It was fitting that the ArcelorMittal Dofasco CIS men’s basketball championship was held in Ottawa this year. Both Ottawa-based squads, ranked no. 1 and 2 in the country, stood well apart from the pack in respect to a combination of offence and defence. The Gee-Gees displayed that once again on Saturday night, topping the no. 4 seed University of Victoria Vikes 78-70 to advance to the CIS championship game tomorrow at 2 p.m. against the Carleton Ravens.
Tomorrow’s championship game will be broadcast live on Sportsnet.
In their opening two Final 8 games, the Gee-Gees out-scored their opponents 172 to 143 and thanks to those performances they will now advance to CIS final for the very first time in program history.
The Gee-Gees got off to a hot start on Saturday night, going on a 15-4 run which included 3-3 shooting from beyond the three-point line. Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue, standing 6-foot-6 was faced with a tough task in as he was matched up against Victoria’s 6-10 centre, Chris McLaughlin. The fourth-year centre Gee-Gee fared well, recording 15 points in the contest. McLaughlin for his part finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Fifth-year Terrell Evans tied McLaughlin for the Vikes team lead in scoring.
The game was kept close until the dying seconds but the Gee-Gees were able to hold on for the victory and sealed it from the free throw line. Johnny Berhanemeskel was uOttawa’s key performer finishing with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“Things did not finish the way we wanted last year at nationals and three hundred and sixty five days later we remember that feeling very well so we wanted to make sure that did not happen again,” said Berhanemeskel. “There are not many times that a team gets this opportunity. We have such a great group of guys and coaches that deserve this so much. The fact that this is happening for the first time is an unreal feeling.”
With the score 41-29 at the half, the garnet and grey could see their opportunity to bury the Vikes in the second half. After being down by as much as 20, Victoria made a push to bring the score to 51-48 in the third quarter, capitalizing on many uOttawa errors. The Gee-Gees appeared to regain some composure by the end of the third quarter as they went into the final frame with a 55-50 lead.
The Vikes did a good job taking away uOttawa’s bread and butter as they held the Gee-Gees to only six three-pointers in the game, none of which came in the second half. The Gee-Gees took what the defence gave them however as they pushed the ball inside to gain the edge while Berhanemeskel continued to solidify his reputation as a clutch performer by hitting timely shots for uOttawa with 2:18 remaining in the game.
Caleb Agada has been a defensive dynamo throughout uOttawa’s entire playoff run this year and continued to do so in tonight’s game as he contributed with 12 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double of his own. The second-year was a major part of uOttawa’s 77-76 victory over Carleton at the OUA Final Four championship in Toronto which gave the Gee-Gees their first OUA championship title since 1992-93. Though it was a thrilling victory and a great win for the program, the stakes are much higher this time around and Agada will be essential if he and the Gee-Gees are to repeat that performance tomorrow.
“This is nationals—we are bound to be faced with a tough test and that happened tonight. I thrive off of defending the other team’s best players and that is what pushes me to give everything I have,” said Agada. When asked about fatigue the Burlington Ont., native said, “At this stage of the season there is not fatigue. The tank doesn’t get empty. To compete with the best you have to play like the best so we are ready no matter what.”
Agada’s performance in the playoff merited some important words from head coach James Derouin. “In my humble opinion Caleb is one of, if not the best, secondary players in this league. He does everything a coach could ask for and I cannot begin to explain his value to this team.”
The Carleton Ravens defeated the Canada West’s top team in the University of Alberta Bears earlier in the day in what ended up being a blow-out affair. A lights out second half propelled the Ravens past Alberta 79-59. The Bears stayed within striking distance of the Ravens up until halftime but came out of the break dead cold and were only able to muster four points in the third quarter. This allowed Carleton to build a solid 23 point lead heading into the final quarter which any university basketball fan knows is an unforgiving concept when playing the Ravens.
“I’m realizing the importance of what just happened right now. We have had so many first this year and to be in the final for the first time is just amazing. This is such a great group of guys, I’m so proud of them and I am thrilled to death with the result of this season,” said Derouin. “Now we have to focus on what did well last time against Carleton and try to replicate that in tomorrow’s game.”
Tomorrow’s battle for bronze will be played between two familiar Can West opponents in the third seeded Alberta Bears and the fourth seeded Victoria Vikes. The bronze medal consolidation final will tip-off at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.