The University of Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball team will play in the championship final of its own tournament thanks to a stunning comeback.
The Wesmen stormed back from a 22-point first-quarter deficit to defeat the Mount Royal Cougars 96-79 in Saturday night'ss first semifinal of the 46th annual Wesmen Classic.
Winnipeg will play in the tournament's championship final on Sunday at 8 p.m. against the Lakehead Thunderwolves. Lakehead beat the Dickinson State Blue Hawks 80-53 in Saturday's other semifinal.
It will be the 28th time the Wesmen have appeared in the final of their own tournament, which carries plenty of history and some pagentry as the longest-running university tournament in Canada.
Led by player-of-the-game Benny Iko, who scored 22 points, the Wesmen battled back from a 30-8 deficit.
"I think it was maybe a loss of focus. Maybe we were looking forward to the future more than the game," said fifth-year Wesmen forward Iko, who added seven rebounds. Winnipeg’s Steven Wesley led all players with 10 boards while Travis Krahn chipped in with 16 points — including four three-pointers.
"Then it all clicked between everybody," Iko said. "We all realized what was at stake, how serious it was to win this game. I kind of put it on myself. I was like, I don’t want to see us lose this game... I didn’t want to see us make an early exit again."
Iko was a member of the Wesmen team that lost 80-60 in the 2010 Wesmen Classic final to the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Mount Royal got 16 points from Winnipeg native Nick Loewen and 18 from Awet Abraha.
In the earlier high school boys' semifinal, the Garden City Fighting Gophers earned the chance to defend their Wesmen Classic title by beating the St. Paul's Crusaders 89-72.
Garden City will now meet the Oak Park Raiders in the championship game on Sunday at 6 p.m.
In the semifinal game, Tynan Reyes led Garden City with 25 points while Josh Magpantay added 24 points and Malik Coleman scored 22 points. Justus Alleyn was St.Paul's leading scorer with 23 points.
Also on Sunday, the Brandon Bobcats will play in the consolation final at 2 p.m. against the Keyano College Huskies from Fort McMurray, Alta. Playing for seventh place at noon is UNBC against Mayville State. The third place game is at 4 p.m. between Mount Royal and Dickinson State.
The last time Winnipeg won the Wesmen Classic was in 2006.