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Undefeated Calgary Dinos gunning for second straight Canadian basketball title

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There's something to be said for showing up every night.

The Calgary Dinos went undefeated in the 2018-19 Canadian university men's basketball regular season, something no other team in this week's Final 8 tournament achieved.

"It's a difficult thing to get accomplished, and I'm super proud of the guys' ability to focus each night," said coach Dan Vanhooren.

The Dinos are the defending champions this week in Halifax, claiming their first W.P. McGee Trophy on the same Scotiabank Centre floor last year when Mambi Diawara scored the game-winning layup with just two seconds left to lift Calgary to a 79-77 win over the Ryerson Rams.

This season, the Dinos went 20-0 for only the fifth undefeated season in Canada West conference history.

It wasn't enough, however, to earn them the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which tips off Friday. That honour went to the Carleton Ravens, prompting plenty of social media chatter when the seedings were announced. The Dinos also didn't reach the top spot in any of the weekly rankings in the regular season. 

"We see it. It drives us. We're working," Diawara told U Sports last week.

"I feel like we're not respected. ... People think that after 'the shot' it makes last year a fluke, and that we didn't deserve to be there," added Diawara, the Dinos' top scorer with 17.9 point a night. "We're 20-0 and haven't been ranked No. 1 in the country all year. We recognize that. We're here to prove that last year wasn't a fluke."

Vanhooren shrugged off the No. 2 seeding as something "we can't control. There's not much point worrying about that.

"I'm sure that a lot of the players and a lot of people are chatting about seeding, it's always been the discussion at this tournament," laughed the coach.

And their undefeated season?

"I don't know how it can be a fluke unless everybody thinks that our conference isn't that good. I know it is, and I don't see it as a fluke at all."

The Dinos boast a bigger and more balanced team than last season's perimeter oriented lineup, Vanhooren said, after adding big man Brett Layton. A transfer from Mount Royal University, law student and father of two, Layton made an immediate impact on the Dinos, averaging 16.9 points — second in team scoring behind Diawara — and 9.4 rebounds a night.

The Dinos face No. 7 Saint Mary's in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Halifax school handed the Dinos their only loss against a U Sports team this season, edging Calgary 91-87 in the pre-season.

The top-seeded Ravens are looking to add to their record 13 Canadian college titles they've won since 2003. They've captured seven of the past eight titles, falling to Ryerson in last year's semifinals. 

Carleton went 22-1 on the season, losing 78-74 to Ryerson on Carleton's home court in January.

"It's certainly the deepest field of any national tournament I've brought a team to in recent memory," Ryerson coach Roy Rana said. "You've got three teams that were basically undefeated for most of the season, obviously Calgary coming in as defending national champions, haven't lost a game in the league all year. Saint Mary's lost one. Carleton lost one. Dalhousie is one of the stronger hosts, they won the AUS title. UBC are traditional powers. ...

"There's a lot of talent, it's going to make for some great games on opening day."  

Carleton takes on eighth-seeded Alberta in Friday's quarterfinals. Third-seeded Ryerson faces No. 6 Concordia, and No. 4 UBC and fifth-seeded Dalhousie square off in the late game. 

Vanhooren agreed that this year's field is as deep as it's ever been.

"I think it's interesting each year," said the coach. "Carleton has dominated this tournament so long now, so it's hard to say where you fit until you play them, or until you see them play.

"Having seen Saint Mary's, I know they're good, having beat us early in the year. And then I would say Ryerson are always in the mix. I know UBC and U of A are good basketball teams, Dalhousie obviously defends well and has been in this tournament many years.

"It's always a tough tournament, it's not something that's easy to win."

 

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. Mount Royal University was incorrectly identified in the 13th paragraph.