Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com
Ben Johnson (right) and teammate Greg Carter practice Wednesday at DalPlex in Halifax, in preparation for Friday's start to the CIS men's basketball championship.
HALIFAX -- Scott Morrison hopes three is his magic number.
In Halifax for the second straight winter and a third consecutive trip to the CIS men's basketball championship, the Morell, P.E.I. native was back to his old stomping grounds Wednesday on the campus of Dalhousie University.
Before arriving in Thunder Bay some nine years ago to take over the reins of the Lakehead Thunderwolves, Morrison was the interim coach of the Dalhousie Tigers women's team. But Morrison wasn't much in the mood for looking back on Wednesday, the day after arriving in the Nova Scotia capital in preparation for Friday's opener against the upstart Fraser Valley Cascades, the No. 5 seed in the eight-team tournament.
It's the third straight year the Wolves will meet a B.C. team in the first round – they fell to the University of British Columbia in 2010 and Trinity Western a year ago – a Morrison and his troops desperately want to break the opening day curse, knowing their window to win a national title is closing fast.
"The third time is the charm, I hope, or whatever saying you can use with three," Morrison said, keeping one eye on his starters at one end of the aging facility, his others on his bench players practicing equally hard at the other end, knowing their coach won't hesitate to call when crunch time comes.
"We're better than we have been the last two years. We're more prepared than we have been. Yes we're a little shorthanded, but I'll still take my chances with the guys that we have out there."
Missing, of course, is forward Ryan Thomson, who was nowhere to be seen on Wednesday and last spotted at the Thunderdome with a walking boot on his injured left foot, his odds of playing shrivelling with every hobble.
Pivot Yoosrie Salhia was back on the court going full force with the first unit, as was Brendan King with the second unit, shaking some of the rust off.
Using his connections to score a little bonus court time – they even started practice a little earlier than planned – helps in more ways than one at an event that's drawing more than its fair share of attention in Halifax, Morrison said.
"No matter where you go on a week like this, you're going to have a lot of bright lights and bells and whistles around you, so it's kind of hard to get locked in," Morrison said, having flown his team in a day earlier this time around.
"This way we can avoid some of the distractions today and tomorrow and by the time we get used to things we'll still have time to make sure we're locked in for the game. The extra time down here is great, because they guys don't have class, we can spend a little bit more time with the film, hang out together and we're going to be good to go."
The opponent will be a typical Canada West squad, he said, having spent much of the week watching film and breaking down the attack he expects to greet them when they take the Metro Centre floor on Friday.
"They're tough. They've got a good front court. They're going to be a little stronger than us at the 4-5 position, but hopefully we have a little more depth, with five guys we can rotate in. Guard-wise, they have some all stars, but do we," Morrison said.
"So it's going to be a good match-up from that sense and our hope is it's going to be a pretty good game. I think both teams will be evenly matched."
A quick start is key, he added, not needed to mention the 13-0 deficit the Wolves placed themselves in last Friday in an 86-70 Wilson Cup semifinal loss that almost knocked them out of the running for a national championship.
The Cascades, who fell 72-71 to Alberta in the Canada West final last weekend, boast plenty of firepower and the knowledge to win in the clutch, having won two of three playoff games by a sinle point.
Guard Joel Friesen puts up a team-high 16 points a game for the Cascades and will have to be contained, without forgetting about guard Samuel Freeman and post Kyle Grewal, who combined for score about 30 points a night.
Game time is at 11 a.m. EST on Friday, with live web coverage at www.sssncanada.ca/games.
Beyond the arc: Morrison agreed with local media, who complained about a seeding process that landed the Atlantic University Sport champion Acadia Axemen in eighth, earning them a date with perennial champion Carleton. CIS rules prohibit teams from the same conference playing each other in the opening round. Morrison said the governing body for university sports has to choose between its guidelines and having the best possible tournament.
"I think everyone knows that Acadia is not the No. 8 seed. I think everyone realizes that Carleton and Acadia were the biggest losers in the seeding process, but the committee really had no choice."
Leith Dunick is in Halifax covering the CIS FInal 8. Watch for daily reports from the Metro Centre as the Wolves work toward a national championship. Follow Leith on Twitter: @LeithDunick.