Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Running the gauntlet that the Griffins men's basketball team has run this preseason isn't for the faint of heart.
They capped off four-straight matches against probable top-15 teams in Canada with an 89-72 loss to Regina on Saturday afternoon.
They also fell 86-62 to Saskatchewan on Friday night, but walk away from the weekend feeling battle-tested and confident they weren't far off the elite squads.
"In order to beat the best, you've got to play the best," said head coach Mike Connolly. "I think of our six preseason games, four of them were against (teams) who could be in the top 10 or top 15."
That also includes Winnipeg and UBC, who beat the Griffins 78-68 and 91-65, respectively, last weekend.
"If we can learn to compete with them, we can compete with everybody, which we did," said Connolly. "Now it's not about our effort or our work because we know we can battle and physically compete. Now we're at a point where we've got to improve our mental capacity."
Connolly pointed out some mental errors came into play against Saskatchewan's press attack on Friday and they reared up again at the wrong time on Saturday.
"We had a thing where we had two guys we weren't going to let shoot the three and two guys shot the three wide open to hurt us down the stretch," said Connolly. "And that was just youth, making a mental mistake and relaxing. At this level, you can't relax. It's got to be 40 minutes of intense, focused basketball because the difference between winning and losing a championship is one shot and one play."
Regina's Carter Millar drained six threes in the contest and ended up with a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds. Brayden Kuski hit four from beyond the arc to finish with 14 points.
The Griffins were led by Luke Harold (20 points) and Marco Correas (14).
On Friday against Saskatchewan, the visiting Huskies trotted out a 43-point man in Marquavian Stephens, while MacEwan was led by Jesse Trussler's 18-point night.
As the Griffins get ready for the regular season, which begins next Friday at Mount Royal University (8 p.m., Canada West TV presented by Co-op), they have plenty of takeaways.
"We're learning and growing," said Connolly, whose team had a 1-5 preseason record. "Overall, am I unhappy that we didn't have better results as far as wins and losses? Yes. But on the other hand, we're going to be ready to play physically against anybody now because we played against four really good physical teams.
"Now we have no excuse to know what we need to do in practice. That's a positive. We know if we just executed and took care of some things we can control, we would have been in all those games."