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CIS Halifax: Day 2

This is stale-dated, unfortunately; I wasn’t able to post directly from Halifax, but here are my notes on Day 2 (Saturday’s semifinal play) of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s basketball championships.

Games 5 & 6 (Consolation Semifinals): The tournament’s top two seeds, Concordia and BC, overcame their first-round disappointments to advance on the Consolation side of the draw. Some consolation. It’s another distinguishing feature of the Canuck national final that there even IS a chance for first-round losers to play again; it is universally win-or-go-home in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, where even the third-place game in the Final Four was done away with 35 years ago. It’s hard for CIS athletes – especially those who genuinely believed that they were in the championship hunt – to commit mentally to the consolation round, but the competitive jones kicks in sooner or later as long as the game doesn’t get away from them early. For the administrators, it is simpler: Look, if we’re travelling all that way, we have to get at least two games. It’s money, but I’m not sure it makes even economic sense to play a game that nobody much wants to play or watch. At development levels, of course there has to be the chance to play the extra games, but with elite athletes? I don’t see the point, really. I must be missing something.

That having been said, top-seed Concordia pulled away from a lethargic Windsor team that was never really in it. Down 20 midway through the first period, the Lancers made a minor comeback in the second but never made it interesting. Yesterday’s doubts were confirmed: Windsor’s Wilson Cup home-court win over Carleton, which had little bearing on seeding for the Final 8, was their national championship, emotionally. The Stingers’ Patrick Perrotte, after a tough game one, was dominant inside against the Lancers. He’s an odd-looking player, a “Mister 5 by 5” who plays the post at a wide-bodied 6’1”. You’d never pick him out of a police lineup as a basketball player – he looks more like the guy who owns (and is the bouncer for) the slightly seedy bar downtown – but he’s powerful, skilled, very intelligent and has remarkably nimble feet for a man of his heft. Perrotte’s running mate, Benjamin Sormonte, also shot the lights out.

In the second consolation game, a casual UBC team allowed an Acadia club, scarlet from their 48-point spanking by Carleton the night before, to recover some pride. It seemed inevitable, though, that the Thunderbirds — maybe the most talented crew in the country — came back from a large early deficit to win fairly comfortably. Casey Archibald was a revelation, seemingly able to dial up a graceful offensive sally whenever it was needed. What a beautiful jumpshot. “How is this guy not on the national team?” was a conversation running through my section; he wouldn’t dunk on international competition as he does here, but he’s a 6’4″ guard who can shoot the long bomb and the pull-up mid-range shot. At this level, he takes over when he feels like it, and notched another 30-point effort. At the same time, the other thread running through the knowledgeable fans in the Carleton section was that he “couldn’t play for us”. Too soft? Not committed to defence? I’m not sure what was meant by that, other than Ravens Pride, but it was great to see him play after all that I’ve read. He’s the real deal, and what a great career, despite the T-Birds’ chronic failures at the Nationals.

Game 7 (Championship Semifinal): Brandon v. Saint Mary’s. After the Huskies upset Concordia in the opener, this game was exhibit B of the competitive advantage that the small Atlantic University Sport conference has had by virtue of hosting the Nationals for the past 24 years. Three times, for example, their conference runner-up has qualified as the 8th-seeded  host school and knocked off the tournament number one in the first round. It’s home cooking, baby, though not of the refereeing variety, at least not directly. But they’ve played at the Metro Centre frequently, which is a very different venue from the campus gyms that nearly all CIS games are played in, and Halifax comes out in force to yell for the Maritime teams. Here, the Huskies were decidedly outmanned against the Bobcats, but Brandon failed to put the finish on their 17-point second-half lead, and the loud crowd helped Saint Mary’s to come within three in a raucous run to the buzzer. When only one Atlantic school gets an automatic bid to Nationals over the next three years — they’re moving to Ottawa after their long Halifax engagement — things will be very different for the east-coast schools. Can AUS teams have anywhere near the success they’ve had during the Halifax years? One thing they won’t have: scoreboard “rally monkeys” bouncing and imploring the crowd to MAKE NOISE for Saint Mary’s. It clearly rattled the Bobcats, and gave renewed energy to a very tired group of Huskies.

Game 8 (Championship Semifinal): Ottawa v. Carleton. Round Four of the “Canal War” between these Capital rivals had the Carleton fans worried. OU gets up for the Ravens as they do for nobody else, and they had won two of the three tense struggles they’d had. I guessed that this would not be the case when it came to the Nationals, and my prediction of a relatively easy 13-point Carleton win suffered only from being too tentative. Carleton ground down a very game Ottawa team, which knew early in the second half that there were no more miracles in their toolkit. The Ravens were nearly as dominant, at times, as they had been in crushing Acadia in the first round. The lead got near 30, and the final spread was a startling 22 points. For those of you counting these things, that made for a 70-point margin of victory in Carleton’s first two games. If people wanted to see them go down, last year was the time to get them, when second team All-Canadian Aaron Doornekamp was out with a broken ankle. Astonishingly, the Ravens won anyway last year, and I can’t see anybody getting them now. They are SO hard to play against.

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