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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wesmen too hot to handle

U of W hoopsters taking unbeaten mark on weekend road trip

Posted: 11/20/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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When they got hot before Christmas a year ago, winning 10 of 11 in one stretch, surprise was something of a factor for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball team.

This fall's 6-0 start to the Canada West season -- 4-0 at home plus two wins at Calgary -- is more about matching expectations, conference-leading scorer Steven Wesley said Tuesday.

"Last year, at the beginning, everyone wasn't sure how well we'd do," said Wesley, the fifth-year forward from Spokane, Wash. "It was kind of like more of a surprise. This year we expect to win games.

"I think expectations are a lot higher. This year it's no surprise."

With 21.8 points per game and an unbeaten league mark sharing top spot in the Prairie Division with Saskatchewan, Wesley said this year's Wesmen are simply deeper.

"We're really talented," he said. "We have a really deep team this year. One to 12, anybody, I feel we could all start on somebody's team. Last year we were a bit undersized and we've brought in some size this year. That fills a big gap. "We're still gelling, working some kinks out but I feel we're a really talented team."

Development

Wesley's teammate, fifth-year guard Andrew Cunningham, is today's Canada West assist leader (47) and sees the Wesmen as farther down the road in their in-season development.

"A lot of guys are back and we're a close group," the Toronto native said. "A lot of the key pieces that came in have bought into the system really well so it's not much fitting in so far. That's making us a lot better early.

"(Our start) tells us that we can beat good teams, especially on the road. Those were tough wins in Calgary. Guys can actually grind and get it done when we need to."

The last four Wesmen wins have been by six points or fewer, so there's already some clutch in the team's game.

And more will be needed ahead -- the Wesmen have their last four games before the Christmas break on the road, starting with this weekend at UBC on Friday and Victoria Saturday.

"We've been in some close games," Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault said before Tuesday's practice. "It's to be expected in the conference. We have a good corps back from last year who were also in some tight games together and we've been able to make plays when we've needed to at both ends of the floor.

"But I don't know if we'd read too much into the win-loss record. We just want to keep getting better. A part of it is your schedule will sometimes dictate how things go. And to win two on the road has already been a tough challenge. And this week, we'll have our work cut out for us. The focus is continued improvement."

This weekend's trip includes a visit to Victoria, which ousted the Wesmen in last spring's Canada West semifinal.

"We do owe them something," Wesley said. "They put us out last year, everyone knows that. It was rough for us. I'm really excited for the weekend; we can't look over UBC (Friday night)."

Added Cunningham: "I think we owe ourselves something. I think we sold ourselves a bit short in that (playoff) game. We didn't play to our full potential."

One of the characteristics of this year's Wesmen is that they're getting comfortable with Raimbault's preferred up-tempo style and in doing that, they've been winning the ball-control game. Winnipeg is the best team in Canada West at steals, 65, and in the turnover ratio, at plus-seven per game.

But nobody's getting too far ahead of themselves at the Duckworth Centre. There's lots of work to do, Raimbault said, and one of those items is improving on a conference-worst free-throw percentage of 58.9.

"I think it's a huge issue," the coach said. "We're last in the league. It's a big part of it. Both games last weekend, we maybe had a chance to put the game away and missed free throws and had to get a defensive stop. It's a point of concern, something that needs to be addressed."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2013 D4

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