It was a weekend to forget for the University of Manitoba basketball teams, who were swept by crosstown rivals the University of Winnipeg Wesmen.
With the pair of losses, Manitoba ceded the 27th annual Duckworth Challenge to the University of Winnipeg after reigning supreme for four years straight. The Duckworth Challenge was started by Dr. Henry E. Duckworth, a former president at U of W and chancellor at U of M, in the 1991-92 season as a way to enrich the rivalry between the two universities in Winnipeg. Manitoba still holds the edge overall, winning the challenge 17 times.
The Bisons had the unenviable task of trying to stop Wesmen Antoinette Miller, one of the top players in the country. Miller averages 26.3 points per game, the most in Canada. Miller exploded Friday for 40 points against the Bisons in an 86-66 U of M loss.
“I thought we had some really good looks on her in the first half,” said Bison head coach Michele Sung. “She’s hitting tough shots. We said ‘OK, she wants to go up for 40 we have to contain everyone else,’ which we didn’t do.”
Manitoba started off well Friday, with Taylor Randall hitting two threes back-to-back to get the crowd at Investors Group Athletic Centre fired up. Randall finished with 29 points, five rebounds and two assists. Manitoba capitulated in the third quarter and were outscored by a ridiculous 24-2 margin.
“I don’t think we could shoot any worse in the third quarter, that’s one thing,” Sung said. “We had a really good opportunity to build our mental toughness today and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
It was more of the same in the Saturday rematch, with the Wesmen completing the sweep and delivering the Bisons a 75-58 loss. A poor third quarter was again the Achilles heel as the Wesmen outscored the Bisons 27-9. Bison forward Claire Harvey finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, and one assist on the night.
Following the pair of losses, Manitoba’s record sinks to 8-10 and the club sits 11th in the Canada West. The top 12 earn a playoff berth.
After being swept by the University of Victoria a weekend prior, the Bisons were looking for a bounce back series against the Wesmen.
Friday night was a tale of two halves, with the Bisons and Wesmen exchanging leads and remaining close.
The first half closed with a buzzer-beater three pointer from Bison Rashawn Browne, but the Wesmen led 47-45. The floodgates opened up after the break, with the Wesmen outscoring the Bisons 47-22 in the second half en route to a 94-67 win.
Wesmen guard Denzel Lynch-Blair had a field day, scoring 31 points, six rebounds, and five assists.
“We were just mentally very, very soft. We turned the ball over a lot and they dominated the glass,” said Bison head coach Kirby Schepp. “I didn’t see any positives. I thought we were mentally weak from 1-12 – every guy that played all you can hope for is you can learn from it.”
Bison fifth-year guard and captain Justus Alleyn, who was playing in his final regular season game at Investors Group Athletic Centre, wasn’t concerned about the Duckworth loss.
“I won’t necessarily associate this game with my experience at U of M. It’s just a stop on the road at the end of the day,” he said. “They can have tonight, but at the end of the day we’re going to end up on top.”
Despite Alleyn’s confidence, the Wesmen crept ever closer to the Bisons in the standings after the U or W took another win Saturday by a score of 89-83. Manitoba stormed out of the gates to start, leading 19-8 after the first 10 minutes.
Winnipeg wouldn’t go away, grabbed hold of the lead halfway through the fourth quarter and ran with it to take the series sweep.
Alleyn was dominant for the Bisons, scoring 30 points and playing all 40 minutes. James Wagner, returning to the lineup after missing time due to injury, scored 22 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
The Bisons now hold a 10-8 record and sit fifth in the Canada West.
The Bison basketball teams head into a bye week before heading out to Abbotsford, B.C. for a series against the Fraser Valley Cascades on Feb. 2-3.