Weather reports indicate there was an excessive amount of heat radiating from the Jack Simpson Gymnasium Jan. 13-14. The Dinos men's basketball team rubbed sneakers with the University of Alberta Golden Bears for the second time this season.
This time the friction took place on home soil. The finished product was an electric weekend capped off with the best hometown basketball game this season, and 3,116 fans who immediately had to confer with their cardiologists.
Brian Finniss was the first Dino to put digits up for Calgary on Friday night, hitting a three-pointer. Dino claws continued to come out in a beautiful play at the end of the first as Ross Bekkering blocked a Golden Bear shot, guard Josh Feist took the ball down-court and Chris Wright sunk it home. If you blinked, you missed it.
In spite of this, the Bears continued to lead throughout the first half, shooting 20 per cent better than the Dinos and defending more like Grizzlies. The Bears refused to give up their stronghold, sealing a 45-33 half time lead and keeping a sizable gap the entire second round.
Though the Dinos fought back in the last five minutes with renewed energy, they couldn't overturn the 19-point deficit. The game went to the Bears, 84-65.
But Saturday night all the Dinos' fans' wishes came true. The potential energy of this team became kinetic... or maybe thermal, I hate science. From tip off, the Dinos were aggressive and thoroughly attached to the ball--as Feist demonstrated when he followed the wayward rubber into the crowd.
The tall kept going up with the ball, resulting in a block each for Bekkering and the team's Yoda, Wright. Cody Darrah, played 30 minutes, continuously jumping for the ball and scoring a team-high 20 points that demonstrated the Dinos' well thought out plays.
A string of three-point shots in the first 15 minutes and a beautiful dunk from Robbie "The Chief" Sihota just contributed to the Dinos' fans' Bear bloodlust. Sihota, who continued his post-Christmas hot streak and was named Player of the Game on Friday, attributes his stretching abilities to more confidence.
"[When you lose] you can't take it personal," he said. "You can't get down on yourself or you're no good to the team."
The Bears punctured the last moments of the first half for a slim 51-47 lead. However, the Dinos got right back into the second round, showing they wouldn't let the Bears get to the heart of the team.
Bekkering drew charges and ordered a dunk with a side of a conversion--just the sorts of things that won him Husky Player of the Game. Breakaways from guard Dalbir Dosanjh and Darrah left the U of A pawing at the Dinos' tail, but lacking the firm grasp they had Friday night.
Huge strides were made in free throws, three-pointers and under the net as the Dinos brought down 35 rebounds to the Bears' 29. The last five minutes of play were all about getting foul shots when it counted. And as Golden Bear player Andrew Parker fouled out of the game, the Dinos stepped in even harder.
The rest was simple math. A critical three-pointer from Finniss with two minutes left plus a rebound from Wright plus a tidy put away from under-the-net-Darrah plus a conversion and game sealing foul shots from Bekkering equalled a 92-87 Dinos win.
"Friday night we were kind of disappointed," said Feist. "We knew these were really important games, so we were a little bummed because we can't really afford to lose them now. We knew on Saturday we had to come out big."
"[I'm] just kind of going out there and making every minute count," he said of the key to success. "I try and have a little leadership out there too, just make the best out of it; keep the tempo up, keep the pressure off, taking shots when I'm open, that kind of thing."
As the Dinos push through their remaining games, fresh faces seem to be popping up everywhere. Newcomer to the team, guard Tony Dhaliwal hopes to bring speed to surprise the offense.
"We didn't hang our heads," he said of Saturday's game. "Most teams would have hung their heads, but these were our rivals so we knew what we had to do."
Another newcomer to the team won't be playing for a few years yet. Head Coach Dan Vanhooren and wife Kara welcomed baby Wyatt to their family Sat., Jan. 14.
The Dinos have a weekend off before taking to the road again. They travel to Kamloops Jan. 27-28 to challenge the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, a new team to Canadian Interuniversity Sport who are currently 2-11.
"All the games from now on are super-important. I think everyone knows that on the team," Darrah pointed out. "The Lethbridge Friday night game will be really huge, one of the biggest of the year because we'll be battling them for the last playoff spot. And then I think the last series against Saskatchewan is always tough to play."
If the Dinos continue to play like they showed they could this weekend, the west will thaw.