The Bison men’s basketball team swept the Regina Cougars in their best-of-three play-in series last weekend, and continued their playoff success with a sweep of the second-ranked UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West quarter-finals. They won a close game 79-75 on Thursday, and took a 98-96 overtime victory on Friday night.
With the series win, Manitoba advances to the Canada West final four for the second consecutive year and will once again play the Calgary Dinos with a spot in the conference finals on the line. The Bisons split their season series with the sixth-ranked Dinos with an 85-81 win and a 102-77 loss at the beginning of the season.
The Bisons and Thunderbirds engaged in a tightly-contested affair in a game that included 14 lead changes and six ties. Neither team was able to make noise in the opening half with strong defense holding the herd to 40 per cent shooting from the field, and the T-birds to just 37.5 per cent.
AJ Basi led both sides in the opening half with 11 points, and continued to be effective in the second half, finishing with 22 points. Manitoba was able to hold the leading scorer of the Canada West, Connor Morgan, to just three first half points, helping them take a slim 35-31 lead into halftime.
Pace picked up in the second half, with eight lead changes in the third quarter alone. Teams exchanged baskets throughout the quarter with Manitoba hanging onto a one-point lead entering the final quarter of play. Keith Omoerah put up six points in the third, and finished the game with a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Manitoba gave themselves some breathing room and opened the final quarter with a 7-0 run, which gave them a 61-53 lead. The Bisons led by a game-high 10 points with just over six minutes to play, but the Thunderbirds responded with an 11-1 run to tie the game at 70. The UBC run was led by Jordan Jensen-Whyte’s six points; the guard finished the game with 22 points. Basi hit a three to take a late lead, and Ilarion Bonhomme iced the game at the free throw line for the game one win. Bonhomme scored all of his 12 points in the final frame to help the Bisons secure the win.
The two teams engaged in yet another close game, with the Bisons winning a thriller 98-96 in overtime. Once again, defense controlled the beginning of the game with neither team able to open up a big lead, and Manitoba contained UBC star Morgan, keeping him off the score sheet in the first half. Justus Alleyn netted eight of his 16 points in the opening half, helping the herd take a 35-30 lead into the break.
The offensive floodgates opened in the third quarter, with both teams exchanging looks throughout the frame. With UBC leading 61-60 late in the quarter, Manitoba strung together nine consecutive points before the Thunderbirds connected on a late three, and Manitoba took a 69-64 lead into the final quarter.
The Bisons led by as many as nine points in the fourth, but the T-Birds were able to cut the lead down to two points with just 37 seconds to play. UBC came up with a huge stop, and Jensen-Whyte with ice in his veins connected on two free throws to send the game to overtime.
The overtime period featured four lead changes, but Manitoba got the last laugh when they were down by one-point with 19 seconds remaining. Bonhomme missed a contested three-point attempt, but Malik Irwin snagged the rebound and passed it out to Basi, who connected on a game-winning three with just six seconds left on the clock. The Bisons completed the sweep in UBC, with Omoerah posting another double-double and Bonhomme leading the team with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
The Bisons and Dinos tip-off in Calgary on March 3 at 9 p.m. CT, with the winner advancing to the conference finals on March 4.