While everyone else vacates Vancouver post-Olympics, the Dinos men's basketball team fly into the city for the end of the conference post-season. The Canada West final four between the Dinos, the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the Simon Fraser University Clan begins Friday with semi-final games between the Clan and Dinos and the T-Birds and Huskies. All games take place at UBC.
The Dinos earned a spot after sweeping a surprisingly close series against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns in Calgary.
"The year that we lost in the final four, we blew out Alberta," said Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren, talking about 2008, the year the Dinos hosted the Final Four tournament. "We rolled into the final four and I think we weren't prepared to play at the level we needed to play at. Whereas last year, we played some tough games against Alberta and felt more prepared going into the final four. . . . For us it's the same thing this year. Lethbridge pushed us a little bit."
With a win Friday, the Dinos can secure a spot in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Final 8 tournament in Ottawa two weeks later, and a chance to claim their second Canada West title in a row. Last year, the Dinos beat the T-Birds in their home gym to take their first CW title since 2004 and fifth overall. The T-Birds got their revenge by knocking the Dinos out of the Final 8 in the semis.
Last year, the Dinos beat out the Trinity Western University Spartans 96-65 in the CW semis and then the T-Birds in the final 80-76. The Dinos will face a Simon Fraser University Clan squad that beat them earlier in the year and finished with a 14-4 record.
Vanhooren said his team played some good basketball against the Clan earlier in the year, but got beat in the fourth quarter through offensive rebounds. It didn't help the Dinos were missing their superstar fifth-year, Ross Bekkering, who rebounds on both ends of the floor, scores key points and always comes up big defensively.
"We had some guys step off the bench and play reasonably," said Vanhooren. "We just had to play a different style of basketball both offensively and defensively because obviously we didn't have our superstar in Ross in the line-up. . . . We're thrilled that he's back. That doesn't make it any easier of a task to beat them."
The Clan were the best three-point shooting team in the league during the regular season, sinking at a 38.3 per cent clip. Three Clan players attempted more than 50 three pointers and sank more than 40 per cent of them: Chas Kok (30-71), Kevin Shaw (59-143) and Kevin Pribilsky (23-56), placing them sixth, 11th and 12th in Canada West respectively. The Dinos weren't so bad as a team themselves, averaging 35.8 per cent for the season, led by Robbie Sihota's 43.3 percentage. Jamie McLeod also averaged over 40 per cent for the season, with a 41.8 conversion rate.
For the Dinos, this game won't be won from the three point line though. They'll need to use their height advantage in their post and forward players. Though they lose a few inches at the guard position with McLeod and Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson, they make it up with Bekkering, Sihota and Tyler Fidler, who all tower over 6'6". The only Clan starter over 6'6" is Eric Burrell, at 6'7". The Dinos averaged 41.5 rebounds per game throughout the season, five and a half more than the Clan.
After a weekend of inconsistent efforts against the Pronghorns, the Dinos will be looking for a consistent effort against a good Clan team, ranked ninth in the country.
"Surprisingly the team is growing still," Vanhooren said. "It'd be nice to peak on Friday and play for 40 minutes"