The University of Calgary men’s basketball team is battle-ready after splitting a Feb. 9-10 series against upcoming playoff opponent, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. The split gives the Dinos a record of 11-11 on the season and a third-place finish in the Central division.
Fri., Feb. 9 was an emotional night for the Dinos as the team honoured fifth-year veterans Josh Feist, Brian Finniss and Sonny Khangura in their second-last regular season game of their Canadian Interuniversity Sports careers.
The pre-game tribute seemed to suck some of the life out of both teams, and the Dinos play was full of peaks and valleys in the first half. Luckily, the Dinos only found themselves down 34-30 at the break
In the second half the Dinos dominated the game. They managed to tie the game at 42 with 14:30 remaining and then went on a 12-3 run over the next four minutes, taking a 54-45 lead. From then on the Huskies never cut the lead to less than nine points. Calgary ended up out-rebounding the Huskies 42-35 and had 17 turnovers to the Huskies’ 24 as they fought to a 75-60 victory. The win was the Dinos’ fifth straight.
Afterwards Dino head coach Dan Vanhooren described the game as an emotional one for his team and was happy with his team’s play.
“The kids played tough and I was really proud of them,” said Vanhooren, noting he didn’t want to give the Huskies any indication of how he was going to play the Husky power combo of Andrew Spagrud and Rejean Chabot in the upcoming playoff series.
“We wanted to play them straight up [and] hold our cards to our chest,” said Vanhooren.
Husky forward and All-Canadian Spagrud was held in check by second-year Dino Ross Bekkering, who matched Spagrud in points with 17. Feist earned Dino player of the game honours by scoring 18 points and adding eight assists.
The Dinos were without their leading scorer Saturday, as Feist had a family commitment to attend. Dino guard Tony Dhaliwal had the large task of filling the 5’9″ guard’s shoes.
The Dinos trailed for most of the first half as the Huskies were led by forward Kyle Grant’s 11 points, but were only down 36-35 at the break.
The Huskies eventually extended their lead to 10 points with under 13 minutes left. The Dinos didn’t quit, and cut the Husky lead to five with five minutes to go. That would be as good as things got for the Dinos, as the Huskies won 79-70.
Chabot had 17 points for the Huskies and Spagrud had a double-double with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds. Robbie Sihota had a double-double for the Dinos with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Dhaliwal had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists, stepping in for Feist.
The Dinos were obviously missing Feist, but Vanhooren was pleased with Dhaliwal’s effort.
“Some guys might press a bit more [with Feist out], but Tony did a great job running [the plays].”
The Dinos had some tough luck when Jeremy Odland received a hard foul to his jaw. Odland’s jaw was broken on the play and will require surgery. Several of his teeth were also broken when a Saskatchewan player tried to block Odland’s layup attempt. Odland will be in the hospital for several days after the surgery and will require several weeks to get back to eating regularly. This is a tough loss for the Dinos as Odland was playing great basketball lately and had a 20-point game against the Brandon University Bobcats Jan. 20.
Despite the loss of Odland, the Dinos are a confident team heading into the first round of the playoffs next weekend. They had their winning streak snapped at five games, but the Dinos are a much improved team since the start of the season and have an excellent chance next weekend of advancing to play the Central division champion University of Alberta Golden Bears.
“[We’re in a] very positive, good frame of mind since Christmas,” said Vanhooren. “This game isn’t any indication of anything to come from either side.”
Khangura, who had 12 points for the Dinos, shared his coach’s optimism, and noted Saturday’s loss didn’t do anything to temper it.
“We’re feeling pretty confident right now,” said Khangura. “[Saturday,] we shot terribly and we were missing our leading scorer.”
The Dinos have their season on the line next weekend as they take on the Huskies in Saskatoon in a best of three series. Both teams are evenly matched and the series could very likely require all three games to settle it.