A big third quarter propelled the West Vancouver Highlanders to a 74-68 win over the hometown Elphinstone Cougars in the championship final of the Cougar Classic senior boys' basketball tournament last Saturday night.
Both teams started out slow, but the shooting improved in the second quarter, with the Highlanders holding a 41-38 lead at the half.
West Van came out on fire in the third, outscoring the Cougars 21-13 to push the lead to 62-51.
Turnovers and poor shot selection dogged the Cougars early in the fourth as they dug themselves a 16-point hole, but Elphi mounted a comeback with just over five minutes to play. The Cougars stepped up their defence, hit a couple of three-pointers and all of a sudden the Highlanders lead was cut to 71-67 with 2:44 to play.
But down the stretch, West Van stayed poised, hit a couple of key free throws and hung on for the six-point win.
"It was an interesting tournament for us because we were undermanned," said West Van coach Ken Krohman. "We had injuries and other school commitments for three or four of our guys, so we came up with six to eight guys, which is a character test for sure, but they answered the bell. The first two games were a bit of a marathon, allowing us to outskill the other two teams, but tonight's final was a bit different because we are very well matched and it was just a battle right to the end."
West Van opened with a 79-62 win over Pemberton Friday night and followed that up with a 91-50 drubbing of Sullivan Heights on Saturday morning.
Elphi opened with an impressive 70-47 win over Argyle on Friday morning and edged Hugh Boyd 62-56 in a spirited battle Friday night.
"West Van seems to be our nemesis," said Elphi head coach Mike Sopow. "They beat us in our home opener and now beat us tonight. It was a much better game tonight compared to our home opener. I thought both teams played a consistent game, they just hit their shots and ours rung out, so we have to tip our hat, they were just the better team tonight.
"They had a run in the third and got a 16-point lead on us, and we clawed back, but when you get behind against a strong team like that, it's going to be hard to come back."
Krohman said he knew Elphi would make a run in the fourth.
"We knew they were coming. It was just a matter of time when they would get some turnovers and squeeze us a bit," he said. "When you have six guys that play all the time it's mentally taxing. These are 17-year-old boys and they are going to break down and the other team is going to get a bit of play going their way. Ultimately we rebounded the ball well enough and we were smart enough to stay out of foul trouble and that made the difference."
Hugh Boyd finished in third place following its 76-51 win over Sullivan in the third/fourth place game, McRoberts finished fifth after uts 93-42 drubbing of Seycove in the fifth/sixth place game, and Pemberton finished seventh after its 62-44 win over Argyle in the seventh/eighth place game.
Elphi's Axel Loitz was named a tournament all-star alongside West Van's Luke Ryan. West Van's Matt Fedak was named tournament MVP.
Elphi had a big week, beating St. Thomas Aquinas 68-58 in its first regular season league game Jan. 7 and edging Sentinel 67-64 in exhibition play on Jan. 9. Including the weekend tournament results, the Cougars have an overall record of 15-6.
"They came out really hard this week. We played excellent," said Sopow. "We really brought up their intensity level after the Christmas break. They were mentally tough, they ran well as a team and looked good as a unit."
The Cougars also received another honourable mention in The Province sports AA weekly rankings, something that Sopow was aware of, but doesn't hold much stock in.
"Honestly we do look at it, but it doesn't matter," he said. "We have played a few teams who are in the top 10 and they say we should be ranked higher, but we aren't worried about that. When it's all said and done it doesn't matter who's better on paper, it's who wins the game on the floor. When we get to playoffs and hopefully get to provincials we want to show where we are at that time and not by any rankings."
The Elphi junior boys slipped to 2-3 on the season following a 39-28 loss at home to Windsor on Jan. 8, while Chatelech slipped to 1-5 following a 71-25 loss to Argyle on Jan. 9.
In senior girls' action, Elphi moved to 2-2 in regular season play following a 54-40 home win on Jan. 8 over Coast rival Chatelech. Chatelech slipped to 0-4 in regular season play after the loss to the Elphi and a loss at home to West Vancouver on Jan. 9.
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