If It’s Any Consolation – And It Likely Wasn’t

I’m at the CIS Final 8, the men’s basketball championships. My opening round account, in living black and white, is here, if you want to catch up. (I want to catch up.) The semifinals last night were great, but I’ve stubbornly insisted on writing up the consolation round first. And the title match is coming in 42 minutes and 47 seconds, so let’s get this reading party started!


Was Anybody Consoled?

As an obsessive consumer of all things Final 8 this weekend in Toronto, I wonder: if they held “consolation” games for first-round tournament losers, and no one was consoled by the experience, did anybody come? The simple answer is ‘no’, since the Mattamy Centre at Ryerson was an echoing bowl containing mostly lacklustre games, a small group of steadfastly cheerful parents, smiled-out volunteers, pouting coaches and whoever the rest of us, maybe 100 not-so-strong, were. As always, the longer answer is more interesting. Why does this tournament have a consolation round?

We usually console after death, or at least some notable loss, and I suppose young athletes with a dream of trophy-hoisting qualify for the latter. The word comes from the Latin consolari, “to offer solace, encourage, comfort, cheer”. If there was comfort, it was chilly; if there was cheer, it was certainly muted, especially for Dalhousie and Bishop’s universities, who got to add a second insulting ‘L’ to their injuries in losing close games to Victoria and Ottawa, respectively. I’m sure, too, that it felt better than a kick in the head for the universities of Saskatchewan and Windsor to win (the Big W) that second day, but Windsor’s coach, Chris Oliver in particular seemed especially uninterested. Of course, the competitive juices kick in for the players, and the second halves of these games are routinely more energetic than the first. That was a slight consolation to my weary eyes.

Now, if it weren’t for consolation games, my inexperienced team of high school basketball players wouldn’t have won a game in the four competitive tournaments we entered. (Scoreboard: we won two of the guaranteed 12 games that we got by paying our entry fees. Yay, Lords!) In the only slightly less low-budget world of Canadian university sport, the usual explanation for this “loser games” tradition is this: if we’re going to fly from Vancouver/Halifax/Regina/Quebec City, we have to be guaranteed a second game. Yet nobody really wants to play them – the NCAA “Madness” was always “one (loss) and done”, well before the time of talented kids having an NBA prep year of “education”, and even the Final Four’s 3rd-place game was abandoned over 40 years ago. University administration, it seems, insists upon it. We’re not going to pay for an extra night of hotels unless we get to play a meaningless and undisciplined game or two. There may be a stronger argument than that, but I haven’t heard it.

Anyway. To the Encouragement Games!

There was a distinct lack of interest, especially on the defensive end, during the so-called consolation semifinal. Saskatchewan, after their first-round pasting by Carleton, played Dalhousie, the tournament’s nearest thing to a Cinderella, who’d gotten a pretty good look at the glass slipper in a one-point loss to Victoria. The barn was empty, the coaches were glum, and the players were, well, trying but without much inspiration. Things heated up eventually – players want to play, and winning kicked in earlier than, say, at an NBA All-Star game – and maybe first-round embarrassment was a stronger motivator than game one heartbreak. Saskatchewan won 90-79, nearly doubling their offensive output against Carleton. This season’s fifth-leading scorer, Evan Ostertag, had enough room to fire 32, mostly from three-point territory. Dal’s Sven Stammberger – not only my favourite name in the tournament, but a slick, quick forward and one of my faves to watch here – fired 34.

I hadn’t been impressed by Windsor, even in their big qualifying win over UOttawa in the Ontario Wilson Cup last week. Athletic? Yup. Scorability? In streaks, they can be overpowering, but they sometimes play like they’ve just met in a pickup game. My turn. That was certainly evident in their opening loss to Ryerson, which can match their athleticism, and doubly so in the consolation. Bishop’s had to have been crushed by their overtime loss — they had Ottawa — or perhaps were feeling some team satisfaction and validation of their maligned conference, but they led early and played relatively hard. It takes a lot of heart and effort to counter Windsor’s speed and power, though, and eventually the Lancers got their running game in gear in a 91-80 win. It was pleasant that their tough little nut of a guard, Mike Rocca, was chosen their best man in a good all-around game, while Bishop’s big man Mike Andrews was an inside powerhouse with 29.

That was Friday. (I know. Really, I do. With no media access, no deadline, insufficient sleep and absolutely nobody asking for this, I’m a tad slow here in reporting. Indict me.) The consolation final – More consolation! So much cheer! Encouragement unbound! The guys must’ve been over. the. moon.– was Saturday, a kind of orphan preliminary to the evening’s pair of semifinals (though it was a separate ticket). I was there, along with the above-mentioned hundred and fifty usual suspects. Windsor was meh about the whole “defending” thing, and to be fair, this applied to Saskatchewan, too, though they continued to look more motivated than their opponents. At three quarters, though, their lead was down to 3 after a strong Windsor run. The Lancers’ bench boss Oliver, who’d been seated and mute much of the game, was awake. He did get up to ride the officials, since his guys were sluggish again after the break. There was little crowd noise; if there had been, the cheers would have been a little different than normal: Defence? (clap, clap) Defence? (clap, clap) Or, riffing on the fashionable call-and-response that bench players now regularly use to encourage their mates on defence, here it would be DeeWHAT? (No answer.) DeeWHAT?! (Still no answer.)

I was particularly soberwowed by a stunningly laconic defensive possession by the Lancers. Saskatchewan walked the ball up the court, set up in the halfcourt, and got an uncontested and even unhurried layup. The Husky caught the pass, looked around, shrugged and flipped it in. I know. Nothing game. But if you can allow this as a coach….To be more fair, Windsor’s assistant was engaged, and maybe this was Oliver’s plan, to allow him to lead in a game situation. (I doubt it but.)

There was a little Oliverian animation on the offensive end in ensuing possessions, proof, if more was needed, that he’s an offensive coach. (Me ol’ coaching mentor, Don Wright, always had a dismissive tone when he described somebody that way, especially if it was me.) Barry Rawlyk, Saskatchewan’s Husky-in-Chief, was coaching with visibly more interest and effort. With 1:14 left, an actual coach’s timeout was called at 91-90, Huskies up. After a key miss on the Windsor end came a big three-pointer from their American scoring star Dadrian Collins. (That’s what they pay him for, says the cyniCanuck chauvinist. But not me.). Down 4, as the players came out of a Windsor timeout, only 37 seconds to play, the little knot of Lancer fans in front of me were still in the game. “Quick two!” yelled the semi-knowledgeable Windsor mom in her delightful Caribbean-via-Brampton lilt. (Alex Campbell’s mother, she wanted to be sure I knew, and I was glad he was one of the Lancers I liked.) Instead, they ended up with a long three from Rocca. Panic? Or I got this? I thought he had more time. Anyway, lots of things ensued, as they do in the last 30 seconds of a close basketball game, even when it’s just for consoling, but Windsor couldn’t draw up any five-point plays, and the final was a just 99-94.

We’re Number Five! We’re Number Five! chanted the delirious throng of Saskatchewan fanatics. Okay. No. They didn’t. A few moms and dads took pictures of the somewhat-consoled Huskies, and Coach Rawlyk made sure to get one with his departing fifth-year players. I admired the playoff beards on quite a few of the fine young prairie men. And that was that. Well, except for Ivan Joseph, Ryerson’s athletic director, with his obligatory, post-game, sharp-dressed-man-carrying-what-would-otherwise-be-fairly-embarrassingly-chichi-gift-bags-at-centre-court pair of presentations and photo-shoots with the Players of the Game. It was high-flying Rotimi Osuntola Jr., bearer of my second-favourite name of the weekend, who won it for Windsor, while Dadrian Collins had a fine selection of parting goods from the urbane tourney host.

If it’s any consolation to YOU, I could’ve written more. And though writing this has backed up my blogging output like a grunge-ridden drain, I feel somewhat consoled every time I push PUBLISH. Stay tuned. As I push the magic button, Carleton and Ottawa are gearing up for their renewal of the Ottawa “Canal War” that has become such a feature of the Capital sporting scene. Yes, for the second straight year, this third meeting of the teams – each has won once this season – is not only for local bragging rights and winning Canal War Three, but also (SPOILER ALERT!) the expected tilt for the CIS National Championship. And one of these teams will really be needing some consolation.

Comment (1)

  1. Ben Howden

    Encouragement unbound!

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