan benefits from 2 Alberta losses, and U of S inherits at least temporary possession of top spot in the Prairie Division at 6-3 followed closely by the Bears at 6-4, then Manitoba and Lethbridge with 5-5 marks.  Saskatchewan is in Calgary for a pair next Friday and Saturday.

And, Looking Down at the ‘Lower Ranks’

Pacific Division ...

The Fraser Valley Cascades had their bandwagon derailed by the pesky Lethbridge Pronghorns on Saturday.  Just when the ‘Cades were admiring their press clippings, ‘Horns Nation’ rudely intervened, knocking UFV down to 6-4, again looking way up at the T-Birds and Vikes.  These are the games which Coach Barnaby Craddock knows his team must win, if they’re to be the ‘Tall Firs’ in the Pacific forest. Sam Freeman, Joel Friesen and company now have to steal at least 1 game from UVic this weekend on The Island.

Head Coach Scott Clark , never one to mince words, was less than thrilled with his charges as his Thompson Rivers WolfPack lost at home on Saturday to the Manitoba Bisons ... "I think our effort wasn't good enough at the defensive end," said WolfPack head coach . "Our toughness wasn't good enough and that's what results when you can't fulfill your responsibilities at the defensive end."  Clark is also well aware of the brutal schedule awaiting his upstart club ... 2 at ‘home’ (they will play at the old TRU gym, because of a scheduling conflict) vs those bullies, the UBC T-Birds, the road games at Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Talk about party pooping ...!

Despite the typical grey, leaden clouds hovering over B.C.’s Lower Mainland, the TWU Spartans are enjoying a shaft of sunshine in their basketball lives. 2 wins over Lethbridge and Calgary ... 2 games over the century mark ... we’re having fun now !

Some joy as well in the UBC-O camp, with their 2nd League win coming on Saturday vs the Winnipeg Wesmen.  Yassine Ghomari may have a street named after him in Kelowna, if he keeps up the 30 point games!  The Heat, however, better use that momentum to good effect against Trinity this week, because the rest of the Canada West journey for this season could get painful ... at Saskatchewan and Alberta, at UBC, home vs. UVic, then a home and home against the Wolfpack, who will be wanting 2 wins very badly at that stage.

Prairie Division ...

Alberta must be wondering what happened.  The Bears choke on a hair-ball in the last seconds at UBC, when the game was their’s, if they can just get it inbounds ... then, Victoria snatches the win away in the final minutes of the Saturday game.  But, this may well be a mere speed-bump for Coach Greg Francis’
charges. They should have confidence in their stout defense, their 2 all-stars, Jordan Baker and Daniel Ferguson, the chance to play Lethbridge in Edmonton this week, then with a schedule that has them playing teams with a combined record of 17-32 in their final 8 games of the regular season. No ... we’re good here boys!

Some confidence building in Lethbridge as well, as they come off an upset win at Fraser Valley, and sit at 5-5 with a good run at a playoff spot, which has been a rarity in the recent life of ‘Horns Nation’.  ‘LCC West‘ has seen a re-birth with the infusion of a multitude of 3rd year College transfers, 2 of whom, Dom Coward and Daryl Cooper, are the team leaders as a post and at lead guard.  The ‘Horns will try to steal one at Alberta this week, then they get the luxury of Calgary, Manitoba, and Regina at home, with 2 road games in Brandon.

Brandon may have really hurt their chances with that loss to Regina on Saturday, which dropped them to 4-6. Now a game behind Lethbridge for the final play-off spot, the ‘Cats, who, at their best are a quick team with a good mix of vets and talented young guys, have a much tougher row to hoe than do the Pronghorns.  OK ... they have a shot at 2 wins in this weekend’s home and home with Winnipeg ... but, Saskatchewan, Alberta, both on the road, plus home dates with Lethbridge, Trinity, and Fraser Valley ?  Rugged.

So, you’re Calgary Dinos Coach Dan Vanhooren in June of 2011 ...  you have Tyler Fidler, a Canada West all-star in his 5th year, Matt Letkeman, Canada West Rookie of the Year, the return of your dynamic point guard, Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson, the arrival of 5th year OUA scoring sensation, Boris Bakovic, Montreal native Clay Mbayi, a powerful NCAA transfer forward with a soft shooting touch, and a good mixture of experienced and young players in support.  Beauty ! But, alas ...  no Mbayi (broken leg), no Phil Labongo (went home to Winnipeg) ... they are 3-7, facing Saskatchewan at home, Lethbridge on the road, Alberta at home, Manitoba on the road ....  They may get Ogungbemi-Jackson and Letkeman back at some stage, but the uphill looks pretty steep at this juncture.

The Regina Cougars will take heart with a solid win on the road vs their old nemesis, the Brandon Bobcats.  Those 2 teams regularly fought it out for supremacy in the old GPAC, with Jerry Hemmings’, then Barnaby Craddock’s ‘Cats usually coming out on top. Cougars’ Head Man, james Hillis, with 163 conference wins and 28 playoff victories over the first 16 seasons of his coaching career, knows this is a rebuilding year in Regina.  The Cougars now face the Manitoba Bisons in Winnipeg this coming weekend, but, they then have 6 straight home games, where they have been 63% Ws over the past 5 years ! Some reason for optimism, then.

The Winnipeg Wesmen do not have warm thoughts about their situation after losing to UBC-O Saturday.  That was a game they felt they should win.  After all, they had beaten the Heat 82-49 at their Wesmen Classic, just a week prior.  Where do they go from here?  They are 2-8, with no serious chance at a playoff berth ... time to focus on development of the squad for the future? Coach Mike Raimbault is not the type of guy to start feeling sorry for himself ... he has Andrew Cunningham, a great point talent, he also has some good young players in Kelvin Smith and Travis Krahn to go with College transfers Dominique Brown and Mark McNee.  A long-term focus is a necessity for the Wesmen, but a real challenge for both coaches and players with so much of the season still to be played..

Notes ...

  *  "We put a bit of height on him, and you can't guard him with one guy so we double teamed him and triple teamed him at times not letting him get to the rim," ... UBC Coach Kevin Hanson ... on the T-Bird strategy for Huskies’ star, Jamelle Barrett this past weekend.
  *  Coach Hanson, even after 2 big wins, on looking to improve his team   "...  you just shouldn't win games with 29 turnovers and allowing 22 offensive rebounds, and we're trying to address both of those things."

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