April 19th, 2024

Pronghorns men’s basketball ready to host Canada West playoffs

By Dale Woodard - Lethbridge Herald on March 3, 2022.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard University of Lethbridge Pronghorn Zachary Coleman-Bock puts up a wall of defence in a drill at practice Wednesday afternoon at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.

The Canada West men’s basketball playoffs begin today at the 1st Choice Savings Centre.
The University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, however, do not.
But that’s not as ominous as it sounds. Instead, it’s beneficial.
As the opening slate of games take the floor, the Horns will instead take a seat and assume the spectator role, having earned a bye to the second day’s play Friday thanks to their 8-8 regular season record that earned them third place in the Central Division and the seventh seed heading into the weekend.
They’ll play the winner of tonight’s game between the Manitoba Bisons and the UBC Okanagan Heat Friday night at 8 p.m.
Joining the proverbial party on the second day will certainly have its advantages.
“I think it’s huge, having the opportunity to rest instead of playing a game,” said Pronghorns graduating veteran Chad Oviatt. “Three games is a lot and if you’re coming in that first round and having to beat three teams to get to the semifinals, it’s a lot of games. Just having the bye puts you that much closer and you can have fresh legs for that game.”
An extra day means a little extra scouting, noted Horns head coach Jermaine Small.
That, and the other obvious aspect, it’s just easier physically.
“Three games in a row is difficult in any situation,” said Small. “That was definitely a goal of ours, to make sure we have a bye. But also the advantage of it is we get to watch our opponents (tonight), that live, last-scout. We’ve worked hard for it and I’m glad we earned it.”
So tonight, the Pronghorns will kick back and watch the Bisons and Heat intently.
“Fortunately, we have some film on them,” said Small. “I know both teams are coached very well. We’ll see them (tonight), but at the end of the day I keep saying to everybody that we’re all 0-0 right now. It’s going to come down to who wants it more and I think home court will give us an advantage. We’re just hoping we play our best. It doesn’t matter who we play, just go out there and try to do what we do best.”
Beginning with 17 teams this weekend, the field will be narrowed over the preliminary rounds before four quarter-final matchups determine who advances to the 2022 Canada West Final Four March 18-20.
Teams seeded 10 through 17 will tip off in the first round tonight before seeds four through nine join in Friday in the second round.
The top three seeds, the Alberta Golden Bears, Victoria Vikes and Regina Cougars, have byes through to Saturday’s quarter-finals.
The Golden Bears, who will host the 2022 U Sports Men’s Final 8 next month, are currently the No. 2 ranked team in U Sports.
Victoria is fifth, while the defending Canada West champion UBC T-Birds are sixth. The Saskatchewan Huskies sit ninth and the Cougars round out the rankings at No 10.
The Horns won four of their final six games to finish the season at .500 and earn the bye.
“I think we’re playing really well and we’ve played some tougher teams at the end,” said Oviatt. “We played the U of A and that was a good test as to how we’re comparing to the rest of the league. They’re a good team, but we really put up a good fight against them and I think we’re playing some of our best basketball at this time of year, which is a good sign.”
Still, the Horns took the roller coaster route to get here with plenty of ups and downs.
“Early in the year there were some growing pains,” said Small. “When you have nine new guys, it’s a lot to learn and they have to gel. But now I feel we’re all on the same page and you kind of learn from some of those losses early. I just think at the end we’re kind of a desperate team right now. We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove and fortunately we’re at home to do so.”
That’s something to look forward to, noted Oviatt.
“In Lethbridge, you’re always excited because there are going to be a lot of people out. There is going to be a lot of support and a lot of excitement in general.”
A departing grad, it also gives Oviatt a chance to go out on a high note.
“It’s a special opportunity, especially as an older guy,” he said. “You have one last chance to go out and give your all. It’s a surreal experience, just going out there and giving your all and putting all you have.”
With COVID restrictions out of the way, Small said he expects a big crowd for the home side.
“I’ve talked to the guys about it. There might be that natural nervous energy at the beginning. But I said it’s another game and we’ve been in that Game 7 mentality all year. Just be excited about the moment and make the most of the moment because last year at this time we weren’t playing at all. To host and be playing ultimately is a blessing.”
The Brandon Bobcats and Northern British Columbia Timberwolves kick off today at 4 p.m., followed by the Thompson Rivers University Cascades and the Mount Royal Cougar and the MacEwan Griffins and Trinity Western Spartans at 6 p.m.
Manitoba and UBCO cap off the first night at 8 p.m.
On the women’s side, the Pronghorns get ready for the Canada West playoffs in Calgary, hosted by the University of Calgary Dinos and the Mount Royal Cougars.
The first and second-round action is set for Friday and Saturday, followed by Sunday’s quarter-finals, which will see four teams punch their tickets to the Canada West Final Four March 18-20.
The largest ever postseason field in Canada West includes four teams currently ranked in the U Sports Top 10, the Saskatchewan Huskies (No. 2), Winnipeg Wesmen (No. 5), Alberta Pandas (No. 7) and UFV Cascades (No. 8).
Saskatchewan is the two-time defending conference champs and captured gold at the most recent U SPORTS Final 8 in 2020.
After posting a 10-game winning streak in the regular season, the Pronghorns finished 10-6, earning them the fifth seed this weekend.
That also earns them a bye into the second round Saturday when they face the winner between the Manitoba Bisons and UBC Thunderbirds at 3 p.m.
A second round win would advance the Horns to a quarter-final game on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the University of Calgary against an opponent to be determined.

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