Cougars down Raiders in zone finals opener

It’s the same city but home court means everything to the Notre Dame Cougars and Lindsay Thurber Raiders in the Central Alberta 4A Zone senior boys basketball championship. On Tuesday, the Cougars took full advantage of starting the best-of-three series at Notre Dame and rolled a 20-point first quarter lead into a 78-52 win.

It’s the same city but home court means everything to the Notre Dame Cougars and Lindsay Thurber Raiders in the Central Alberta 4A Zone senior boys basketball championship.

On Tuesday, the Cougars took full advantage of starting the best-of-three series at Notre Dame and rolled a 20-point first quarter lead into a 78-52 win.

“We wanted to open at home and make sure we could set a bit of a tone,” said Cougars head coach Ed Major, who as part of having home court advantage got to choose where the final started. “We hadn’t played in their gym all year, so we thought we better play at home and get that first win we were hoping for.”

The Cougars offence was kick started by forward Keegan MacDonald who scored 12 of his 20 points in the first 10 minutes. Point guard Keno Villaluz took over in the second half, scoring 13 of his 16 points over the final 20 minutes.

“We have two or three guys in double digits and it’s never the same guys, it always seems to change every game,” said Major. “We have that depth which is really lucky.”

Key to the win, however, was the way Notre Dame played in their own end, holding the Raiders to six points in the first quarter and seven in the second quarter and a 38-13 lead at half time.

“We just played really good defence,” said Major. “We didn’t reach, we played right in their face and we played really well, the defence was just outstanding tonight.”

The Raiders, meanwhile, will look to their play after the first quarter as something to rally around. If they erase those first 10 minutes, the game is within five points and likely a different finish as strategies change in tight contests down the stretch.

But they have to find a way to weather the storm early.

“We were cold and we know it, we’re going to come out on fire in Game 2,” said Raiders head coach Carl Light. “I think Dame got lucky with a lot of the shots, we had some real good looks and the ball just wasn’t falling for us.”

TK Kunaka and Marcus Pierce led the Raiders with 14 points each while Justin VanTetering had nine points and played a gritty game in his own end.

“We’ve got to keep fighting, it’s going to be a different story on our home court,” said Light.

Game 2 goes Thursday at Lindsay Thurber, if Game 3 is needed it will be back at Notre Dame on Friday at 6 p.m.

The challenge for the Cougars is head into Thursday on an even keel and ready for a tough finish.

“This is a good team we’re playing and they’ve got to understand that,” said Major. “Hopefully at practice tomorrow in the shoot around I’ll get them to understand that, then Thursday we’ll focus in again and see if we can’t get that second win.”