From an in-person standpoint, last night's Saskatchewan - Trinity Western men's basketball clash largely lived up to its billing as a clash of the third- and fourth-ranked teams nationally. The game finished 102-91 for Trinity Western, but it wasn't a particularly even contest for most of the evening. There was plenty of offence, though, which you'd expect from teams that came into this contest ranked first and fourth in points per game as Saskatchewan and TWU did.
The Spartans came out firing and led Saskatchewan 35-24 after the end of the first quarter. They stretched that lead to 59-42 at the half, and looked set to completely pull away, largely thanks to knocking down shots at a ridiculous rate (Rob calculated their FG% as 56 per cent midway through the third quarter, compared to the Huskies' 51%, and it was even more pronounced in the first half). Perhaps even more crucial was the way they were winning battles on the boards; Saskatchewan has a few talented bigs, but they're nowhere near as deep as Trinity; one of the Spartans' keys to rebounding success was they have several massive players who can play as guards. That list includes 6'7'' Tonner Jackson (13 points and three rebounds), 6'8'' Kyle Coston (11 points, two rebounds), 6'5'' Calvin Westbrook (10 points, six rebounds) and 6'5'' highly-touted rookie Eli Mara. Those guys are all agile enough to handle the ball in the backcourt, but their size presented plenty of mismatches for the Huskies and opened up space for TWU forwards like Jacob Doerksen (21 points on 8 for 14 shooting, six rebounds) and Tyrell Mara (eight points, seven rebounds).
By contrast, Saskatchewan's a pretty small team in general, and their size issues were made worse by Michael Lieffers' ongoing foul trouble. Lieffers was reasonably effective when on the court, picking up four points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal, but he was limited to only 20 minutes of playing time before he fouled out. Duncan Jones and Nolan Brudehl were able to get things going on the boards in the second half, particularly when Trinity started using more subs, and Saskatchewan only finished three rebounds behind on the night, but the Spartans won the post battles at the crucial moments. It wasn't just about rebounding, either; Trinity's bigger players also demonstrated great ability to close out on shooters and get hands in their faces, which contributed to some of Saskatchewan's shooting woes.
Despite being on the wrong end of the score, it was a Huskies' player who stole the show, though. Jamelle Barrett, a Sacramento-born point guard playing his first season of CIS basketball this year, definitely showed off the talent that's allowed him to put up an incredible stat line (23.7 PPG, 51.4 FG %, 44.2% 3PT%, 6.2 APG and 3.1 RPG) so far this season. He dropped 42 points on Trinity in 29 minutes of play, but even more impressively, did so while hitting 18 of his 24 field goal attempts (75 per cent). That line was made more incredible still in person, as Trinity was keying on him for much of the game (and generally guarding him with guys much bigger than Barrett's listed height of 5'10''). Many of his points came off crazy spin moves and contested layups off drives, and there were at least a couple of plays where he drove the lane, laid it in over a couple of defenders and drew a foul in the process. Barrett also added two steals, two rebounds and an assist on the night (and he'd have had more assists if his teammates had turned in a better shooting display). The rest of the Huskies didn't offer him anywhere near enough support to come away with a win here, and the score might not have been as close if the Spartans had gone pedal-to-the-metal for the whole game, but Barrett showed he's definitely a special talent.
Worries about the Huskies' poor strength-of-schedule inflating their record proved justified last night, but they still have quite a bit of talent. Barrett's performance last night in particular has to provide plenty of hope for Saskatchewan fans. If he can turn in a similar showing in tonight's rematch against Trinity (7 p.m. Pacific, Langley Events Centre, webcast here) and can get some more help, don't count the Huskies out just yet.