If the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds don't win the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's basketball championship this weekend, it won't be for lack of preparation.
With the Final 8 tournament returning to Halifax after three years in Ottawa, T-Birds head coach Kevin Hanson held practice all season at 10 a.m. to minimize the impact of jet lag when his team headed east.
UBC also left for the national championships a day early and spent a night in Montreal before continuing on to Halifax.
"Just with the four-hour time change, to get a little break," Hanson said. "There's no direct flight from Vancouver to Halifax … and four hours is a pretty significant thing. We've dealt with it. A lot of the times we've been out here before, we've played those early games. All of a sudden it's a big adjustment because we [used to]practise at 6:00 every night.
"We prepared for it all year, just in case it happened, and we've dealt with it from a psychological standpoint."
UBC, the Canada West champion and No. 1 seed, meets the No. 8 Acadia Axemen on Friday at 1 p.m. (AST). Twenty years ago, the two teams had the same seeds when they met in the first round of the national tournament. Acadia pulled off a shocking upset.
"We're going to be ready to play, regardless of the time difference and what time we do play," said Brent Malish, a fifth-year UBC forward. "It is the national championship, and if you can't get up for a game at nationals you shouldn't be playing in the first place. It helps us with our body clock, I guess, but mentally we'll be ready to go."
Alex Murphy, another T-Birds player making his fifth consecutive trip to the Final 8, says his team's depth will be key to winning the school's first men's title since 1972.
"The confidence level is awesome. If we get in foul trouble, we have faith in the guys stepping up. As a fifth-year guy, that's what you want to impart on your team, leadership," Murphy said.
"We had a lot of returning guys … everybody's been here before, except for one. We're jelling really well right now, playing good basketball, playing as team … and even off the floor we're jelling a lot, which is great. We're having fun."
The Carleton Ravens earned the second seed, despite losing to Lakehead in last week's Ontario final. Carleton was the only team in the country to go undefeated in conference play at 22-0 and were atop the rankings all year.
The Ravens return to the Halifax Metro Centre, where they won five consecutive CIS championships from 2003-07, and will play Quebec champion, the Concordia Stingers, in the first round.
Friday's game is the first meeting of the year between the two teams.
"They're athletic, they transition very well. We want to run also, but we have to control Kyle Desmarais [19.3 points per game]and keep them off the boards the best we can," Carleton coach Dave Smart said.
Smart, who won CIS coach of the year honours on Thursday, said he's not sure how his team will react to last week's loss.
"I've been doing this for 25 years, and I have no idea. Are we practising well? Yeah. We're practising motivated. When you lose, you either get better or quit, and we haven't quit."
"I'm never confident before nationals, and I'm not confident now," added Smart, who thinks UBC deserves its top seed. "I'm only really looking at Concordia and I think they're going to be a tough matchup, but if we play well we can put ourselves in a position to win.
"There's not a lot of weak links in this tournament, but there generally aren't a lot of weak links in this tournament."
The No. 4 Lakehead Thunderwolves play the No. 5 Trinity Western Spartans on Friday. The T-wolves had some trouble getting to Halifax from Thunder Bay, and had to divide their travelling contingent into three groups that were scheduled to fly over two days.
"We probably travel more than anybody in the country so if anybody can stay focused, hopefully, it's going to be us," coach Scott Morrison said. "We had a practice [Wednesday] and 15 minutes into it, the university had a power outage and the place went dark for the whole morning so we missed practice. Then, we had a couple of guys get sick and had to change when they flew."
Morris said he was more concerned about the lack of familiarity with his team's opponent.
"We've been watching a lot of film, but there's not one person on our roster who's seen [Langley, B.C.-based Trinity Western]live. That could hurt us," Morris said. "They're probably three or four inches, and 20 to 30 pounds bigger than us at every spot, except the [point guard] On paper, that's a major concern but it's something we've been talking about so we don't walk on the court and say, 'Oh man, those guys are big.' "
The defending champion Saskatchewan Huskies, the third seed, opens against the No. 6 Dalhousie Tigers, the Atlantic champions. The Huskies have been getting 25 points per game from point guard Jamelle Barrett, the Canada West most valuable player.
Dalhousie earned its second Atlantic University Sport banner in three years due in large part to fifth-year guard Simon Farine, the MVP of the conference tournament. Farine was among conference leaders in points, rebounds and assists.
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