Terry Thomas (right) paced Ottawa with 24 points on Friday (Chris Roussakis for Yahoo! Canada Sports)
Parts of the Saskatchewan-Ottawa boxscore — which ended with the top-seeded Gee-Gees winning 94-73 behind 24 points from Terry Thomas — looked like they were taken together from other games.
Canadian university basketball teams generally do not sink 14 threes in a CIS Final 8 game at Canadian Tire Center, a notoriously unforgiving shooting environment with what Gee-Gees point guard Mike L'Africain called "tough rims." Nor does any team worth a tournament ticket go 4-for-16 from the free-throw line. Nor does the coach of a team that won by more than 20 surmise that his charges "were just a little bit sluggish" like Ottawa's James Derouin did. Yet that all fit together on Friday when Ottawa did its thing while dispatching the wild-card Huskies. (Ottawa had a tougher time on its home floor with Ryerson, which many believe should have been the wild card, two weeks ago in the OUA East semifinal; but that's neither here nor there.)
That sets up semifinal Saturday, with No. 3 Alberta and No. 2 Carleton hooking up in the early game (6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT, Sportsnet 360). Ottawa will face No. 4 Victoria and 6-foot-10 centre Chris McLaughlin in an 8 p.m. tilt between the country's highest-scoring team (96.2 points per game) and its stingiest (60.2 against).
The Gee-Gees and Huskies were even at 50 late in the third quarter, honest. Then Thomas, who had nine rebounds and five steals, scored seven in a row during an 11-0 Ottawa outburst. The hopeful Huskies, with star guard Stephon Lamar harried to no end (5-for-18 shooting with seven turnovers en route to a hollow 15 points and eight assists), came back briefly. Then an 11-2 quarter-bridging run highlighted by forward Vikas Gill's buzzer three settled the issue. Ottawa's starters came out on a high note: a L'Africain-to-Thomas alley-oop capped off the statement win in front of a crowd of 3,545.
"We found our groove and that separated us," said Thomas, the East Preston, N.S., native. "We're a great three-point shooting team, probably one of the best in the country and once it starts going, it helps our whole game. It limits their transition opportunities.
"We just take what we've learned from Carleton and apply it to every team."
In a nutshell, that is what makes Ottawa stand out regardless of how the next days unfold. It borrows principles from the CIS lodestar across town and pours it into a high-tempo game. Carleton has what Dave Smart calls "attack mode," but Ottawa pushes the ball like few else. The Gee-Gees took 76 shots in a 40-minute game and only had nine turnovers.
"We're going-going-going, but we know how we're going, the different reads made at fast speeds," said L'Africain, who had 10 points with a 7-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. "We've done it so many times. Tonight we probably had our 15th lob between Terry and I and he only played half the season [while sitting out until Nov. 29 after transferring from St. Francis Xavier]. That all goes back to the summer. We spent so many hours in the gym learning how each of us plays."
"Our defence turns into our offence. When you get a play like that on offence you want to get back on defence as fast as you can."
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