The University of Winnipeg Wesmen have the bragging rights in this town for the next year.
For the first time since 2008, the Wesmen defeated the University of Manitoba Bisons in the annual Duckworth Challenge, sweeping both ends of a basketball doubleheader at Duckworth Centre Wednesday night to win the 22nd annual renewal of the two-day, four-game event, three games to one.
With the two schools tied 1-1 heading into last night, a 68-60 overtime victory by the Wesmen women in the first game left the Bisons men needing to win the second game to even the series and send it to a total-points tiebreaker.
But the Wesmen men were equal to the task, taking a seven-point lead into halftime, a six-point lead into the fourth quarter and then winning a furious final two minutes to emerge with a 74-71 victory and the Duckworth Shield that is presented annually to the winner.
"I’ve only been in the city a couple of months," said Wesmen forward Steven Wesley, who led all players with 21 points, "but I already get the gist of how big this thing is to the city. Everybody came out and played hard and we just executed."
In addition to giving them the win in the Duckworth Challenge, last night’s Wesmen victory gives them the edge over Manitoba in the Canada West standings heading into the Christmas break, improving Winnipeg’s season record to 8-3 and giving them sole possession of second place in the Praire Conference while the Bisons fell to third place at 7-4.
The Duckworth Challenge, which began Tuesday night at Investors Group Athletic Centre, was tied 1-1 heading into Wednesday night after the two schools split a pair of volleyball matches the night before.
The Bisons women’s basketball team was just 2-8 heading into last night and trailed the Wesmen almost from the opening tip-off, but they went on a run midway through the third quarter to take a 37-30 lead.
The Manitoba women were still leading by six points — 54-48 — with just four minutes remaining in the game and appeared to be poised to record what would have been their first win on the road in seven games.
But Wesmen guard Yael Kaplan, who led the Wesmen in scoring with 19 points, tied the game with a three-pointer with under two minutes to play and the teams were still tied at 58-58 when the final buzzer sounded.
The Wesmen women simply took over in the five-minute overtime period, outscoring the Bisons 10-2 in the extra period to improve their season record to 5-6 heading into the Christmas break.
"We wanted that win and were willing to do anything to get it," said the Wesmen player of the game, guard Stephanie Kleysen, who finished with 14 points. "There’s definitely more of an environment playing the Bisons. Just the whole cross-town rivalry. Everyone comes to play that day. It’s always both teams’ best games and a fun game to watch."
Bisons co-head coach Melanie Hynes was asked after the game if there was consolation to be drawn from the effort put forth by her team. "Yeah, consolation is kind of the theme right now," Hynes laughed. "Just small victories. We have goals before every game and if we just meet those, we’re hoping they’ll get us wins eventually.
"But hey, we’ve come a long way since we first played (the Wesmen) two-and-a-half months ago. So yeah, there’s definitely a small win there."
The Bisons still lead the all-time Duckworth series at 11-6-5.