That’s exactly what took place a year ago for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s basketball team. It translated into what was a season that perhaps nobody could have predicted.
It would have been easy for the Dogs to get lazy after securing the school’s first basketball national title; instead, they just rolled over the momentum they grabbed in that magical playoff run a year earlier into a successful regular season, and then into the playoffs. After finishing with a 20-4 regular season record, the Huskies took care of business in the Canada West quarterfinals against Regina. It was then time for the real test as they headed to the Final Four at UBC.
In their first game at the Final Four tournament the Huskies found themselves up against the upstart Trinity Western Spartans. Instead, they had the Huskies held by a leash with four minutes left in the game, and a comfortable 10-point lead. But the Dogs never stopped.
There’s a fine line between winning and losing, and for years the Huskies were on the other side of the win column. Now they believe they can win any game against any odds, and pulled off one of the more remarkable comebacks in recent memory.
Led by Rejean Chabot and Jamelle Barrett, the Huskies found a way to pull out a heart-stopping 80-78 win over Trinity Western that secured their spot at Nationals. The defending Champs seemed poised for another Cinderella-esque run.
In the Canada West Final the Huskies came up against what has become formidable rivals in the UBC Thunderbirds. The Green and White knocked off the Thunderbirds in the very same game a year earlier and in the national championship game for good measure.
This year, however, UBC made sure a repeat performance wouldn’t be taking place, as they beat the Huskies 107-100. The result didn’t much matter other than perhaps a second-place seeding at nationals as opposed to the third-place seeding the Huskies received.
The Dogs opened in defence of their title against the host Dalhousie Tigers and politely disposed of the lesser easterners. Canada West MVP Jamelle Barrett was seemingly unstoppable in a 91-79 Huskies win. The quarter-final affair was a rematch of a year earlier against the mighty Carleton Ravens.
Last year many people didn’t give the Dogs a sniff in the semi-final game against Carleton. They were playing the Ravens, who were the host team, and who had won the past six of eight CIS titles. Nobody from Saskatchewan seemed to care though, and the Dogs stunned the university basketball world, beating Carleton 86-82 en route to their banner year.
This year was a different story. The Huskies were finally given the respect they deserved going into the game, and a win wouldn’t have been that much of a shock.
It’s amazing what one championship can do. And despite the fact the clock struck 12 on this storybook run with Carleton, beating the Huskies 95-83, and UBC winning the third-place game against a tired Huskies squad, the Dogs were one win away from getting back to that national championship game.
There’s a culture of basketball and winning that has developed over the past few seasons at our fine institution that bodes well for the future. Many people can take credit in how this program has evolved over the years, and as a fan and spectator just like you, I smugly say, it’s about damn time people stood up and took notice of U of S basketball.
Greg Mason/The Charlatan