By Woodard, Dale on November 1, 2019.
The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns men’s basketball team is already top-10 with a bullet.
It’s certainly music to their ears, and the Horns will look to continue singing the same tune as they open their Canada West season tonight against the Alberta Golden Bears at 8 p.m. at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.
In fact, tonight’s game will feature two teams in the top-10 as the Pronghorns head into the weekend ranked 10th in the U-Sports standings, while the Golden Bears come in seeded fifth.
Pronghorns first-year interim coach James McKinnon said his team’s first top-10 ranking since 2000 hasn’t gone unnoticed, but getting off to a winning start this weekend remains the focus.
“The boys are excited about it, as they should be,” he said. “It’s the first time in 19 years the program has been ranked. So of course we take a little bit of pride in that and we’re excited. But we have got bigger things we want to accomplish this year with our veteran group and we just see that is kind of a check mark we move onto the next thing, which is getting two wins this weekend against Alberta.”
Perhaps just fitting as the two ranked teams kicking off the season against each other is the fact the Golden Bears ended the Horns season last year with a 2-1 series win in the Canada West quarter-finals.
“Alberta has knocked us out of the playoffs for the last three years, so it’s personal,” said Pronghorns fifth-year guard Kyle Peterson.
The Pronghorns went 0-2 at the Providence Tournament last weekend in Great Falls, Montana. They lose 115-89 to the University of Providence and 107-74 against Montana’s Rocky Mountain College.
Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Horns were in Edmonton for the Golden Bears Tournament, beating Universite Du Quebec a Montreal 84-82 and Ontario Tech 97-81.
“We had a pretty good preseason game and I think its given the younger guys and opportunity to prepare. It helps our bench to add that depth. We have a pretty balanced and deep team this year,” said Peterson. “It’s everybody figuring out their role. The younger guys are stepping in and learning from the veterans and bonding as a team on and off the court.”
The Pronghorns beat the Victoria Vikes in last spring’s play-in game before taking the Golden Bears to three games. They went 12-8 in the regular season.
“I think we learned a lot last year,” said Peterson. “We had a lot of new faces and most of the team is back from last year, so we’ve learned how to play with each other and we’re excited for this year.”
They’ll do so with a new coach at the helm as McKinnon takes on the interim role following the departure of former head coach Mike Hansen in the off-season.
“He’s a very personable coach and is very passionate about the game,” said Peterson. “We’ve had a good start with him.”
McKinnon joined the Pronghorns as a full-time assistant coach.
He inherits a roster he’s familiar with.
“It definitely helps it helps me tremendously, knowing seven or eight of the boys from last year,” said McKinnon. “Our veteran leadership of Kyle Peterson and Mike Pierzchala and Colton Gibb and obviously returning Brett Warren and Keanu Funa and Chad Oviatt definitely helps. It definitely gives us a solid six to go around. Obviously getting Jeff Rodehutskors has been huge for us as well. He helps us alleviate some of that (graduating veteran Zac) Overwater size at six-eight, 260 pounds. I think we’re an all-around good team at the moment.”
They’ll test that tonight and Saturday against the Golden Bears.
“We’re very familiar with each other and obviously the boys know them a lot better than I do,” said McKinnon. “We finally get the opportunity to play on our home court, which we haven’t done all preseason. Number five versus number 10 in the nation is a huge game in southern Alberta on a Friday night.”
Game time Saturday night is 7 p.m.
Both games will also be streamed live on http://www.canadawest.tv.
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