There’s so much on the line for the Brandon University Bobcats men’s basketball team today and Saturday that head coach Gil Cheung feels like he won’t need big pre-game speeches.
The Bobcats host the Winnipeg Wesmen in Canada West conference play at the Healthy Living Centre at 8 p.m., before heading to the Duckworth Centre on Saturday for the rematch. If the rivalry between the two Manitoba squads wasn’t enough to motivate the Bobcats, the playoff situation should.
After splitting games with the Manitoba Bisons last weekend, Brandon (5-9) is four games back of Winnipeg (9-5) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Prairie Division and a sweep is pretty much mandatory to keep the Bobcats’ playoff hopes alive. It has been a short week of preparation for tonight’s opening game, but Cheung is confident his players are ready.
"Guys know what’s at stake," he said. "The big thing is to focus on the things that we can focus on and control, especially on the defensive end, what we’re trying to take away, and execute better on offence. We had 22 turnovers on Saturday to four assists and it was not our best performance. Hopefully get some momentum going into the end of the season."
One of the biggest challenges the Bobcats face is containing Andrew Cunningham. The fifth-year Wesmen point guard was named a conference second-team all-star last season and leads Canada West with 6.9 assists per game. He’s also 12th in the conference with 1.6 steals per contest.
Cheung feels Cunningham is one of the best players in the conference at making other players better. He said it will take a full team effort to limit Cunningham, instead of relying on the likes of third-year point guard Ilarion Bonhomme.
Bonhomme, however, is looking forward to the matchup with one of the best guards in the country.
"I’m super-excited. Any time you get to play against a good competitive point guard, I’m excited," he said.
The Wesmen are a tall and athletic team that matches up well with the Bobcats.
Despite the short week, the Bobcats feel like they had a solid few days to prepare for today’s game and they’re anxious for the opening tipoff.
"You look at our records, yeah we’re four games back, but if you told our guys if you sweep Winnipeg then you have a 50/50 chance of getting in the playoffs ... then I think these guys would have taken it," Cheung said. "You get to play them at home and we get to play them at their place where we’re comfortable — we played four or five games there already.
"Our guys are looking forward to the challenge and we know what’s at stake. There’s a lot of leadership in that room and we have quality fifth-year guys who want to leave this place with a bang."
Meanwhile, the Bobcats women’s basketball team (5-9) will try to extend its winning streak to four games today when it hosts the Wesmen (6-8) at 6 p.m., to open up a home-and-home set that wraps up on Saturday in Winnipeg.
The Bobcats lost to the Wesmen twice in the pre-season and are looking for a bit of revenge, although they know they will have their hands full with guards Stephanie Kleysen and Megan Noonan — who both average over 15 points per game — as well as fifth-year forward Alyssa Grant.
"They did get us twice," Bobcats head coach Novell Thomas said. "As long as we learn from those past games against them, we just have to do better this time and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes."