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By Dave Martin
HALIFAX, N.S. Thirty seconds left, two-point differential, 6,700 screaming fans and a national title on the line in the world of university sports, it just doesn't get any better.
Unfortunately a storybook finish was not meant to be for the Western men's basketball team and they could not overcome the two point deficit, falling 76-71 to the Alberta Golden Bears in Sunday's Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's basketball final.
Although it was a fantastic game to watch, it was tough for Western players and coaches to have a positive outlook after the game.
"They came to play tonight and we didn't match them [at that level] for the entire time," forward Chris Brown said.
In simple terms, the Mustangs were just not as "sharp" as they were against Laval the day before.
"It's disappointing because I think if we were playing well, we could've beaten them by 10 points," explained Western co-captain Andy Kwiatkowski, who had 25 points. "We were trying really hard, but it seemed as if we were a 'deer caught in the headlights.'"
Even without firing on all cylinders, the Mustangs battled hard the entire game to stay within reach of victory until the very end.
"The end was a toss-up as one call or play could make the difference. I was pleased that we were still in it that late though," Kwiatkowski said.
Caught in the corner in the game's final minutes, Kwiatkowski lobbed a pass to the middle of the court that was intercepted by tournament MVP Stephen Parker.
Parker then raced down court for a victory-sealing dunk.
Nonetheless, several Mustangs, including Brown, didn't point any fingers after the game.
"It's not just one or two plays that make the difference as a game is won or lost throughout the entire [40 minutes]. Every miss or turnover is equally important, no matter when it happens," Brown said.
Although the Mustangs know they could have played better, nothing is more frustrating to an athlete then when power is taken out of their hands by the officials. Unfortunately, inconsistent foul calls dictated the flow of the second half Sunday.
Western head coach Craig Boydell was frustrated after the game with the amount of whistles against Western, though he refrained from using it as an excuse.
"It is a fact that 28-12 [the number of free throws made by each team] is a huge difference. Especially for a team like us who usually have the balance in our favour rather than so incredibly against us," Boydell said.
While their ultimate goal remains unfulfilled, the Mustangs have many successes to look back upon, including an Ontario University Athletic banner as provincial champ.
The team must now face the future minus several key veterans, including national player of the year, Andy Kwiatkowski.