Wolves start nationals
Only two wildcard teams enter the tournament, and the UNBC Northern Timberwolves will see the other one to open their schedule on Thursday.
The Timberwolves are ranked fourth entering this week’s eight-team Canadian Colleges Athletic Association men’s basketball nationals in Oshawa, Ont. Their opposition, the Lethbridge College Kodiaks, are seeded fifth.
UNBC and Lethbridge are scheduled to tip off at 3 p.m. (6 p.m. Eastern Time). It’ll be the third of four games on the first day of competition.
In a tournament with five regional champions, a first-round wildcard contest may seem hardly fair. It’s a rare occurrence for Day 1 of this competition, and it’s hard imaging the teams meeting in any other position than as middle ranked teams. It also speaks strengths about their respective associations, the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association (BCCAA) and Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC).
The Timberwolves, the defending CCAA national champions, lost 96-90 in the B.C. final to the Vancouver Island University Mariners. The Kodiaks dropped a 93-66 decision to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Ooks in the Alberta final. Vancouver Island and NAIT are ranked first and second respectively.
“We probably didn’t have the strongest conferences overall, but our top teams were right up there with anyone in the country,” UNBC head coach Todd Jordan said.
Silver medals they have in common. But most similarities between the Timberwolves and Kodiaks end there. They haven’t even met despite UNBC, the hosts of the 2009 national tournament, making its third consecutive appearance at the CCAA competition with experience playing ACAC teams in exhibition games.
To familiarize themselves, the Timberwolves watched video of the Kodiaks in action last week.
“They’re a really good team. They’re similar to us. They run quite a bit,” Timberwolves fifth-year guard Inderbir Gill said. “They play up tempo, they got nice big guys, and they have a lot of size too. It’s going to be a tough game for us, but we feel like we’re ready.”
The Timberwolves will be keeping their eyes on a couple of second-year players on the Lethbridge roster, forward Dominyck Coward and guard Morgan Duce. Jordan said Coward, who’s listed at six-foot-six, rebounds the ball really well and Duce shoots with accuracy.
Since their BCCAA championship game against the Mariners was on March 5 in Abbotsford, the Timberwolves had more than a week to prepare for nationals.
“I think just consistently defending with a little bit more intensity (we’ve been working on) more than anything,” Jordan said. “ We just worked on some small execution details this week and it’s been good. Nothing major, we just have to be a little better at what we do.”
The other entries in this week’s tournament, with conference in parenthesis, are: the No. 3 Humber College Hawks of Toronto (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association), No. 6 Mount Saint Vincent University Mystics of Halifax (Atlantic Colleges Athletic Association), No. 7 Vanier College Cheetahs of Montreal (Quebec Student Sport Federation) and No. 8 Durham College Lords of Oshawa (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association, host).
The Timberwolves were scheduled to fly to Oshawa on Tuesday. Team practices are today, followed by the CCAA All-Canadian Banquet. The tournament’s championship game is on Saturday at 5 p.m.
Updated results and live video is available through the tournament website at www.ccaamensbasketball2011.ca. The Free Press will run updates at www.pgfreepress.com.
Jordan hopes the experience of last year’s national title provides a boost to his squad.
“But anytime you’re in a one and done situation, the bottom line is you have to go out and execute and stuff. Experience you hope helps you keep your nerves under control and those sort of things in those situations,” he said. “But the biggest thing, one and done, really at the end of the day, if you don’t go out and play hard and execute your stuff, the experience doesn’t matter.”
A 24-year-old Spokane product, Gill joined the UNBC program in the 2008 offseason and was named the the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 tournament at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary.
“I’ve been here three years and through all three years we’ve been lucky enough to go, fortunate enough to go to nationals and it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “I think a lot of teams don’t get this chance and we should try to make the most out of it.”