Men hope for hardware on the hardwood

Team 'can't be satisfied yet' coach Campbell says

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Mustangs men's basketball

Jon Purdy

POWERING THROUGH THE LANE LIKE A PORSCHE 911 CARRERA. Western forward Brad Smith takes it to the rack with authority in Ontario University Athletics quarterfinal action versus McMaster. The men's hoopsters advanced to the OUA final, slated for this weekend in the nation's capital against the Carleton Ravens.

After advancing to the Ontario University Athletics final for the first time in six years, Western’s men’s basketball team has surprised many critics who doubted its potential at the start of the year.

While many consider its season to be a success already, head coach Brad Campbell knows there is still plenty of work ahead for his team.

“We are in a situation where we are competing for a provincial championship this weekend and a national championship the week after and I have told the guys that we can’t be satisfied with the season until it is over,” he said.

“You never know when you are going to have an opportunity to come back and compete for this, so although we have a lot of our team back next year and this is an incredible experience for them, we cannot be satisfied.”

The task of winning an OUA banner will not be easy, as the ’Stangs will be facing the Carleton Ravens, winners of six consecutive OUA East division championships and five consecutive national titles. However, adversity is not a stranger to Western this season.

After a stellar recruiting period over the summer, Western faced injuries to key players such as guard Andrew Wedemire early in the season and, as a result, went into the Christmas break with a mediocre 3-5 record.

Since getting healthy, however, the team has seen more success, winning the Ryerson Invitational tournament over the Christmas break and posting a 9-5 record in the second half of the season.

“I think guys started to realize that everyone has a role on the team and it doesn’t matter who scores the points,” guard Jason Milliquet said. “Winning is the only thing that matters now.”

Milliquet finished tied for third place in the OUA with 52 three-pointers during the regular season and his shooting has been pivotal during Western’s playoff run.

Campbell identified the Ryerson tournament as a major turning point in the season for the team.

“We played three games and beat U of T, who was nationally ranked at the time, in the final. We felt we were starting to play well and had the personnel to be successful.”

Heading into the playoffs with a 12-10 record, Western snuck away with a win in its first game against the McMaster Marauders by a score of 81-80. The game came down to the last free throw, as guard Alex Brozozowicz was fouled with less than three seconds left, enabling him to win the game from the charity stripe.

Following their thrilling opening round victory, the ’Stangs have won two consecutive games on the road, defeating the 2007 OUA champion Windsor Lancers 77-71 and Brock Badgers 79-62.

“It is certainly a whole new world when you get into the playoffs,” veteran forward Adam Ruickbie said. “The intensity gets amped up even further when things are as intense as they can get in the first half of the season.”

Despite having limited playoff experience, Ruickbie said the team has bonded over the past few weeks to get to where it is.

“I think the leadership has stepped up across the board and it hasn’t been just one person. The reason we’ve won all three games is because everyone stepped up essentially and everyone has been focused on winning.”

Heading into the finals, the undefeated Ravens have completely dominated their opponents and won by an average margin of almost 24 points per game. Additionally, Carleton has dominated the glass, out-rebounding opponents by an average margin of 16 boards per game.

“[Rebounding] is one of the main reasons they’re successful and something people take for granted,” Ruickbie said. “They really dominate the rebounding and limit the other team’s second chances and get more chances offensively.”

Campbell said his team must be prepared to play physical if it hopes to beat the Ravens.

“Carleton has a lot of imposing characteristics that are tough to deal with. One is their physical play. They have a lot of size overall, especially with their guard positions and they are a perimeter team that shoots the three well and penetrates well,” he said.

“One thing we are going to have to do is penetrate well, but definitely play physical because they rebound well. The two main factors would be maintaining their penetration and controlling our defensive boards.”

Tip-off for this week’s OUA final will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday evening at the Ravens’ Nest in Ottawa. The game will be televised on Rogers Television and broadcast on 94.9 FM CHRW.

The bracket for the following weekend’s national championships will come out next week.

"With files from Katie Graves

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