Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - Two wins separate Calgary from repeating as Canada West men's basketball champs, and the Dinos will get a chance to do it on their home court.
Jack Simpson Gymnasium hosts the Final Four this weekend, when Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan join the hometown squad in a battle for the conference title. Calgary plays Manitoba and Alberta meets Saskatchewan in Friday's semifinals, with the gold and bronze medal match-ups set for Saturday. The finalists earn a berth at nationals.
"It's always a positive thing to host a conference championship," says longtime Dinos coach Dan Vanhooren. "Whenever we've done it, the atmosphere has been great and the support around the team has always been great."
After going on to win silver at nationals in 2016, the Dinos set the bar high for themselves this season, and have thus far risen to expectations. Calgary finished with the top RPI (.6033) and second-best record (16-4) in Canada West, and have been slotted no lower than sixth in the weekly U SPORTS Top 10 rankings this season. Last week they swept a spirited Thompson Rivers squad in the best-of-three quarter-finals, leaning on their post-season experience to prevail in a pair of close games.
"Our group is prepared," Vanhooren says. "They've gone through that battle all the way through last year and now with those returning guys we're pretty comfortable."
The Dinos, who have captured CW gold on five occasions, but never in consecutive years, would be the first team since UBC in 2007 and 2008 and second in the last 16 years to repeat as Canada West men's basketball champs.
"When you (think about) that, it says a great deal about the quality of the league and the teams that are in it, and what teams are doing at various institutions to be as competitive as they can," notes Vanhooren.
This year's Final Four field includes five of the last eight programs to win Canada West gold and have a combined five Canadian championships among them.
In fact, the only one that doesn't have a national title to its name is Calgary, something the Dinos would like to change this year.
But first order of business is going back-to-back in their neck of the woods.
"To win the championship again in Canada West is one of our goals and certainly it's something that we want to do but it's never been something where we said, 'Ok, we've never done it and we're going to try to do it again.'" Vanhooren says.
"When your team is strong enough, I think it's an automatic that that's one of the goals of the program, and I'm sure that's a goal for all the four teams that are coming this weekend."
All the Canada West Final Four action can be seen on CanadaWest.tv
Semifinal 1: Saskatchewan vs. Alberta - 3:00 p.m. MT - Friday, March 3
There is little to separate these prairie rivals: identical regular season records (16-4); a 1-1 record head-to-head (they split a pair of games in Saskatoon at the beginning of February); matching 7-3 records on the road, which is the case for both teams this weekend; even their average point differential was very close - +8.5 for Alberta, +8.0 for Saskatchewan.
One difference is the Bears had a tougher time in the quarter-finals, needing three games to dispatch of Lethbridge, while Saskatchewan swept Winnipeg. Canada West First Team All-Star Shane Osayande (17.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg during the season, 47 points and 34 boards in 2 post-season games) gives the Huskies a powerful paint presence. Alberta counters with a first-teamer of its own, forward Brody Clarke, who compliments the conference's most prolific perimeter attack (250 three-pointers in 23 regular-season and playoff games combined).
Alberta is making its first appearance in Final Four since 2014, while the Huskies are returning after a year's absence. This will be the third time in six years that the teams have played each other in a semi-final, with Alberta winning in both 2012 and 2014.
Semifinal 2: Calgary vs. Manitoba - 8:00 p.m. MT - Friday, March 3
Manitoba pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent Canada West playoff history last week, when the Bisons stampeded into Vancouver and swept the UBC Thundberbirds, who finished the regular season with a 19-1 record and were ranked second in the U Sports Top 10.
Now the Bisons look to continue their Cinderella run at Final Four against the top-seeded Dinos in a match-up of two red-hot teams; Both finished the regular season with wins in eight of their last 10, and neither has lost yet in the post-season, including two play-in round wins for Manitoba.
The Bisons and Dinos last met four months ago, on the first weekend of the season, splitting a pair of games in Calgary. Manitoba is 8-5 (including playoffs) away from Winnipeg, and one of only three teams this season to beat the Dinos at Jack Simpson Gymnasium. C
algary is led by Canada West First Team All-Star Tomas Cooper (22.7 ppg, No. 2 in Canada West), who scored 39 points against the Bisons on opening night. Manitoba point guard Ilarion Bonhomme (4.8 apg, first in Canada West) racked up 28 points, 10 boards and nine assists in the series-clincher at UBC.
MBB Final Four Schedule
|Fri. 3||Alberta||Saskatchewan||3:00 PM MST||Live stats|
|CW Final Four - Semis (hosted by CGY)|
|Manitoba||Calgary||8:00 PM MST||Live stats|
|CW Final Four - Semis (hosted by CGY)|
|Sat. 4||TBA||TBD||3:00 PM MST|
|CW Final Four - Bronze (hosted by CGY)|
|TBA||TBD||8:00 PM MST|
|CW Final Four - Gold (hosted by CGY)|