It was a good day for University of Winnipeg point guard Andrew Cunningham to make a comeback.
Cunningham, who broke a bone in his foot during a pre-season practice in October, brought a commanding presence and a calming influence to the Wesmen who won their opening game of the 45th Wesmen Classic university men's basketball tournament on Wednesday at the U of W Duckworth Centre.
The Wesmen beat the Keyano College Huskies from Fort McMurray, Alta., 78-70.
The Wesmen advance to the tournament's 6:30 p.m. semifinal tonight against the Valley City State Vikings, who beat the Manitoba Bisons 80-72 in Wednesday's late game.
The other semifinal, which will be played tonight at 8:30 p.m., will see the Brandon Bobcats meet the UBC Okanagan Heat.
Rust, nerves, stress -- the Wesmen could have picked one from the list -- and a decent inside game by Keyano College caused the game to be a lot closer down the stretch than the Wesmen would have liked.
"I'm a lot better now that's over," Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault said with a laugh. The Wesmen had last played on Dec. 1 in Canada West conference action before play concluded for the Christmas break.
"Hopefully we got a bit of the rust off and our timing back. We've seen in the first three games of this tournament everyone is a step off and we've got to come back tomorrow with a better effort and now that we've welcomed Andrew back, we've got to get back in the flow of the game as well."
The 5-foot-10 Cunningham came off the bench and played 29 minutes, was Winnipeg's second-leading scorer with 13 points, had five steals and was named the player of the game. Winnipeg was led by 15 points by Eric Zimmerman and got 11 points from Brayden Duff.
"Considering (Cunningham) hadn't played in 14 weeks and had two practices, he had a heck of a night and had the type of night that we expected when he came here that he was going to have on a regular basis and he's only going to get better," Raimbault said.
"He turns a lot of broken possessions into good ones in a hurry so to have him back in the lineup makes us tougher in the full court but also in the half court. As he gets some legs under him, he'll also give us another guy that can get after it, on the ball, defensively."
Cunningham said he would like to see the Wesmen take better care of the ball in the semifinal round.
"We've got to eliminate the mistakes of unforced turnovers and I think we'll be fine," said Cunningham, whose team turned the ball over 16 times in the first half and 22 times overall. "We shot ourselves in the leg a lot of times and without those turnovers, we could have been up 20 points. But we settled in and got the job done."
The Wesmen trailed Keyano College, the only time since the first quarter, by a 61-60 score about two minutes into the fourth quarter before a jump shot by Winnipeg's James Horaska restored the Wesmen lead.