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Men's Basketball: Crunch time

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The men's b-ballasaurs will hope to reverse their season long road woes, and keep in the running for the playoffs, as they take on the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns in Lethbridge, Jan. 12-13. Though no team in the mountain division has been good on the road--the University of Alberta is the best with a 2-4 record--the Dinos are the only team to not win a game yet, dropping all six of their away contests this season.

"Youth, that'd be about it," summarized Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren. "They're not experienced enough to win on the road at times. We gotta go to the foul line when we're on the road, we've gotta play more aggressively. We can't settle for jump shots."

Despite their road woes, the Dinos are still tied for the last playoff spot in the division with the Pronghorns. That makes these games that much more important, a sweep in either direction will put one team two games ahead with only eight contests remaining after this weekend.

"Our guys are a little too outcome-focused right now," said Vanhooren. "That always seems to creep into your mind when you're up nine with four minutes to go against Saskatchewan. We're on the road, and we lose those games mostly because we're trying to grip to that lead. We're hoping the clock is going to run out or something."

In the Dinos favour is last weekend's home stand, which saw them earn a split with the division-leading University of Alberta Golden Bears. Sat., Jan. 6 the Dinos won 89-77 and broke a six game losing streak, which included five straight losses going into the Christmas break and a 90-82 defeat by the Bears Fri., Jan. 5.

"[The Bears are], from a basketball team perspective, not any more talented than us," said Vanhooren. "They're a little more experienced in different spots and older than us. Outside of that, certainly no better. The game on Friday night was dissapointing. We went out on the floor and we started out fairly well. It was 4-0, we played a couple of good defensive possessions. Our effort dwindled and we really looked like we mailed it in, even though we only lost by eight."

"On Saturday, we came out with a whole different mentality," continued Vanhooren. "Our effort was much better. In the first half we shot it poorly, in the second we didn't, and we beat them 58-37 in the second half. That's a first-placed team and a team that is legitimately close, or should be nationally ranked. We should take [Saturday] as a learning lesson, something [the team] can take to heart going into our next games."

Walking away with victories from both games in Lethbridge will be a challenge. Vanhooren noted that the only time the Dinos swept the Pronghorns was when the Dinos went 15-5, and it took triple overtime the second night to accomplish it. But the Dinos will need at least one win, or else it could be an improbable task to make the playoffs.

"It's not an easy place to play," said Vanhooren. "Lots of the time you have local officiating and they're under a lot of pressure there. They have some good home court advantage in Lethbridge, and we're going to have to go down there and make sure mentally we're prepared to deal with that."

The Dinos and 'Horns share similar schedules down the stretch, including the same number of road games and home games, and the same road trips to B.C. and Manitoba. In out-of-province treks, the 'Horns are 1-3 while the Dinos are 0-4.

Where the two teams' schedules differ is on the last weekend of the season, which could be the deciding factor of who gets to participate in the playoffs. The Dinos play the 7-5 University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the 'Horns play the 8-4 Bears.

Regardless, Vanhooren does not want his team too focused on the outcome of each game, and he hopes that the team can carry the same mindset that saw them outscore the Bears 58-37 in the second half Saturday.

"They have to come into there with that mentality that they know they can win and that that's not something that's in question," said Vanhooren. "We can't go into the gym being outcome-focused. You can go down there saying, 'God, you know we have to win one. If we get swept, we'll be two games back for the last playoff spot and that's really going to hurt.' If you start talking about scenarios then that focus will create a lack of attention to the details that get you the win. From that perspective, I really think our group needs to go down there, knowing they can win. The only question is whether or not we put enough effort in. If we do that, we'll get one for sure as a minimum."

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