Baller boys bounced by bullying Bears

The Dinos men’s basketball team’s season was cut short of March Madness. The do-or-die Canada West central division semi-final best-of-three series Feb. 17-19 killed hopes for a miraculous win as the University of Alberta Golden Bears clutched the Dinos’ purse of dreams and ran off to Saskatchewan. The weekend brought back painful memories from when the Bears won the central division semi-final on the Dinos’ home court last season.

Many Dinos had double-doubles over the weekend, with solid efforts from every player on the floor. Friday was the most painful, with a last-minute buzzer shot from Bear Alex Steele creeping in to give the Bears the win by a single point.

In typical Dino/German-train fashion, the game began slow and uneasy, then confidently steamed on ahead. Our own Chris Wright was strong on rebounds under the hoop, also stacking on 22 points for the team. In predictable fashion, Ross Bekkering, the not-so-rookie, stayed close with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

These figures seemed to paint the Dino victory in black. A foul-shot battle between Dino Cody Darrah and Bear Tyson Jones left the Dinos up 72-74. But Jones sent a pass to Steele just two seconds before the zeros. The result: a three-point shot that sealed the game for the Golden Bears 75-74.

This loss steeped the pressure for Saturday, but the Dinos’ shoes were made for running, and that’s just what they did. Heart and soul, fans fell in love with Feist. He tore a strip off the hardwood with a double-double showing of 12 points and 11 rebounds, adding five steals for extra credit. Key foul shooting from Wright left him with 16 points while Bekkering jumped off the bell curve with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

Not big enough? Consider that, as a whole, the team out-shot the Bears, hitting 44 per cent to the Bears’ 43. While all the I’s seemed to be dotted and the stars aligned, the men acted out a soap opera in the final seconds of the game.

An astonishing love-hate relationship developed between Golden Bear Andrew Parker, the referees and the Dinos. The episode ended with an insane call against the Dinos for retreating into their own half, followed by a technical foul against Parker. Once the dust cleared the score read 70-67 for the Dinos. Because, apparently, two games just wasn’t enough to detect an ulcer.

As always, the Survivor finale was on Sunday. This time, with the Bears hungry and Steele once again in the golden light, our men couldn’t beat the U of A on their own court. The Bears reclined to a 48-33 half-time lead.

The second half didn’t bode much better. The score half way through was a dismal 74-44. Alberta shot 54 per cent from the field, while Feist, Bekkering and Wright were once again the Dinos’ big spenders. Feist hit four of six three-pointers to add to his 20-point total. Bekkering was just shy of another double-double, with 11 points and eight rebounds and Wright put in 11 points and hauled six down off the glass. But it just wasn’t enough to reign victorious, and the Bears took an 87-65 win in Wright’s last game.

“Sunday’s game was disappointing for everyone,” emphasized head coach Dan Vanhooren. “But I think, as a team, we just didn’t have enough energy to get the job done. Friday’s game was ultimately the most important game for us to win, and we lost on a lucky shot, on the buzzer. That was a heartbreaker and hard to take emotionally, but I think it showed a lot about our guys, from a character perspective.”

Friday and Saturday’s emotional and energetic games just sifted the Dinos’ energy for a Sunday defeat that was not reflective of what the Dinos could really do. But from Vanhooren’s perspective, such a young team needed the playoff experience.

“From a whole season perspective, we’re pretty excited about where the team is at, what we’ve accomplished this year, and the experiences we’ve gained with the kids,” he said. “The only person I’m disappointed for is Chris Wright. He’s a fifth-year guy and I would have loved to have seen him get a chance at [Canada West finals] again, and unfortunately, he didn’t get that chance.”

Realistically, assistant coach Wayne Thomas also described the loss as heartbreaking, not just because of the outcome, but because of the loss of such team chemistry.

“Having formed in the summer and early fall and gone through so much together, it was disappointing to have it come to such a sudden stop,” he said.

But don’t eulogize the Dinos just yet. Seeing them interact just a week after their loss, the mechanics of the team are set up for another excellent season. The seniors of next season’s line up, Feist and Brian Finniss–in between joking about not needing the rookies at all–have their own goals for next season.

“I’d like to get to Canada West finals,” hopes Feist. “Chris is all done now, but he’s got a Canada West final under his belt, so it would be nice to get that. I’d love to go to nationals. [This summer] I’m going to try to get better all over; just put a little weight on, work on my shot, kind of just all facets of the game.”

Finniss agrees with his teammate that they had hoped to do better, but also has Canada West finals on the brain for his final year as a Dino. For now, amidst the training and the preparation, all the Dinos can hope the fans do is come out next season.

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