Arron Lai, Pronghorn Athletics
LETHBRIDGE, Alta -Hosting a playoff game for the third consecutive season, the University of Lethbridge Pronghorn men's basketball team rode their high octane offense to a 98-65 victory over the University of Victoria Vikes. With the victory, the 'Horns punch their ticket to the Canada West quarterfinals for a third consecutive year.
"I just thought we were really locked in defensively," explained sixth-year head coach Mike Hansen when asked about team's performance. "Our rotations were very good, and we did a great job on the glass."
"It was a true team effort tonight, I thought everyone made a contribution to the game and did a great job. Not just on the score sheet but all the little things you need to do to win at this time of year."
The Pronghorns never trailed in the game, outscoring the Vikes in every quarter (19-10, 28-14, 26-19, and 25-22), while showcasing why they held the highest scoring offense in Canada West during the regular season.
The Pronghorns entered the postseason on a high as the seventh seed, after a 12-8 season which saw them win eight of their last 10 games.
Tonight was seemingly déjà vu for the Vikes, having lost their season series against the 'Horns. They also lost two seasons ago to Lethbridge in a Canada West play-in series.
The 'Horns were led by fifth-year senior Zac Overwater who made a tremendous impact in his final game in the 1st Choice Savings Center. Overwater came just shy of a double-double, scoring 20 points on 7 of 12 shooting, while adding 9 rebounds. Keanu Funa was a big force off the bench for the 'Horns, contributing 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting. Mike Pierzchala posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Chad Oviatt also added 10 points for the home team.
The Vikes were led by Jake Newman (16 points, 5 rebounds), Jordan Charles (16 points, 6 rebounds), and Scott Kellum (14 points). Despite the loss, Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp was proud of his team's effort.
"The guys were trying and it was not always very effective but we have a great group of guys and I am proud of what they have done as a group. Tonight was a bit of an apparition but hats off to Lethbridge.
They came out strong and we were not ready. We played a good team in their home gym and they were just better than us tonight. Defensively we just could not get stops."
The Vikes appeared ready to play in the early going, matching the intensity and energy of the 'Horns. With the score at 7-6 for the visitors, the 'Horns fed off the energy from the capacity crowd, embarking on a 8-0 run, led by consecutive baskets from Brett Warren. The Pronghorns defense would overwhelm the Vikes in the quarter, as the visitors would score only seven points on field goals, while adding three more points via the charity stripe. Lethbridge would outrebound the Vikes 15-8 in the quarter, while six Pronghorns would find the scoresheet.
Overwater would take over for the Pronghorns in the second quarter, scoring the team's first nine points. Seemingly motivated by the strong play of their leader, Lethbridge would outscore the Vikes 19-9 for the remainder of the quarter, taking a 47-24 lead into halftime. The 'Horns would be relentless on the glass in the half, outrebounding the Vikes 29-13.
The Pronghorns would find another gear in the third quarter, showcasing exactly why they were the top offensive team in Canada West. Averaging 94.8 points per game, the 'Horns were able to reach the 73 point mark by the third quarter. The 'Horns added 17 rebounds in the quarter, while all 10 players who had entered the game at that point had scored.
The Pronghorns did not let up in the fourth quarter, continuing to push the pace. Eric Pierce would put the capacity crowd on their feet halfway through the quarter. After a team steal, Brett Warren would push the ball up the court to Pierce in transition who would sky up for a one handed slam that would send the crowd into a frenzy. With the game well in hand, Mike Hansen would look to his bench after pulling many of his starters with minutes remaining. The bench would perform well, adding 18 points en route to the 33 point victory.
With the victory, the Pronghorns will once again move on to the Canada West quarterfinals where they will face the Alberta Golden Bears for a third consecutive season. The Pronghorns have seen their season end in the playoffs the last two years at the hands of the Alberta Golden Bears, and hope to reverse their fortunes starting Thursday night in Alberta.
"We just got to make sure we execute against them and do a great job protecting the paint," said head coach Mike Hansen when asked about the matchup.
"Coach Craddock and I were roommates here at UofL. We talked yesterday, threw some jabs at each other going 'here we go again' playing each other. It's hard when you are playing someone you are so close to… He's taken the last two years from us but I think it is our turn to get some payback."
Thursday and Friday tip off is set for 8pm MT in Edmonton, while a potential deciding game three would go at 8pm MT on Saturday.
Photo by: MPP Photography