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Caught 'em on the rebound

Wesmen deliver a heart-stopping comeback to earn trip to final

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So, fall behind by 22 points.


Make stunning comeback.


Win the game to reach your own tournament final.


Revive the head coach on the bench -- well not quite.

While the University of Winnipeg Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault laughed when posed the sarcastic question of how trailing 30-8 in the first quarter was surely in the game plan, his team did battle back in a pressure-cooker of an atmosphere to beat the Mount Royal Cougars of Calgary 96-79 after completely laying an egg in the opening quarter.


The Wesmen will now play in the final of the 46th annual Wesmen Classic university men's basketball tournament tonight at 8 at the U of W Duckworth Centre against the Lakehead Thunderwolves.

The Thunderwolves advanced to the final with a 80-53 triumph over the Dickinson State Blue Hawks.

"They may have had their own game plan," Raimbault said smiling.

"Obviously it wasn't the way we wanted to start. Funny, I told them at halftime we did the same thing last year. Whether it's nerves or a little over anxious or rust, we've got to find a way tomorrow to come out and play better basketball for 40 minutes."

It will be the 28th time the Wesmen have appeared in the final of their own tournament, which carries plenty of history and some pageantry as the longest-running university tournament in Canada.

"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 Benny Iko, who had 22 points.

Winnipeg's Steven Wesley led all players with 10 rebounds 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.

In Saturday's semifinal, things went south early for the Wesmen. Mount Royal, in its first season as a CIS school after playing in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Association, was dropping shots, beating the Wesmen to loose balls and owning the boards.

By halftime and after a long buzzer-beater by Dominique Brown from deep in Winnipeg's own back court, the Wesmen trailed just 42-38.

In the third quarter, Winnipeg went on a 16-4 run that included some key buckets off rebounds by Iko and was capped by a three-point basket from Winkler's Krahn to tie the game at 54-54.

The Cougars scored the next basket but their night was over. In the fourth quarter the Wesmen went up by as much as 20.

"Mount Royal were really playing hard with good intensity and making all the hustle and energy plays that we were fortunate we were able to turn that table and do some of those things later on," Raimbault said.

"We have a lot of pride and the guys rallied and played hard. We were fortunate we were able to come back because a lot of times, if you find yourself in that position, you won't have that opportunity."

The Brandon Bobcats will play in the consolation final today 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 the University of Winnipeg won the Wesmen Classic was back in 2006.

University semifinals




WINNIPEG: Benny Iko 22, Travis Krahn 16, Jordan Clennon 14

MOUNT ROYAL: Awet Abraha 18, Nick Loewen 16




LAKEHEAD: Joe Hart 28, Yoosrie Salhia 17

DICKINSON STATE: Johnie Sanders 13, Jarek Hansen 11


Lakehead shot 50 per cent from the field in the first half to take over the game early as the Thunderwolves jumped to a 41-28 lead by halftime.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 30, 2012 B6

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