The University of Manitoba men’s basketball team has qualified for the playoffs, and will be the fifth seed. The Bisons will host the 12-seed Regina Cougars in a play-in series that will run from Feb. 16-18. Manitoba swept their weekend series against Regina on Jan. 13-14, winning by scores of 93-81 and 84-75. They also came out on top in their quarterfinal matchup at the Wesmen Classic during the holiday break, winning 100-79.
The Bisons opened the season with a 2-6 record, playing some of the top-ranked teams early on. They were able to win 10 of their final 12 conference games to finish with a record of 12-8.
“We had a tough start. We still weren’t happy with the losses and thought we should have won some of those games,” Bison guard AJ Basi said. “We saw the second half and we saw where we needed to finish at record-wise to be able to host a playoff series at home.”
If the herd is able to take down the Cougars, they have a tough road to make it to the Canada West Final Four.
“We feel like we can play with anybody when we’re playing our game,” Bison guard Ilarion Bonhomme said. “We’ve had some weekends where we kind of got away from that a little bit, and Coach has been harping on that and we’re trying to get back to it.”
Although Manitoba opened the season poorly, they were able to beat the Calgary Dinos 85-81 on the road in their season opener. The Dinos are one of the top four teams in the league and so are the UBC Thunderbirds, who the Bisons were able to play close with, losing by scores of 96-89 and 75-72 back in November. Despite losing those matchups earlier in the season, the Bisons can take some positives from them.
“It gives us some confidence knowing that if we have to go to any other gyms, we can beat them on any given night,” Basi said. “It doesn’t matter who we’ve got to play or where it is, we have full confidence that we can beat anyone in the league.”
Manitoba holds a very veteran lineup, with five of their players (Bonhomme, Basi, Keith Omoerah, Jonathan Alexander, and Brett Jewell) graduating after this year’s playoff run. This is the last chance for these players who will take a lot away from their time being a Bison.
“The first day I came here, I see all these guys in the gym getting in extra shots, because to be good every team has two hours of practice in a day,” Bonhomme said. “These guys do so much outside of those two hours, and the coaching was amazing.”
With the regular season coming to an end, the graduating players know that the most important part of the game is still up for grabs, and this is the last chance for these players to become champions.
“Before this year is done I think the most important part is still there,” Basi said. “That’s to make a run in the playoffs and try to bring a banner to the gym here.”
There is no shortage of confidence in the Bison locker room, and when Basi was asked if he believed this team has what it takes to make a deep playoff run, he needed just one word to answer. “Absolutely,” Basi said.
The Bisons host the Regina Cougars on Feb. 16-18 at the Investors Group Athletic Centre; tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. for all games.