WINNIPEG – When the draw for the 50th annual Wesmen Classic was announced, it was clear the organizers were hoping to set up a crosstown clash.
They got what they wanted, as both the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen won their openers to advance to the semifinals of the Classic, but for a while it was no certainty.
The Wesmen opened their matchup with the Algoma Thunderbirds, a 2-7 team from The Soo, looking like they had just downed a turkey dinner. They were slow, disorganized and disinterested.
At one point late in the third quarter, the home team found themselves down 55-40. But a switch was flipped, and the Wesmen seemed to say, “We can’t lose this game, not on our court.”
Winnipeg finished on a 39-10 run to escape with a 79-65 win. Denzel Lynch-Blair keyed the comeback with 22 points, 12 of which came in the final quarter. Narcisse Ambanza finished with 16 points as the Thunderbirds simply had no answer once the Wesmen put their foot down.
The Bisons had no such problems with their opponent Wednesday night, dispatching Regina 100-79. Manitoba met little resistance attacking the rim all night, as Joey Nitychoruk led the way with 21 points while hitting all 10 of his shots from the field.
After a tight first quarter, the Bisons put the hammer down during the middle two frames, outscoring the Cougars 60-37 while shooting an absurd 72 per cent from the field.
The Bisons and Wesmen will now meet Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Duckworth Centre, the same spot where Manitoba edged Winnipeg 79-78 on December 3. The winner will face either Victoria or Alberta in Friday’s championship match.