They finally did it.
After a remarkable 14-8 season, the Wesmen men’s basketball team is advancing to their first-ever final four in the Canada West semi-final this weekend (March 1-2), where the men will face off against the University of Victoria Vikes (20-9) in British Columbia.
“Resilient,” said head coach Mike Raimbault when asked to describe his team, and this year’s basketball season, with one word.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity (this season), and (we) got into a situation where we needed to win all three of our final regular season games to make the playoffs.”
The Wesmen won their last three games of the regular season - playing twice against the University of Alberta Golden Bears and once against the rival University of Manitoba Bisons - by thin margins.
In the second match-up against the Golden Bears, they beat the University of Alberta men by just a single point. They were helped in their efforts over the course of the regular season by two stand-out players who recovered from debilitating injuries last season; guards Andrew Cunningham, who was out for the first semester last year and Nolan Gooding, who was out for the entirety of the 2011-12 season with a knee injury.
“This is a talented group of guys with a high level of chemistry,” said Raimbault, adding chemistry and resilience helped the men last weekend when they beat the Trinity Western University Spartans in a tense best-of-three series.
Over the course of three games from Feb. 22 to 24, the Wesmen had to battle back from a decisive loss in their first game against the Spartans, and quickly stepped up their game to elite levels over the course of the weekend.
“I thought we were a little nervous Friday night so we definitely talked about trying to relax and the things we could do to keep the game simple,” the coach said of the Feb. 22 game, where the Wesmen lost by 78-86.
“I thought on Saturday we defended with a little bit more urgency, when we guard and get out on transition we get some easy buckets.”
The men took the momentum from the Saturday match-up, where Winnipeg won 77-68, into the game on Sunday, Feb. 24, when they stole the series away from the Spartans with a convincing 101-76 victory.
As for this weekend’s single game match-up against the Vikes to determine which team advances to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championships, coach Raimbault is confident.
“The … advantage we have is that we prepare for every single game like it’s a playoff game … so we’re sticking to business as usual.”
Check out The Uniter next week for coverage of this weekend’s matchup against the University of Victoria Vikes.
Published in Volume 67, Number 21 of The Uniter (February 28, 2013)