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Wesmen ready for playoff clash

Denzel Lynch-Blair talks to media during a press conference Wednesday to tee-up the Wesmen playoff basketball games Thursday night at Duckworth Centre. (David Larkins/Wesmen Athletics)
Denzel Lynch-Blair talks to media during a press conference Wednesday to tee-up the Wesmen playoff basketball games Thursday night at Duckworth Centre. (David Larkins/Wesmen Athletics)

A Canada West season that went down to the final hours finally yielded home playoff games for the Winnipeg Wesmen basketball teams.

Both the Wesmen women and men will host one-game playoffs Thursday night at Duckworth Centre against the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves for the right to move on to the conference quarter-finals.

The women will tip Thursday at 6 p.m., with the men to follow at 8 p.m.

The Wesmen men are making their sixth straight trip to the Canada West playoffs after finishing 10-10, their sixth straight season with at least a .500 record. The Canada West RPI system seeded Winnipeg sixth.

The women's team, behind reigning Canada West conference player of the year Antoinette Miller, is making its second straight playoff appearance and third of the past four seasons. The Wesmen finished with the fifth-best record in the Canada West at 14-6, but were seeded seventh based on RPI.

The Timberwolves are in their sixth season in the Canada West conference. The women's team finished 9-11 this season and in 10th place based on the conference's RPI seeding, while the men's team was 10-10 and fell to 11th based on RPI.

The UNBC women are 34-90 all-time, while the men are 41-83 since joining Canada West. In that time, the Wesmen men are 4-0 against the Prince George, B.C. school, with the last win coming Nov. 5, 2016. The women are 3-1 in conference play against UNBC, and defeated the Timberwolves 69-63 in the 2017 BOB-FM Shootout at Duckworth Centre.

The Wesmen are offering youth teams who register a chance to win an experience inside the Wesmen Corporate Suite. Any Basketball Manitoba or Manitoba high school teams that register prior to the women's tip-off will be eligible for pizza and drinks inside the suite.

The U of W is also allowing all fans under 18 in free and are encouraging all fans to WEAR RED to the game.

WOMEN'S GAME AT A GLANCE:

Time: 6 p.m.

WESMEN BRIEF: The Wesmen have ridden the play of Miller throughout the year, but are by no means defined strictly by her. Miller is scoring nearly eight points more per game than she did in her conference player of the year season in 16-17 and leads the country at 25.9 per game. Miller led the country in steals as well with 3.9 per contest. The Wesmen also get a major impact from third-year Kings School product Faith Hezekiah, who was third in Canada West, and eight in the country, in rebounds per game (10.9) while scoring 16.8 points per game.

The game will also be the last home game for fifth-year senior Skylar Boulanger, who averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Her younger sister Robyn is a first-year guard who hit on 38.2 per cent of her threes this season.

UNBC BRIEF: The Timberwolves will rely on fourth-year post Vasiliki Louka for much of their production. The Athens, Greece native scored 18.2 points per game and added 12.2 rebounds per. The Timberwolves also get good guard play out of third-year import Maria Mongomo, a Las Palmas, Spain native who scored 18.1 points per game and was second to Miller in the conference in steals per game with 3.1.

MEN'S GAME AT A GLANCE:

Time: 8 p.m.

WESMEN BRIEF: The Wesmen come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the conference, having won seven of their last eight to make a post-season run. Kicking off the second semester in Brandon, the Wesmen were in a position where they knew they'd have to win nearly all of their remaining games to have a shot at the playoffs.

They swept Brandon and Manitoba, split at Regina, and swept UBC-Okanagan last weekend to officially secure a host playoff spot.

The Wesmen have been buoyed by the return to health of Baltimore native Sean Tarver, who is now second on the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game. Tarver has double-doubles in three of his last five games and has scored double digits in seven of his last eight.

The Wesmen have also gotten a boost from fourth-year Toronto native Denzel Lynch-Blair, whose 31-point effort at Brandon Jan. 5 kicked off a stretch in which he's scored in double figures in six straight games. He has averaged 16.5 points per game and shot 54 per cent from the field in that span.

UNBC BRIEF: Winnipeg will have some length on the wing to deal with in fourth-year swingman Jovan Leamy, a 6-foot-5 Toronto product who scored 15.1 points per game and grabbed five rebounds per. The T-Wolves also bring an undersized but tenacious rebounder in 6-foot-5 forward Vaggelis Loukas, who led the team with 7.3 boards per game.

The Timberwolves gave up (83.7) more points than they scored (80.7) on average, but bring an effective perimeter game, having knocked down 34.2 per cent from three this season, fourth in Canada West.