Down to the wire
Up by one with just four seconds left, Cougars fans were on the edge of their seats.
That was the story Saturday night as the University of Regina men’s basketball team took on the No. 4 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears for the second night in a row.
After coming up short against the Golden Bears just one night before, the Cougars battled hard for a full 40-minutes on Saturday to keep themselves from dropping their fourth straight game, but it wasn’t done without putting the fans on an emotional rollercoaster.
“I thought we actually played not too bad on Friday night, but we lost, so it takes the shine off the apple,” said head coach James Hillis after Saturday’s game. “Tonight, they executed the game plan and that was the difference.”
And Hillis is right, with just 43 seconds left in regulation, and the game tied at 75 points a piece, Cougars fifth-year forward Paul Gareau was sent to the foul line. The veteran Cougar kept calm under pressure and gave his team a one-point lead with the clock quickly winding down.
After getting the ball back due to a travel violation against Alberta, the Cougars were able to work down the clock, but after having their final shot blocked, Alberta had a chance for a buzzer-beater to end the game and steal the victory from the home team.
With just four seconds left in regulation, and the Cougars up by one, Alberta let one last shot fly but struck iron, thus solidifying the Cougars upset victory and allowing fans to breathe again.
“That was our potential tonight. I think we are capable of playing like that and we actually played a pretty good game on Friday against a very good team – there is a reason they are the number four team in the country,” Hillis said after the win. “But we have had some games early where we weren’t up to potential, but hopefully this is a trend and we can carry this through the regular season.”
“I thought we actually played not too bad on Friday night, but we lost, so it takes the shine off the apple. [Saturday], they executed the game plan and that was the difference.” – James Hillis
Although the Cougars fell to the Golden Bears by 14 points on Friday night, Hillis noticed some key differences in his team’s play, which lead to their sweet victory the following day.
“[Friday night] we probably executed the game plan 60-65 per cent of the time, tonight it wasn’t perfect but it was 85-90,” he said. “Tonight was the first time in a number of weeks that we have shot the ball more than our opponent, in the second half we didn’t turn the ball over. Turnovers have been our huge Achilles heel, so that was good for us.”
Third-year guard Darius Mole can also be credited as a main reason why the Cougars walked away with a victory Saturday, and while he seemed visibly upset with some of the referee’s calls throughout the game, he dropped three clutch three-pointers late in the game to keep the score within reach.
“Coaching Darius and having him on the team means that sometimes you are on the emotional rollercoaster, he’s that guy,” Hillis said. “I thought he put a lid on it when he needed to tonight. I was proud of him in that he kept his mind focused on the task at hand at the end of the game and didn’t turn the ball over and knocked down some big shots for us.”
With the team moral boosted and just six games remaining in the season, Hillis wants to end the season on a high note.
“We have all division opponents and we want to win out,” he said. “At the end of it all, it’s that sometimes you have to focus on process and if we can have that performance every game I think we will have an opportunity to win every one.”
The Cougars (6-10) hope to use their momentum against the University of Calgary Dinos (9-7) this weekend in hostile territory.
Photo by Emily Wright