Hopes for a berth at the CIS men's basketball national championship for the University of Calgary Dinos took a major blow as they lost to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds by a score of 77-69 in the Canada West semifinals and 97-83 to the Brandon University Bobcats in the bronze medal game Feb. 29 and Mar. 1. Had the Dinos won the game on Fri. night, they would have been guaranteed a spot at nationals. That loss combined with the defeat against the Bobcats means that they will now have to watch the tournament on TV.
The stage seemed to be perfect for Friday's game as the Dinos were on home court and boasted a perfect home record. They were playing in front of sold-out crowd and the University of Alberta Golden Bears beat the Bobcats earlier in the evening to advance to the finals. They have owned their provincial rivals this season and it seemed that all they had to do was beat the T-Birds and the Canada West Championship was theirs, but it all unravelled quickly.
It could have been a matter of nerves, overexcitement or simply having a bad game at the worst possible time, but the Dinos did not play anywhere close to their ability. While the game did start off well for them with forward Henry Bekkering opening the scoring with a spectacular dunk, it would be the only time they would ever have the lead, as the Thunderbirds responded with a 12-2 run. The team has been plagued by slow starts all season long and it finally caught up with them.
In the first half, the Dinos had an extremely low field goal percentage of 24.2 and shot three-for-14 from beyond the arc. If the Dinos shot the ball effectively, they could have easily been in the lead but on this night they would not and the T-Birds took a 28-23 berth into the half.
In the third quarter, the Dinos did not play a strong defensive game with the T-Birds burning them for 32 points and ending in great position to win the game. The Dinos outscored them 22-17 in the fourth but the deficit was just too big. They couldn't start a scoring run of significance, as the T-Birds shot 18-for-33 from the floor and out-rebounded the Dinos 47-32. Once the buzzer rang at the end of regulation, all they could do was hang their heads and wonder what went wrong.
"When I got that first dunk, I was like, 'okay, let's go,' but after that, I think we had four points in eight minutes," said Bekkering. "We were just stagnant on our offence. They were physical and we weren't really replying."
Bekkering did manage to come alive in the second half and finished the game with 19 points. His younger brother Ross had 16 points and nine rebounds while guard Jeff Price chipped in with 11. Chris Dyck was the T-Birds' best player, recording a double-double with 29 points and 10 rebounds.
"Calgary has proven all year that they're one of the top teams in the country," said T-Bird head coach Kevin Hanson. "They're a little bit young right now, but I thought they played a great game. They've got some guys who are some of the toughest guys to guard in the country, so certainly a very strong program."
With their chances at a berth at nationals crippled, they still had a glimmer of hope of competing for the W.P. McGee trophy if they could beat the very tough Bobcats in the bronze medal game. The Dinos' shooting problems, however, continued. They shot 28.8 per cent from the floor and 33.3 per cent from beyond the arc. The Dinos started slow again, but held a two-point lead after the first quarter, That quickly evaporated as they were outscored 28-18 in the second quarter. They couldn't find the showtime Dino rhythm and got taken 52-46 in the second half in a game that saw plenty of fouls. Henry Bekkering was in foul trouble early and Ross Bekkering fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats also out-rebounded Calgary 55-39.
Henry Bekkering finished with 23 points, though most of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. Price finished with 13, Tyler Fidler had 11, and Robbie Sihota had 16. Ross Bekkering had 10 points, all of them from free throws. Adam Hartman did most of the damage for the Bobcats with 29 points while playing the entire game.
"It was a disappointing end but this is a very good team," said Hanson. "They won the central division and posted their best regular season record since 1974 with an 18-4 record. They will also have nearly their entire starting lineup back next season and have gained valuable playoff experience. Next season can't begin soon enough for this talented squad."
Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren was notably disappointed with the outcome but hopeful about what knowledge the experience provided.
"I'm disappointed for Cody [Darrah] and Jeremy [Odland], two fifth-year guys that battled all year to get to this position," he said. "We have a very good basketball club and they're all back next year. They'll have learned from this experience and I think we'll be prepared for what this is all about."