THE University of Winnipeg Wesmen men’s basketball squad staked a fresh victory in the battle of Manitoba on Sunday night, silencing the rival Bisons 73-61.
The two Manitoba teams met at the Duckworth Centre in the first university semifinal of the 47th annual Wesmen Classic, the longest-running university hoops tournament of its kind in Canada. With the win, the Wesmen punched their ticket to tonight’s final, and a chance to win the tournament that bears their name for the first time since 2006.
One day after pasting Alberta’s Lakeland College Rustlers 85-30, the Wesmen hopped onto the court and into a slightly slow start, as the Bisons pushed to a slim, early lead. But that wouldn’t last: With just over four minutes left in the first half, Sam Hattin hit a shot to pull the Bisons up 24-22. Moments later, fifth-year guard Andrew Cunningham followed suit, popping in a three-pointer to open the lead to five points.
Even when they were trailing by a hair with plenty of basketball left to play, Hattin said, the Wesmen weren’t worried. "It didn’t really feel like we were under too much pressure that game," he said. "I think we just needed to come together, like we did, and pull out the win."
By the time fans moseyed out of the gymnasium at halftime to refill their popcorn and pizza, the Wesmen were up 35-27. The Bisons did push back in the second half, but could never fully close the gap: Midway through the third, they came within striking distance at 41-38. But their chances continued to slip away, as the Wesmen kept it locked down: The home team made 64 per cent of their attempts through the final two frames to run away with the game.
"I think we were taking smarter shots, better percentage shots than we were in the first half," said Hattin, who led the Wesmen assault with 18 points and four rebounds, and was named player of the game. "We slowed it down a little bit, and executed well."
The loss piles on a tough season for the Bisons, who have struggled out of the gate this year. After 10 regular-season conference games, the Bisons have won just one, a Nov. 2 tilt against Mount Royal. The Wesmen will meet the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, who dropped the Regina Cougars 90-75.
Earlier on Sunday, the Garden City Fighting Gophers varsity squad dispatched the Kelvin Clippers 85-64 to earn their spot in tonight’s high school final against the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute Hawks. The Fighting Gophers have won the last three Wesmen Classic high school championships, and will hunt for their fourth in a row at 6 p.m. tonight at Duckworth Centre.