The Jack Simpson Gym was buzzing as the University of Calgary Dinos men's basketball team led the charge against some unusual opponents Labour Day weekend.
The basketsaurs faced off against two NCAA Division I teams, the Creighton Bluejays and the Weber State Wildcats, in three games during the second annual Battle of the Border Sep. 1-3. Creighton, the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion and Weber State, holder of the Big Sky conference title for 2006-07 presented a big challenge for the Dinos.
"Both of the teams are tournament teams, so when you play a top-60 team from NCAA, they're likely going to be better than the teams we normally play," said Dinos coach Dan Vanhooren leading up to the games. "From a training perspective, it gives us a bar to play against and to work towards and it allows our athletes to play at a higher level."
New members Jeff Price, Tyler Fidler and Henry Bekkering--a transfer from East Washington University and brother of current team member Ross Bekkering--saw their first action on the court as Dinos during the game as well. Bekkering stressed the importance of the games as opportunities for team meshing.
"These games are really good for getting ourselves familiar with each other as players," he said.
Another adjustment for the Dinos was the change from NCAA to FIBA rules in preparation for the new CIS regulations. Some differences include 10-minute quarters rather than the previous 20-minute halves and a 24-second shot clock.
The tournament's starting game saw a strong opening from the Dinos who led 21-18 through the first quarter, but a plague of turnovers gave Creighton the advantage in the second period as they scored 21 points to the Dinos' 10.
After trailing throughout the third quarter, the b-ballsaurs managed to pull a 26-17 lead in the final stretch. Despite the strong finish, it wasn't enough to take the game, as the scored settled at 85-77 for Creighton.
Sunday's game against Weber State began with the Dinos undeterred by the opener and slightly more laid back with their play. The opening set ended with both teams tied at 12. After a strong push through the second half, noticeable extra effort from newcomers Price and Bekkering and some strong defense, the Dinos led 35-27.
Team veteran Robbie Sihota made a valiant effort in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter, scoring four points to maintain his team's lead. Firecracker Wildcat Dezmon Harris attempted to even up the score, managing a total of 21 points for the night but was unable to take on the Dinos' top scorers. After a close five-point lead going into the fourth, the Dinos took the win, finishing 81-74.
Coach Vanhooren was elated about the unexpected victory.
"This is a huge win for us from a confidence perspective," said Vanhooren. "I think it says a lot about what we have here and how our guys can play. They competed the whole game and I'm thrilled with the effort we had. Our only goal this whole weekend was effort and we certainly did that tonight."
Vanhooren added that Weber State had more of the expectation and pressure on them to win, which benefited the Dinos in the end.
Price, also pleased with the win, felt the heat to maintain the Dinos five-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
"I was very nervous with the amount of pressure they had on us for the whole game, you had to really take care of the ball," he said.
The Dinos' final pairing against Creighton opened with the visitors scoring a rapid six points in the first minute of play. The Bluejays' undeterred momentum continued to the second quarter as the Dinos battled to trail Creighton 24-25 at the buzzer. The game was marked again by Dinos newbie Price as he pushed his team to a 47-43 lead at the 20-minute mark.
As the teams came back from half-time into the third quarter, the efforts of the talented new Bekkering were very clear, as he finished out the game with a personal total of 24 points. The Dinos' efforts weren't enough in the end, as the Bluejays dominated for the entire second half. Creighton emerged victorious for the second time with 97 points to the Dinos' 78.
With the valuable experience of the games under their belts, the Dinos prepare for Canada West play, with the first tip-off against the University of Victoria on Nov. 2.