COACH Phil Penner isn't about to give anyone extra incentive to go after his Garden City Fighting Gophers boys' basketball team.
Everyone is already gunning for the province's top-ranked team.
Led by three players scoring more than 20 points each, the Gophers defeated the third-ranked St. Paul's Crusaders 89-72 on Saturday in the semifinal of the Wesmen Classic high school boys' basketball tournament at the University of Winnipeg's Duckworth Centre.
Garden City, last year's provincial and Wesmen Classic champion, will defend its Wesmen Classic title tonight at 6 p.m. against the second-ranked Oak Park Raiders.
Asked about what it meant to his team to have a chance to defend its title, Penner clearly preferred to let his team's play do the talking.
"I think it's awesome, you'd rather be in the final than not," Penner said, with a smile. "You certainly don't want to play at 9:30 in the morning. That's the one thing about this tournament, if you lose, they've got you early. I don't think any of our guys are used to being out of bed at 9:30 in the morning (on a Sunday)."
St. Paul's gets the 9:30 a.m. time slot today in the third place game against Kildonan East and will have some time to contemplate their loss to Garden City. The Crusaders trailed by 12 points at the half but fell behind by as much as 23 points in the third quarter.
"(The Gophers) are just relentless. We had plenty of energy going into the game but they just come at you and come at you, and pass the ball around and are so unselfish," said St. Paul's assistant coach Joe Kwan, filling in for head coach Jeff Laping who is away on vacation. "I told our guys, we can't fault our effort. Our guys gave 100 per cent the entire game."
Four of Garden City's five starters hit in double figures as Tynan Reyes knocked down 25 points, Josh Magpantay dropped 24, Malik Coleman scored 22 and Ryan Hawley dropped 17. St. Paul's was led by Justus Alleyn with 23 points and Malik Irwin 19 points.
While the Crusaders were troubled by early fouls forcing subsitutions, the Gophers didn't fall into that trap.
"We work on keeping our composure, in basketball we know everyone is so competitive so the best thing we can do is play our game and not let it bother us," said Garden City's Coleman, a Grade 12 player who earned a starting spot for the first time this season. "Now it's back-to-back finals, I love this tournament!"
Oak Park and Garden City have already met in a tournament championship final this month. The Gophers beat the Raiders 99-84 in the final of the Brandon Sun Spartan Invitational tournament during which Reyes scored 34 points for Garden City.
"Oak Park is an excellent team, we played them once already, and Junior Sesay is one of the best players in the province. They've got some bigs (big players), they've got shooters, It's going to be a heck of a game. Tell everybody to come out!" Penner said.