Winnipeg – The U of M Bisons Men’s Basketball Team doesn’t have a ton of time to soak up the glory of their first National Championship Tournament appearance in 31 years. Nor do they have many “free” hours to worry about Saturday Night’s 92-73 beat down at the hands of the Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West Final Four Championship game at Calgary. They’re counting on both of those results to be positives as they prepare for a 12 p.m. tipoff CT versus the Quebec Champion McGill Redmen on Thursday Afternoon at the Halifax Metro Centre.
An upbeat Head Coach, Kirby Schepp was certainly taking that view following a details oriented practice on Monday afternoon at the Investors Group Athletic Centre. “In some ways the Saturday Game – unfortunately did that,” was how Schepp responded to the question of whether his troops had come down from their emotional victory the night before versus the host Calgary Dinos. “Our goal all year has been to get to Halifax. So we got to Halifax, the Can West Championship Game was kind of an after-thought. We didn’t perform real well, so the good side is – maybe that got it out of our system a little bit. If not, 8 hours in airports on Tuesday might help us a little too.”
The Bisons had reeled off 5 straight post-season wins before the Golden Bears put an unceremonious end to that streak on Saturday. But Senior Guard Keith Omoerah says the team’s confidence remains intact after also going 8-2 down the stretch in the regular season. “We’re focussed, we’re ready to go,” said the 6-4, 200 pound Grant Park Grad who shared the team scoring lead versus Alberta with 17 points. “It’s a quick turnaround from our disappointment in Calgary. You know, sometimes that’s the way it happens- but we’re ready to Rock N Roll. We’re ready for McGill on Thursday. We might have been a little too high on ourselves. It definitely focuses us and we’re even hungrier than we would have been.”
And the 6th seeded Bisons are going to have to be everything and more against the 3rd ranked Redmen who won their 4th Quebec Conference title in 5 years with a 63-51 win over Concordia just a few hours before the U of M was taking to the court against Alberta. “They’re consistently- and this year is no different, one of the best defensive teams in the entire country,” said Coach Schepp. “They’re going to grind you down. They’re going to get after you and compete. We expect nothing less out of them. They’ve been there before so it’s certainly going to be no easy task.”
And that’s why Schepp says the confident, but not cocky Herd are excited for the opportunity, and “not scared of anyone.”
Based on statistics, it really seems to boil down to a contrast of styles. Schepp readily admits his Bisons have been one of the higher paced teams in U-Sports the last few years. “And they play a half court game, so we’ll see which style wins out. We’re anxious to see if we can get the ball going up and down for sure.” But Omoerah says that doesn’t mean the U of M are a one trick pony. “as much as we wanna get out and push, you can’t win games unless you’re playing good defence. It’s going to be a defensive battle both ways. Whoever hunkers down more, commits less turnovers, gets more rebounds- the little things- that’s who is going to take the game.”
But what about the experience factor? McGill star Guard Jeremy Leung, who led the way with 15 points in the conference championship win over Concordia says him and his team mates have a thing or two to prove after a pair of “under achieving” Final 8 performances. U of M Captain A.J. Basi feels his team is battled tested after a pair of Can West Final Four Appearances, and winning a pair of nail biters at UBC in the second round of this year’s playoffs. “We’re a veteran group. Part of that is we’re not getting too carried away with the big headlines of Bisons are finally heading to Nationals after three decades,” said the senior guard. One of Eight U of M Players in their final season. “We’re obviously not going to take it for granted. But it’s a lot of guys last rides, our last week together. So we’ll make the most of it.”
While both teams coaching staffs are burning the midnight oil to find out what ever they can on game film, Schepp says it would be a mistake to try and throw in a few “new looks” at this stage of the game. The players were given Sunday off. Held their one and only full practice on Monday. Travel Tuesday. Get a 50 minute workout on the competition floor on Wednesday. And then it’s game time on Thursday. “I got new wrinkles rolling around in my brain,” said the always personable Schepp. But I know just because they’re tolling around in my brain, it doesn’t mean it’s going to translate in their’s,” as the coach pointed towards his players who were into an end of practice shoot around.
“My Coach had a great line when I went to Nationals as a player in ’93,” said the former U of W Wesmen. “You gotta dance with the girl you took to the party. That’s what we’re gonna do. We know the girl we brought to the party. We’re gonna dance with her. We’re not going around looking for another girl.”