Fuelled by a late offensive charge, the Gitwinksihlkw Lizards broke open a neck-and-neck game with Bella Coola to win the senior men’s championship game at the All Native Basketball Qualifying Tournament this past weekend.
The 103-77 win at Russell Gamble gymnasium on Sunday evening signalled the end of the qualifying round and the start of the countdown to the main tournament in February.
Gitwinksihlkw, Bella Coola and Greenville are the three senior men’s teams that advanced to that event, while Gitanyow and Klemtu will not go on.
The win is exciting, but it’s just the first step in the Lizards’ journey, said player Drae Azak.
“It feels good but the work isn’t finished. We’ve got to come back here in February and really make a statement,” he said after the game.
Gitwinksihlkw returns to the February tournament after not making it to the 2016 ANBT. The team went 0-2 in 2015.
Despite that, Azak said the team was not surprised to play so well at the qualifying tournament.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work since late August so I think the work really shows right now,” he said.
Azak was a big reason the Lizards had such a great showing. He dropped 20 points in the game, including a three-pointer and went 3-for-5 at the foul line.
Between Azak, Eric Nyce (22 points) and Andrew Nyce (37 points), the team surged in the second half.
“We started out slow but we really regained focus at halftime and then we came out in the third quarter and really put the pressure on them,” said Azak.
The two teams were shooting basket for basket until close to the end of the third quarter. Bella Coola’s Louis Edgar was making things difficult for the Lizards.
Edgar was a force on the court throughout the game. He was consistently getting his own rebounds, capitalizing on mistakes and seemed like he was all over the floor. He ended the game with 31 points, including a 2-for-2 showing on free throws.
With less than four minutes left in the third, the game was tied at 60-60, but then something switched. The Lizards finished the quarter up by six, but the real work came in the fourth.
Gitwinksihlkw started the final quarter on an impressive 20-2 run to put the game out of reach. The team simply looked like it was overpowering Nuxalk Nation from Bella Coola. They were creating turnovers and blocking shots and running back down the court for another basket. For about half the quarter, the Lizards were sinking nearly all their attempts.
Bella Coola did score 12 points by the end of the frame, but put up against the 32 fourth-quarter points by Gitwinksihlkw, it was hardly a dent.
A strong showing, to be sure, but there’s more for the team to work on if they plan to be successful at the ANBT.
“I think we’ve got to start out strong in every single game rather than start out slow and then have to turn it on in the fourth and feel the pressure,” Azak said.
The Lizards advanced to the finals, via a bye of the semifinals, thanks to strong wins against Greenville (112-79) and Bella Coola (116-79).
Bella Coola had a longer journey to the finals. It beat Gitanyow (80-67), Klemtu (67-57), lost to Gitwinksihlkw, then beat Greenville in overtime (99-92) to advance to the championship game.
Greenville also advances to the main tournament. It went 3-3 last year.