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Blues topple Trojans

Christmas came early for the Paul Kane Blues. Desperate for some holiday cheer after some disappointing losses, the varsity men's basketball team unwrapped a vintage performance Wednesday against the Holy Trinity Trojans.
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BEN LEMPHERS

Christmas came early for the Paul Kane Blues.

Desperate for some holiday cheer after some disappointing losses, the varsity men's basketball team unwrapped a vintage performance Wednesday against the Holy Trinity Trojans.

"We definitely needed that win because we've been struggling. We've lost three straight and two of those games we shouldn't have given them away," head coach Cam Fischer said after the 86-73 victory at Paul Kane High School.

Powered by Kevin Blair's electrifying 29 points, the Blues improved to 2-1 in the metro Edmonton premier conference and 5-4 overall. They also handed the Trojans, city conference champions in 2009, their first loss after three straight wins in their premier debut.

"This was our best game. We played like a real true team," Blair said. "It was really good and we're going to keep building onto this."

Their last two losses — 84-74 against the Grande Prairie Tomahawks in the third place game at the Totem Hoop Classic last weekend at Ross Sheppard High School and 74-61 Monday against the visiting Bev Facey Falcons (1-2) in league play — left the Blues reeling.

"Bev Facey was a game that we shouldn't have lost. We lost to Grande Prairie and that was another game we shouldn't have lost. We were up eight points and we just lost it in the third quarter," Fischer said. "We shouldn't be giving those games away but I'm glad we're getting the experience. That's what we need."

The Blues are lean on battle-scarred veterans with four Grade 10s and six Grade 11s on the roster. Six players arrived from Paul Kane's junior premier squad, playoff finalists in 2009.

"We're small but we're pretty quick. We just need to work on our chemistry and some of our offensive situations and then I think we'll start clicking," Fischer said. "Yeah, these guys are young. It's going to be tough because we are inexperienced but we still shouldn't be giving away games."

Blair, 17, the last link to the 2008 4A provincial championship team, and his Grade 11 backcourt partner, Connor Bradley, are the only returning players from Paul Kane's second-place 8-4 league record and losses in the premier semifinal and the metro zone seeding playoff.

"We are young but we have a lot of potential. We can be just as good as last year too, if not better," said Blair, a valuable contributor coming off the bench in Grade 11 after serving as the 13th man on the 13-player line-up for the provincial gold medallists.

The versatile hoopster will work his magic in tandem with Bradley, quarterbacking an offence that has looked dangerous at times this season.

"My role is to come out and get everything going and just show the team how to connect," Blair said.

Scoring threat

In the first half Wednesday, Blair tacked up 17 points, including a three-ball with 22 seconds left before the break to put the Blues up 46-44.

"We were a little weak at first and then we just kept connecting with each other and we scored a lot of baskets," he said.

Blair made four of the team's opening five buckets of the game as the Blues went on to lead by two at quarter time. Late in the second quarter he drove the lane with authority to cut Holy Trinity's lead to 42-41 with about two minutes left.

In the decisive third quarter, in which the Blues outgunned the Trojans 28-9, Blair's bounce pass to Sean Allen uncovered in the paint put the Blues up 58-48.

As the game wound down, Blair polished off the Trojans with a series of foul shots.

"I've never scored that many points before in a game," said the north Edmonton resident. "I felt comfortable out there. Sometimes I just have to let the ball go when people rise up against me."

Ahead by two at halftime, the Blues cranked it up with a 10-2 point run in the opening 3:30 of the third quarter. Bradley and Grade 10 slasher Khalil Bertin, a Team Alberta U15 player, combined for 17 points in the quarter. Another key contributor was Allen, a skinny Grade 11 post who did the bulk of the rebounding. His basket seconds into the quarter kick-started the attack. In the first quarter he tossed in seven points to get the Blues rolling.

"The second half was all about us coming together as a team," Blair said. "At halftime we came in and talked about what we were doing wrong. We said we've got to push it and we came out and did exactly what we wanted to do."

An energized Bradley was making plays all over the court while posting nine points. In the blink of an eye he poured in back-to-back baskets with a slick move inside, then seconds later knocked a pass away from the intended target near midcourt, scooped up the rolling ball and feathered in the layup to extend the lead to 66-48 with 4:40 left in the quarter.

Bradley finished the game with 15 points after fouling out in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

Bertin was bolt of lightning offensively with four buckets in the quarter, including a dashing layup off a steal to push the Blues ahead by 14 points. The junior high standout with the Vincent J. Maloney Marauders collected 13 points overall.

Tough tourneys

The Blues resumed league play after going 1-2 at the Totem Classic. They knocked off the Morinville Prairie Wolves 79-55 in the lid-lifter, then dropped an 86-61 decision to Bert Church of Airdrie in the semifinal before bowing out to Grande Prairie.

The previous weekend the Blues finished 2-1 at the LCI Green and Gold Tournament at Lethbridge.

"They were both wakeup calls for us but the Shep tournament was the real wakeup call because we really lost everything there," Blair said.

The Blues hung tough with Bert Church before the roof caved in.

"We had them. We were in the game and we just gave it away," Fischer said. "It's too bad. We really wanted to go to the final. We wanted to see Shep."

As for the calibre of both tournaments, Fischer gave Lethbridge the edge.

"The teams down there were pretty strong, just because we've never seen them before. The teams up here were probably a little bit weaker than we're use to."

In the Lethbridge opener the Blues were rocked by the Raymond Comets.

"They're a big, strong team. It was a whole level of physicality that we've never seen before. The refs ref the game differently down there and they let a lot more go. There is just a lot more pushing and shoving and those little things the refs don't let go here in Edmonton, which is fine. The players have to see how it's all different, right?"

The Blues went on to defeat Magrath and downed Catholic Central 82-73 in the consolation final.

"That was our goal. We wanted to go down there and win two games," Fischer said. "We knew Raymond was going to be tough so we figured once we were on the B side we would be able to match up with those teams."

This weekend the Blues are the only northern Alberta men's team playing at the Cardston Cougar Classic. In the first game they were paired against Raymond but Friday's score was unavailable at press time.

The next league game is Jan. 5 against the Sturgeon Spirits (2-1), the 2009 city finalists. Tip-off is 6:30 p.m. at Namao.


Jeff Hansen

About the Author: Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.
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