VANCOUVER,BC–While most basketball fans will be dropping their jaws during the N.B.A. slam-dunk contest tonight, there will be four Canada West quarterfinal games going down across Western Canada, with eight teams vying for just two (possibly three) berths to the CIS Final 8 in March.
Although I will be one of the jaw-droppers tuning in to the N.B.A.’s all-star festivities, I’ll have these four contests playing simultaneously thanks to the accommodating folks at CanadaWest.TV
Here’s a recap or what’s happened already, and predictions for what’s to come:
UBC Thunderbirds (#3 in Canada West Pacific – #7 in CIS) @ Alberta Golden Bears (#3 in Canada West Prairie – #8 in CIS)
Alberta gained a huge upper hand on the Thunderbirds last night after winning the opening game of their Canada West quarterfinal matchup 79-69.
Golden Bears senior guard Daniel Ferguson dropped 25 points and went 13-14 from the free-throw line, while third-year forward Sahr Saffa chipped in 23 on 4-7 shooting from deep.
For the Thunderbirds, Kamar Burke willed his way to 17 points and nine rebounds.
This is a deep hole for UBC to climb out of considering that they struggled on the road during the regular season – going 4-5 away from War Memorial. Alberta on the other hand posted a perfect 10-0 record at home this year, and will no doubt try to end for UBC what seems like an annual trip to the CIS Championship podium.
One key for UBC is not to get into foul trouble. Nathan Yu, the team’s leader in scoring, assists, minutes played and steals, only played 25 minutes last night after picking up his fourth foul early in the third.
The key for the Golden Bears is to get to line like they did in game one. They attempted eight more free-throws than a ‘Birds, and made it easy for a guy like Ferguson who makes his living at the stripe.
Predictions for game two: UBC is not the type of team to get swept in the first round. I’m predicting that Yu and Burke lead them to a deciding game three on Sunday.
Trinity Western Spartans (#4 in Canada West Pacific) @ Saskatchewan Huskies (#1 in Canada West Prairie – #3 in CIS)
Jamelle Barrett scored 11 of his game-high 36 points to lead Saskatchewan over the TWU Spartans 98-83 in their first round series opener.
The Huskies remain perfect at home in Canada West play, and are currently riding an 11-game winning streak.
TWU was led by fifth-year big man Kyle Coston, who scored 25 points in 31 minutes off the bench.
Saskatchewan held a slim four-point lead at the end of the third quarter, but then exploded for 30 points in the fourth, and suppressed each Spartan run with timely shooting.
Predictions for game two: I don’t see how the wild-card Spartans, CIS silver medalists from just a year ago, will be able to stop such a talented Huskie team at home, let alone for two in a row. Expect Saskatchewan to sweep this one tonight with another big performance from Barrett.
Calgary Dinos (#4 in Canada West Prairie) @ Victoria Vikes (#1 in Canada West Pacific – #5 in CIS)
Boris Bakovic led Calgary with 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-68 upset over Victoria in the first game of their Canada West quarterfinal series.
The Vikes held a six-point lead with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Bakovic scored seven of Calgary’s final eight points in a late-game surge that stunned the top-ranked team from the Pacific Division at home.
Victoria struggled to score when it mattered most, missing their final six shots of the fourth. Fifth-year guard Ryan MacKinnon led the Vikes with 18 points, while forward Zac Andrus contributed 15.
Predictions for game two: The Dinos, who caught fire in the latter half of the regular season, have the weapons in Bakovic and fellow fifth-year forward Tyler Fidler to be able to take down a Vikes team that’s struggled with consistency since the winter break. However, I don’t believe that Victoria’s about to give up two at home, so expect them to push the series to the full three games.
Lethbridge Pronghorns (#3 in Canada West Prairie) @ UFV Cascades (#2 in Canada West Pacific – #4 in CIS)
This series started a day ahead of the other three and is all knotted up at one game apiece.
Lethbridge picked up an 87-78 win in the opening game off of a 25-point outing from third-year guard Daryl Cooper.
UFV has seemed untouchable at home this season, only giving up one contest at the Envision Athletics Centre to – you guessed it, Lethbridge – back in January.
Not wishing for an early exit, the Cascades rebounded from Thursday’s setback by posting a 74-66 victory on Friday, led by a 21-point effort from forward Jasper Moedt.
Lethbridge scrapped to within one possession of UFV midway through the fourth quarter, but Moedt rattled off six-straight points to build momentum for a team that desperately needed some.
Predictions for game three: I like the home team’s chances in the deciding game of the series – UFV has an energetic crowd that could prove to be too much for the visiting Pronghorns. The thing that really scares me though, is that Cascades guard Joel Friesen only put up 11 points, then 10, in games one and two respectively. He’s due to go off, and I wouldn’t doubt if he has a big night and propels his team to the semifinals.