Like a classic Disney ending, the Dinos men's basketball team won the two most important games of the season Jan. 23-24, against a team they had failed to sweep for 15 years: the University of Alberta Golden Bears. All this despite the last minute absence of Head Coach Dan Vanhooren.
Now atop the Mountain Division, the Dinos are untouchable for the rest of the season if they continue to outplay the U of A. Not only does this make home-court advantage in the playoffs probable, it also puts the team in a better position to advance well beyond the division finals.
"Both games came down to the crucial last five or six minutes, but we seemed to have the edge," said Assistant Coach Wayne Thomas. "The guys had killer instincts.
"We outplayed them both games, and shut down their inside scoring. Most of their points came from three-pointers."
Ironically, Friday night's game concluded with a score of 79-76 after the Golden Bears missed two game-tying shots from three-point range. Chris Wright was in fine form, contributing 21 points and thwarting the Golden Bear defence inside and out.
Saturday's game finished 72-66 in the Dinos favour. Whit Hornsberger scored 19 points including a game-clinching lay-up with 20 seconds to play.
"The most notable thing about Saturday's game was Hornsberger," commented Thomas, who stepped in for Vanhooren for Saturday's match. "It was the best game he's had all season--outstanding."
There couldn't have been a better time for Hornsberger to play at his highest level. The Golden Bears have been a thorn in the Dinos' side for a lot longer than any player on the team can remember, but this will be the team to even things up. Last year's Dinos came close, this year's Dinos succeeded.
"We went in knowing we would win," said Hornsberger. "We beat them here earlier this season; we know we're better."
Vanhooren's sudden departure back to Calgary for the birth of his first child gave the team a chance to prove not only their skill, but their ability to draw from the last month's preparation.
"When the head coach isn't there, it's a different feeling," remarked Thomas. "The team did a good job of taking responsibility, there was more player leadership."
"Thomas is a capable coach," added Hornsberger. "We were all thinking about Dan, but it didn't affect us in a negative way."
The team travels to Regina and Brandon Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, but is taking every game in stride. Thomas does not expect over confidence to become an issue, especially because of the stigma attached to playing in small gyms with enthusiastic fans "up close and personal," as is the case at both host schools.
For as long as Thomas remembers, the team has never been healthier and, with the return of Aman Heran, things are looking good for a strong finish to the season.
"We have six games left," said Hornsberger. "There's no reason not to win them."