With crucial playoff seeding at stake, the University of Manitoba basketball teams each faced off against bitter rival, the U of W Wesmen, this past week in the basketball leg of the annual Duckworth Challenge.
Looking to move into the 12th and final playoff spot in the CanWest conference, the herd needed to beat rival U of W — something it had not done for years.
Coming out extremely motivated, Emerson Martin was excellent in the first game, pouring in 20 points, eight rebounds, and sinking three three-pointers.
Making up for a dismal shooting night, Lauren Bartlett also distributed a stellar 11 assists, time and time again sifting deft passes through the Wesmen defence with near-clairvoyance.
Off the herd’s bench, first-year forward Anna Miko chipped in with nine points and seven rebounds.
The game was a back-and-forth, nail-biting affair until the herd went on a remarkable 7-0 run in the dying minutes to escape the Duckworth Centre with a narrow 73-66 road victory.
The win marked the first time the herd defeated its cross-city rival in CanWest regular season play since 2008.
Riding the high of its historic win, the herd’s offence was firing on all cylinders in the second game.
Seemingly making a distinct effort to make up for her uninspired shooting performance in the previous game, Bartlett was on another level, recording a double-double with 26 huge points and 11 exquisite assists. She also knocked down a new career- high five three-pointers. Dishing out an average of 4.8 assists per game, Bison guard Bartlett is now first in the CanWest conference in assists per
Coming off the bench again, though not to be outdone, Miko shot the lights out, going eight for 11 from the field, five for five from the free-throw line and even notching a solitary triple.
Overall, she contributed 22 points — doubling her previous career-high of 11.
Ultimately, the herd’s offence just could not be stopped, piling up 98 points to edge the Wesmen 98-82 in the second game, recording back-to-back wins in the process.
With the pair of wins against the Wesmen, the herd is now placed precipitously in the final playoff spot in CanWest. Although, with two games remaining, its playoff fate is still very much in its own hooves.
Looking to climb into the top four of the CanWest standings to automatically secure a spot in the quarterfinals for the CanWest men’s basketball tournament, the men’s team sought to distance itself from inner-city rival U of W.
Unforeseeably, however, things did not go exactly to plan.
In the first game, the herd gave a hearty effort and looked good at times, though the stellar play and 22 points of the U of W’s Donald Stewart led the Wesmen to an 86-79 victory.
Daren Watts led the squad in scoring with 15, but he went 0-9 from three, which encapsulated the Bisons’ night.
In the second game, it looked as though the herd had bounced back from its previous loss, and was going to cruise to an easy victory, for in the third quarter, it led by as much as 15.
It was in the third that Watts, once again the herd’s leading scorer, did most of his damage as well — totalling 26 points on the night.
Nevertheless, the Wesmen clamped down on defence in the fourth quarter, held the herd to just 12 points — while it pilled in 32 — and snatched an 88-78 victory from the hands of a visibly discouraged Bisons team.
Back-to-back losses to its bitter rival were not the only factor in the herd’s discouragement, however.
The team’s most valuable player, Simon Hildebrandt, left the final game late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be some kind of “lower-body-injury,” as they say in the business.
He collided with a Wesmen player and required the assistance of his teammates to make it off the court.
Naturally, any extended absence on his part would be a devastating blow to the team. He is currently scoring about 17 points per game, and those 17 would be tough to make up.
Moreover, as the herd hosts the men’s CanWest basketball tournament in a couple of weeks, Hildebrandt’s status looms large. The team very likely aspires to win the tournament on its home court. Yet, without its star player — “The Golden Boy,” as he’s known locally — one would have to concede that its chances of doing so diminish considerably.
Both the women’s and men’s teams will close out CanWest regular season play at the Investors Group Athletic Centre this weekend, Feb. 9 and 10, as they face off against the University of British Columbia Okanagan Heat.