To determine a national champion each season, the 56 universities of U Sports (formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sport) are divided into four conferences, the smallest of which is in Quebec, with only five teams. The winners of each conference, three wild cards and the host team qualify for the Final 8, which holds four games on the first day.
The losers go into a consolation bracket that coaches and players seem to dislike. A team that loses in the quarterfinals on Thursday may have to hang around and play two more games — all for the potential prize of a fifth-place finish, which comes with neither a trophy nor medal.
“You get a handshake,” said Dan Vanhooren, the longtime coach of the Calgary Dinos. “But it builds character.”
The teams that keep winning play for the big prize – the W.P. McGee Trophy. On Sunday, Carleton beat Ryerson, 78-69, in the championship game to extend its record to 13 Canadian national championships since 2003, and a record-tying seven in a row, one of the most unheralded runs in North American sports.
The 4,272 spectators, paying about $10 per ticket, witnessed the victory live. Afterward, the players had winners medals hung around their necks and posed for pictures wearing a plain white T-shirts with the word “Champions” and the U Sports logo.
The semifinal losers, meanwhile, had played Sunday morning in the bronze medal game, which this year was won by Dalhousie, to the delight of the locals. The missing band was back, as were many – if not all — of the fans.
And even though it was not a championship, Plato was nearly in tears describing the pride he held for his team.
In the glow of the bronze medal win, Plato’s star, Kashrell Lawrence, was asked what comes next. A burly 6-foot-2 forward from Brampton, Ontario, Lawrence said he hoped to play professionally somewhere, probably abroad. Closer on the horizon was his graduation in a few weeks.
“I’ve been away from class for the last few days with the tournament,” he said. “Now it’s back to the books.”
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