OTTAWA — Dalhousie Tigers head coach Rick Plato is excited his team gets to play for its first national title on Sunday, but in order to win it'll have to top one of the most storied teams in U Sports history.
Thanks to 19 points from both Alex Carson and Sascha Kappos, the No. 2-ranked Tigers defeated the No. 3 UBC Thunderbirds 84-55 on Saturday in the second semifinal of the Canadian university men's basketball championship.
Dalhousie will take on the top-ranked Carleton Ravens in Sunday's gold-medal game in TD Place Arena at Lansdowne Park. Carleton is looking for its 15th national title since 2003 and its ninth in 10 years.
"Carleton is, well, they're special. But we've got a group that if we've ever been primed and ready to go, it's with this group," said Plato.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to play against them tomorrow."
Jadon Cohee had 19 points for UBC in a losing effort. Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Hanson described his team's performance in the semifinal as one of "the worst of the year."
"We came out and it's almost like we forgot everything we were supposed to do," said an emotional Cohee, a fifth-year guard from Langley, B.C. "I don't understand exactly what happened."
It was a feisty opening half as Plato, the U Sports coach of the year, received a technical foul, while guards Jordan Wilson and Keevan Veinot were given unsportsmanlike fouls. Jonah Morrison received an unsportsmanlike foul in the third quarter for UBC.
But the pro-Dalhousie crowd was in full voice as the Tigers took a 41-29 lead into the third quarter.
The Thunderbirds scored 103 points in their quarterfinal matchup against the Bishop's Gaiters — the most of any team — but were stymied by Dalhousie, which forced 19 turnovers.
Veinot, the AUS player of the year, scored just eight points but it mattered little, as the Tigers were able to outscore the Thunderbirds 26-6 after they turned the ball over.
UBC scored just seven points in the final quarter.
"You're not going to win many basketball games scoring seven in a quarter, especially in the fourth," said Hanson.
Plato, who has been the head coach at Dalhousie for the last seven years, lost his first-ever game behind the bench by 40 points to Carleton. He said his team's appearance in the gold-medal matchup has been the high point of a journey since that first game almost a decade ago.
"I'm very proud," said Plato. "I've coached a long time and coached a lot of great kids and great teams, but I think this is a very special team."
Both the Ravens and the Tigers lost only one game this season and both losses were by just one point.
Dalhousie also defeated the Thunderbirds in the quarterfinals a year ago but lost to Carleton in the semifinals.
Hanson said it will be a heavyweight bout for the gold medal.
"A lot of times teams get intimidated, they get a little scared going to play Carleton, but I don't think Dal has that," he said. "I think Dal believes they can go in there and win, and it'll be a great game."
UBC will play the No. 5 Western Mustangs for the bronze medal.
Earlier Saturday, Isiah Osborne had 17 points as the Ravens soundly defeated Western 90-63 in the first semifinal.
Ukasha Khan had 15 points for Western.
Carleton's bench was the difference maker, out-scoring the Mustangs 53-19. The Ravens pulled away for good after the third quarter, topping Western 29-9 in that frame.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2020.
Adam Stanley, The Canadian Press