After two hotly contested games between them this season, the Dinos men's basketball team and the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns kick off the Canada West playoffs this weekend at the Jack Simpson Gym.
The Dinos needed two Ross Bekkering free throws in overtime with 3.1 seconds left to take a 88-86 victory Jan. 9 while the Pronghorns took the last game of the regular season for both teams with a 58-56 victory after Jamie McLeod missed two of three free throws with no time on the clock.
"We need to do what we do well, so far both times that we've played them we haven't done that," said Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren. "We've gotta give them some credit defensively but at the same time it's really more about us when we watch film."
The Pronghorns were the second best team in the conference at holding teams shooting percentage down. Their opponents shot only .388 against them all year. In their two dust-ups, the Dinos sank only 30.8 per cent of their shots, well below their season average of 43.5 per cent.
Vanhooren explained the key is moving the ball better out of the doubles the Pronghorns set-up on their posts and using each other better than they did in the previous contests.
"If we do that, our shooting percentage will go way up because all we're going to be doing is shooting open shots rather than ones that are contested," he said. "Instead of our posts turning and trying to shoot over one or two guys, we need to move the ball and find an open shot."
Despite the team being held to 56 points in their last game and an abysmal 15.6 per cent shooting percentage, fifth-year forward Robbie Sihota is confident his team will be better against the Pronghorns in the playoffs.
"I think our offence will come," said Sihota, who sank 45 points against the Pronghorns this season. "I think as long as the defence can do it, it'll be fine."
He looks to the Dinos superior playoff experience to show through this weekend. The Dinos have made the playoffs for four straight years, including a Canada West title last year, while the Pronghorns were last in the post-season in 2003.
The Pronghorns do have at least one player with post-season experience. Point guard Jeff Price, who leads the team with 16.9 points per game, suited up for a Canada West playoff series and final four games for the Dinos in 2008 before transferring to the Pronghorns. Price sank 39 points, 27 coming in the January contest, against his former team. The Dinos players and coaches feel they have a handle on his tendencies and are prepared to defend him.
"I think [point guard] Jarred's [Ogungbemi-Jackson] a pretty tough match-up for him, quickness-wise," said Vanhooren. ". . . He's a good basketball player, so we'll play him like he's a good basketball player. Certainly we know what he's capable of."
The Pronghorns-series will likely be the final chance for fans to cheer for a couple of Dinos hardwood staples. Sihota, Lindsay Thouret and Ross Bekkering will be stepping onto the Jack Simpson Gym floor for the last time in their CIS careers after playing all five years of their eligibility at the University of Calgary. Sihota and Bekkering began their careers with the Dinos during the '05-'06 season while Thouret started his back in '03-'04 and took two years off between 2006 and 2008.
"I try not to think about it too much during the game," said Bekkering. "It's definitely crossed mind a bunch during the season. It kind of gives you that feeling of desperation or that extra little motivation that this is your last chance at things."