Nathan Crosby, Sports Editor Ω
Eight games into the year the WolfPack men are a .500 basketball team at 4-4.
They have already matched last year’s win total.
With the first half of the season coming to a close, optimism has filled the atmosphere at the Tournament Capital Centre that just maybe, the ‘Pack are going to surprise a few in the Canada West this year by making the playoffs.
“When I looked at our schedule, I thought, if we could be 4-4, 5-3, it would be great,” WolfPack head coach Scott Clark said.
“Championships aren’t won in the first half of the year, but they can be lost, and we put ourselves in a position where that isn’t the case.”
Maybe it’s because fans hardly got to see the ‘Pack that it’s hard to figure out a team that had only two home weekends of play; but if TRU is going to get to the playoffs, their road play needs to step up.
They currently have a 1-3 record away from the confines of the Tournament Capital Centre.
This team can score and that will be the single most important factor for their success when they face high-scoring teams like UBC and Alberta.
TRU is second in Canada West in scoring offence, averaging 87.6 points a game.
The WolfPack are the only team to have scored more than 700 points in eight games.
The team is first in free throw percentage with .816 per cent and fifth in field goal shooting at .464 per cent. Guard Kevin Pribilsky is 11th in three-point shooting percentage and first in court time in the Canada West.
Even with the deadly attack of Justin King, Chas Kok and Pribilsky, TRU’s glaring problem in the first half was defence.
“We got a lot to work on defensively; we gave up 100 points to Regina. We need to get our bodies rested up and work on our defensive issues,” forward Kok said.
TRU ranks near the bottom in scoring defence, allowing 86.2 points a game. They gave up 100 points to Regina and 102 points to Lethbridge; both of those teams rank in the bottom six for scoring offence.
The high-powered offence of UBC will be in town mid-January and the WolfPack’s defence cannot afford to rely on their scoring capabilities to match the Thunderbirds.
There’s still a long way to go, 12 games, with five at home, but TRU holds the wildcard spot in the Canada West if the playoffs were to start today.
The real test has yet to come; three CIS top-ranked teams will tip off with the ‘Pack this winter semester, including UBC at the TCC, followed by two gruelling weekends in Saskatchewan and Alberta to take on the Huskies and Golden Bears, respectively.
TRU got their season underway on Nov. 4, splitting a weekend series with UFV.
A surprise win the next weekend over the Dinos in Calgary put the ‘Pack at 2-1, until a three-game slide in mid-November cooled things down; which included a loss to Lethbridge that TRU would like back.
Then followed two loses (one right at the buzzer) to the top ranked Victoria Vikes.
On the last weekend before semester break the offence exploded against Brandon and Regina to combine for 214 points in two games and the ‘Pack were able to head into the semester break on a high note with four wins.
“In order to do any damage, which is the goal, you have to play good ball in January and February and that’s what we are looking to do.
“We have a lot of things to tighten up,” coach Clark said.
Forward King is off to what could be the finest year any TRU player has had in the CIS and he has played his way into Canada West MVP discussions.
It won’t be easy for King in the tough and unpredictable Canada West.
Ryan MacKinnon of Victoria, Nathan Yu of UBC and Jordan Baker of Alberta all could be named first-half MVPs.
King has shown brilliance when playing at the TCC and now leads the Canada West in scoring, averaging 26.9 baskets a game.
Baker is the second-closest averaging five points fewer.
King earned Canada West player of the week nods, the first time since 2009 for any ‘Pack player.
He combined for 71 points the same week against Brandon and Regina while playing injured.
“Justin is an unbelievable player, I’m so excited to have him on my team and he gives us such a boost,” Chas Kok said.
King is getting help and that has made a difference.
Kok is fifth in scoring with 20.5 a game and Kevin Pribilsky is 15 with 14.6.
King is second in rebounding, averaging 10.6 a game and is third in percentage from the free throw line.
Another noticeable part of the first half was Kok’s leadership, which this young team has embraced.
Rookie Zach Usherwood and Akeem Pierre add to the three-pronged attack of Kok, King and Pribilsky.
Pierre impressed coach Clark and the crowd on Nov. 25 against Brandon with 15 points and 14 rebounds, including a clutch bounce pass inside the key to a fast moving Kok who made the play of the first half with a slam dunk that moved the foundation of the TCC upon impact.
Usherwood, along with rookies Will Ondrik, Mike Zayas and Derek Wolf will get a lot of opportunity for court time with the long schedule facing the ‘Pack.
The two Bretts, Brett Rouault and Brett Parker, will look to build on their slow starts to the season as well after having strong weekends against Brandon and Regina.
The team will start the new year with two winnable games against the 4-4 Manitoba Bisons and the 2-6 Winnpeg Wesmen at the TCC on Jan. 6 and 7.
Their 3-1 home record could only improve if fans start to come in bigger numbers.
Attendance at the TCC is among the lowest in the league, averaging 362 fans a game.
Only Trinity Western, Manitoba, Brandon and UFV are lower.
Those who do show up have seen a young team that is growing, and an interesting semester awaits that can only get more exciting with the King leading the way.