February 9, 2010
The Concordia Thunder are as advertised.
The Thunder came to Grande Prairie last weekend for an ACAC basketball series against the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves and decimated the home squads.
The nationally-ranked (No. 10) Thunder women beat the Wolves 76-44 Friday and 89-44 Saturday. The Thunder improved to 18-2 with their two wins. The Wolves fell to 10-10.
In men's action, the 16-4 Thunder embarrassed the hometown Wolves (1-19)by scores of 125-61 and 117-53.
Both Wolves squads have their chances at redemption this weekend when they host the Augustana Vikings. Both Vikings teams have 5-15 records.
"Concordia definitely showed that they are one of the best teams in the league and indeed in the country," said women's Wolves coach Dave Waknuk, of the top team in the ACAC North. "They definitely showed us that they are a first-place team and that there's a lot of difference between fourth and first in this league. All credit to them."
The Thunder spent as much time schooling the Wolves on their own game as anything. Waknuk's team has been a "defence first" squad that prides itself on its aggressive nature of play without the ball. The Thunder, although not often without the ball over the weekend, showed the Wolves a thing or two about presses, boxing out and blocking the shooting lanes. In a turn unfamiliar to the Wolves, they were the ones being called for the eight-second violations and being forced into bad shots just to beat the 24-second buzzer.
"They were playing a very aggressive style," said Waknuk. "It's something we've been able to do for the past few weeks but they were definitely better at it this week. They forced us in to a lot of turnovers, or made us try tough shots. It was just too much for us to handle." The results were predictable. The Wolves shot a meagre 25% from the floor Friday and even worse (23.5%) Saturday – their lowest offensive success rates since Waknuk took over the team for the second semester.
"You don't win a lot of games with numbers like that," said Waknuk.
At the other end, GPRC had trouble stopping just about anything. Concordia shot at a 45% rate for the weekend, led by the ACACs top point producer, Cailin Lissel, who bettered her 19.5 points per game average in both ends of the doubleheader. She had 30 points Friday and 25 points Saturday.
"Cailin is one of the elite players in the league and she definitely played like it this weekend, but the team goes so far beyond just Cailin," said Waknuk. "They can hurt you from five spots on the floor and they did that to us this weekend."
Indeed. Remove every one of Lissel's points and the Thunder still win both games. That's balance.
"There is a lot of depth there – a lot of veterans," said Waknuk. "It's pretty much the same team as it was a year ago and the confidence they have is something we would like to build towards."
The Concordia basketball program has been strong for the last few years. The women won the ACAC provincial championship in the 2007-2008 season, before losing to King's in the bronze medal game last year. The bad news for Waknuk is that, with the Wolves locked in fourth in the North, he knows that their opponents in the first round of the playoffs will either be the SAIT Trojans or the Lethbridge Kodiaks. As good as the Thunder were this weekend, SAIT and Lethbridge are better. The Trojans are ranked fifth in the country and the Kodiaks are No. 7.
"There are some absolute powerhouse teams in the ACAC," said Waknuk. "And no matter how you cut it, if we want to go anywhere in the playoffs, we are going to have to go through those teams."
That is what made this weekend the most disheartening. A 10-, 12- or 15-point loss would have been one thing – the Wolves could have drawn the positives of keeping it close. But these games were not close, not from the outset. Is Waknuk concerned with the mental aftershocks of such a weekend?
"This is a team that has prided itself on improving every week and seeing results because of that," he said. "After this week we feel that our progress has not stopped, but I would say paused. We can't dwell on this. We have to keep going forward. This knocked us back a little bit but we have to get past it. "I can't fault the girls' effort on the weekend – we can blame the execution, but the effort was definitely there."