The Varsity Reds took on the first-place AUS team, the Acadia Axemen, in a double-header weekend, hoping to narrow the gap in the standings.
The first play of the game set the tone when Acadia’s star Owen Klassen got the ball down low, drop stepped around his defender, and threw down a two-handed dunk.
“He’s a very versatile big man,” said UNB’s Javon Masters. “We just wanted to limit his touches as much as possible throughout the game and try and get him frustrated.”
The task was much easier said than done. Klassen spent his summer playing on the Canadian national team with the likes of Brady Heslip and Kevin Pangos, who are strong National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) players, with potential to make the NBA. He proved to be too much to handle, ending Friday’s game with 36 points and 11 rebounds. He also drew in UNB’s defence, which allowed Acadia to hit 12 shots from behind the three-point arc.
“When you rotate or trap on the big, on Klassen, you have to have other guys step up and rotate because you’re leaving your guy,” said UNB head coach Brent Baker. “We didn’t do that. We didn’t factor in for transition threes and they hit a bunch of them.”
Despite the strong performance from Klassen, UNB’s offence kept them within striking distance. The Reds were down around 10 points for most of the game, not allowing Acadia to ease up. Masters scored two of his 36 points with four minutes left in the game, bringing them within six, but they couldn’t bring it any closer. Acadia went on to win Friday night’s game 96-83.
Saturday’s game was more of the same.
Though Klassen didn’t have as dominant of a game, Acadia kept control and beat UNB 83-63. One of the Varsity Reds biggest problems on the weekend was their injuries. Three of their usual starters didn’t play in either of the games. The injured players include Matt Daley, Daniel Quirion and Ryan Smith.
“Those guys are sand paper guys – they’re the grit guys. Those are the guys that are going to win every 50/50 ball,” said Baker. “So any lose ball, any rebound, those guys are going to win that contest. That’s where it really hurts us, at the defensive end.”
Masters recognizes the injuries have added some difficulty, but he doesn’t use it as an excuse.
“The next guy has to step in,” said Masters. “He needs to play just as the other guy who just went down. Injuries hurt, but you just got to keep rolling with it.”
Coach Brent Baker found his players did fight hard, and even though they were missing some key players, others stepped up. This way when his starters come back, his bench is going to be playing at a much higher level.
“It’s a loss, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I hate losing, but we start getting some of our bench playing better and getting into this type of high intensity environment, that’s a big plus for us.”
The weekend wasn’t only about basketball. It was Think Pink weekend at UNB, as money raised went towards the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. There were various pink items being raffled off, like a pink quilt and a giant cookie with pink M&Ms. Last year Think Pink raised 10,000 dollars, and this year UNB hopes to go above and beyond that.
The men’s team will take on the Cape Breton University Capers on Friday, Feb. 7, followed by the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men the next night. They sit fifth in the Atlantic University Sport standings.