At the bottom of this post, I’ll include a couple of stories that appeared in the print edition of Thursday’s Winnipeg Sun, but didn’t make it online.
In the meantime, a couple of quick reactions from two nights of Canada West basketball in the city involving all three Manitoba schools.
The Brandon Bobcats and Manitoba Bisons are going to be fighting it out to stay out of the cellar of the Canada West and Friday night the Bisons got the upper hand with an overtime victory. Brandon had a couple of opportunities to win the game — a Stephanie Haynes steal on the inbound pass in the final seconds of regulation, and a couple of key turnovers in the overtime — but Manitoba made some early shots in OT and battled back from a couple of deficits late in regulation. It’s a moral victory for Manitoba, now Brandon will look for one of its own on Saturday for the back end of the doubleheader (6 p.m., IGAC).
The Regina Cougars are good. They may not win the national championship, but they very well may. For sure, they’ll be in the mix. They showed their class in two lopsided wins over a young Winnipeg Wesmen squad Thursday and Friday. The Wesmen will be asking freshmen and sophomores to take on significant workloads this season, whereas Regina — even with a couple of key injuries — looked the part of a veteran group that everyone expects to contend for the Canada West title.
Sticking with the Wesmen: The men’s team got two much-needed wins over Regina and in both games had gigantic leads and won by double digits (88-73 on Thursday, 92-74 on Friday). The Wesmen moved to 2-2 and flashed some of the athleticism, defensive pressure and up-and-down style that will get it done for them if they’re to make a run at a post-season berth. I believe U of W is the best of the three Manitoba schools, but that’s just an opinion made in late October and the first few games of early November. And I also don’t believe there’s a large gap between the three. Brandon, when healthy, Manitoba and Winnipeg could all sneak into a playoff spot if things lay out right. I’ll say one of them makes it. If the Wesmen play like they did for (most of) this weekend, they’ll be there. One last note: senior import forward Steven Wesley had the line of the night: Scoring 28 points on 11 of 16 shooting (including 2 of 3 from three) while grabbing 12 rebounds in 31 minutes. Wesley, from Spokane, Wash., has conference all-star potential.
Like the Cougars learned going down 31-9 after a quarter on Thursday night, the Bisons found the difficulties of getting into an early deficit. Manitoba trailed for much of the game before going on a run in the third quarter and eventually taking the lead, setting up a frantic finish that made for the most exciting game of the night. Bobcats sophomore point guard Ilarion Bonhomme hit a tear drop runner in the lane with about seven seconds left to put Brandon up for good. Bisons guard Jonar Huertas had a look at a contested three at the buzzer that fell short and the Bobcats escaped.
The Bisons played without fifth-year senior captain Kevin Oliver, which is a significant loss. Coming off a split at Calgary, which can never be seen as a bad thing for a road team, the Bisons now will have to be happy with trying to earn another split this weekend, perhaps disappointing considering how easily U of M handled BU in a pre-season game a few weeks ago at U of W.
Now here’s those stories from Thursday’s Sun:
INJURIES TEACH GOODING PATIENCE
Nolan Gooding admits there were times he thought he was done. Multiple surgeries on a blown-out knee tend to do that to a basketball player.
But nearly two years after the Toronto product first suffered a torn ACL, he’s returned to the Winnipeg Wesmen with a renewed energy for the game even he admits he didn’t realize he loved so much until it was almost taken away.
“I thought I was done,” said Gooding, who had an encouraging first season in Winnipeg in 2010-11 derailed by his first ACL injury in a game against Victoria. “But my coaches and my friends — especially my friends — always just kept me motivated and kept me looking at the big picture.
“It was probably the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life. The last 21 months have been gruelling, and it taught me a lot at the same time. I wasn’t really a patient person and having two major knee surgeries taught me how to be patient and how to cherish what you love doing the most.”
Gooding, who missed all of last season after re-injuring his knee, averaged 30 minutes in two losses at Lethbridge last weekend, and with the Regina Cougars in town Thursday and Friday for the Wesmen home openers, he is still trying to get back to 100%.
“Right now I’m not a hundred, but I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m getting my speed back and that’s the most important thing that I’ve gotta get back. Day by day it’s getting a lot better.
“Before I got hurt and when I got here, I realized how much ball meant to me, but at the same time I took it for granted. When I got back to finally playing it just made me realize I had to cherish what I love the most and work harder than I normally do to get where I have to.”
BISONS WOMEN IN RESTRUCTURING MODE
You can always get Randy Kusano to talk about basketball. But when the question arises about who will coach the Manitoba Bisons next season, he simply doesn’t have an answer.
No one does, it appears.
Kusano, who had loads of success as a high school boys coach at Oak Park prior to retiring in 2010, is the co-coach of the U of M women’s basketball team this season, along with former Bison Michele Hynes. Hynes and Kusano stepped into the role after Pam Danis went on leave, and where the program goes from here seems to be anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, the 0-2 Bisons — in full restructuring mode — take on the 0-2 Brandon Bobcats this weekend with a win and shot of confidence definitely needed.
“I’m really more in a sharing role with Michele and she’s kinda heading the program and I’m doing whatever she wants me to do,” said Kusano, who has also spent many years as an assistant with the U of M men’s team. “We’re both trying to stay very, very positive and just build.”
Kusano said it’s a challenging process to turn things around for a team that won three games last season and hasn’t made the playoffs since the Canada West merged into two divisions in 2009.
“As a coach you always expect more and want more,” he said. “I think they seem to be buying in. When you’ve got a young team and you’re building and you’re not having a lot of success you’ve gotta find the positives.”
The Bobcats, who have long been the picture of futility and coaching flux, and are also with a new head coach this season in former men’s national team player Novell Thomas, will be in town for games Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Investors Group Athletic Centre.