Grizzlies growling in Ottawa
Examiner Files - The Georgian College Grizzlies men s basketball team will open the OCAA tournament today with a game against the 14-4 Sheridan Bruins. Coach Matt Coulson says Sheridan is a tough, defensive team.
There was a time this season when the Georgian Grizzlies were far from an assured playoff spot, let alone a place in the final eight.
But the men's basketball team has taken off since Christmas and never looked back.
Now headed to the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association's championships at Algonquin College in Ottawa, the Grizzlies feel that they've really improved as this season has gone on.
"Tremendously," said Georgian head coach Matt Coulson. "First semester, we were about a .500 basketball team.
"But since then, we've really learned to play as a group and with high intensity, and that's how we've been winning a lot more games in the second semester."
The Grizzlies have gone 7-2 since the middle of January, beginning their upward trend with a buzzer-beater against Durham.
"Our road trip to Oshawa and Peterborough (was a turning point)," Coulson said. "We were down both games and came back to beat Durham at the buzzer, and then we came back to beat Fleming by 10."
Save for one speed bump, the Grizzlies have been virtually untouchable since then, including a 79-66 victory over Niagara in the cross-over contest, which qualified Georgian for the OCAA tournament.
"It was a great game," Coulson said. "The guys executed the gameplan exactly how we asked them to and guys made adjustments throughout the game."
A plus to hosting that contest was the home-crowd advantage.
"The community support was great," Coulson said. "It's reading week, so we didn't expect a lot of students, but the gym was still full.
"We had great support and it was a lot of fun to be a part of."
It's also a big step forward for a program that hasn't made the OCAA's since 2006 and didn't even qualify for the playoffs last year.
"We had four returners, and they've been a big part of the core of what we do, but there's been some guys we've brought in who made huge contributions," Coulson said.
None have arguably had as much of an impact as Shane Rowe, who scored 16 points and had 18 rebounds in the cross-over win.
"He's been outstanding all year," Coulson said. "He's first in the country in rebounding and sixth in scoring.
"You get a kid like that (who) works very hard and it makes it easier to coach the rest of them."
It's been a bit of an adjustment for Coulson, having taken over the head coaching reins this season when Steve Porter stepped down.
"Steve really helped me prepare to become a head coach," Coulson said. "The X's and O's have always come pretty naturally to me, and he gave me a lot of reign last year, which helped me prepare for this year."
The ever-improving Grizzlies will have a tough test when they open the OCAA tournament on Thursday, as they're set to face the 14-4 Sheridan Bruins.
"They've always been a good defensive team," said Coulson of his quarter-final opponent. "They bring all kinds of pressure and we've been working on handling that pressure and attacking it, to force them back a bit."
Coulson's expectations are realistic, but his belief in his team is strong.
"I firmly believe that if they play as a group and as hard as they can, we can beat anyone up there," Coulson said. "We're the underdog and I like that role.
"Teams aren't expecting us to be competitive up there, so it will be an opportunity for us and I like our chances."
Georgian's contest against Sheridan is at 1 p.m. and will be streamed on www.sportslive.ca.