Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bisons sweep crosstown hoops battle

Nail-biting moments dot the annual confrontation

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In a pair of thrilling hoops battles that lit up Thursday night, the University of Manitoba Bisons beat their biggest rivals to claim local bragging rights.

When the final buzzer blew at Investors Group Athletic Centre, the Bisons had swept the annual Duckworth Challenge against the University of Winnipeg Wesmen, adding men's and women's basketball victories to three previous wins over their crosstown rivals in the event.

It's just the fourth time in the Challenge's 23-year history that either school has swept everything. After a disappointing season for the Bison fellas, the victory was special.

"The Wesmen is literally the game that's got an X on it all year," said Wesmen captain Amir Ali. "We could both be 1-and-20, everybody's still pumped up for that one. We had a lot of games that were decided by two (points) or three. With a young team, to be able to learn from it and finish a close three-point game, it means a lot. And it means a lot moving forward, too."

Both games were nail-biters, with the women's contest especially an emotional rollercoaster driven by rowdy crowds and banging drums right until overtime ended. The women played tug of war for the win. The Wesmen shot more, but the Bisons shot better. The Wesmen scratched out a lead, but the Bisons pushed back to close the gap. Twice, the fate of the game rested in fourth-year Bison forward Vanessa De Vries' hands, and both times were a killer.

The first time, she potted a free throw to force overtime with only seconds left. In the bonus basketball, with the teams tied at 66 and under 10 seconds left on the clock, De Vries drew a foul from Wesmen guard Danielle Baril and had to repeat the feat. Her first throw missed, but the second one swished to give the Bisons a 67-66 lead.

"I thought I was going to throw up," said De Vries, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds and was named the Bisons' player of the game. "It seems like a lot of pressure, but at the time, you're kind of tuning everything out. I was just like, 'Here we go, baby. Let's win this.' "

Win they did: With just eight seconds left on the clock, Bisons guard Sheree Carmona-Galdamez added another pair of free-throw points to widen the lead to 69-66.

That sealed the Bisons' win with one more game left to play today against the Wesmen before they get ready for the playoffs. For the Wesmen women, there will be no such preparations. The loss knocked them out of post-season contention.

In the men's game, the situations were reversed: While the Wesmen are sitting fourth in their division and locked into a playoff spot, the Bisons men are out of the race after a difficult season. So with nothing but the Duckworth Centre bragging rights on the line, the Bisons put up a brave battle against their sturdier crosstown rivals.

The teams were tied at 14 after the first quarter,and tied again at 31 going into the halftime break. Even as the teams battened down the hatches in the third frame, the Wesmen started to pull away, grabbing a 43-37 lead more than halfway through. But the Bisons chipped away at that too, and once again they wrapped the third quarter tied at 46.

In the fourth, again it looked like the Wesmen might hold onto the lead, going ahead as high as 60-56. But then second-year U of M guard Amarjit Basi hit big, popping in a pair of three-pointers in the fourth as the Bisons pushed back. They seized the lead on a free throw by from Dan Penner, and padded it to 70-67 and the winning score.

Then they went home to rest. They face off again against the Wesmen at the Duckworth tonight. "Tomorrow's going to be a lot more pumped up," men's captain Ali said. "You'll see a lot of that fire earlier on, as you did coming down the stretch today."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2014 C7

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