By: Dwayne Tingley
Dalhousie Tigers head coach Rick Plato says his team is committed to being the "hardest working team in Canada."
During the first half of the AUS men's basketball conference season, they've had to be just that.
Despite suffering an inordinate amount of injuries, the Tigers have rattled off a 6-0 record for 14 points and the defending champions sit alone in first place in the conference.
"We've displayed great depth," Plato said, "because we've had multiple injuries that have led to many missed games.
"A good mix of experience and youth on our roster has been the key to our start," he continued. "In the second half, we will be committed to getting better every day. We will focus on the little things—the basics."
The Tigers, who have won the conference championship in four of the last five seasons, are being chased in the standings by the second-place Memorial Sea-Hawks, who have a 5-3 record for 12 points.
"The rest of the league is extremely competitive," Plato said. "We have already had two close games with Saint Mary's and Cape Breton University—both of which could have gone either way. UNB is a tremendous three-point shooting team and always play us very tough. I really like Memorial with their size and the addition of Cole Long makes them a real threat."
The UNB Reds (4-3, 10 points) are in third place at the break, followed by the StFX X-Men (4-3, eight points), Cape Breton Capers (3-4, six points), Saint Mary's Huskies (3-4, six points), UPEI Panthers (2-6, six points) and Acadia Axemen (2-5, four points).
"Our first half has been successful, but no one wins a thing for being up at the half," Plato said "If we can stay healthy, and continue to get just a bit better every day, that will put a smile on my face."
Sea-Hawks head coach Peter Benoite said the Tigers are the clear front-runner in the conference, but he's anticipating an exciting second half.
"The league us going to be incredibly tight," Benoite said. "All games will be important in the second half, so it is going to be important to be ready to play each and every night.
"We have played really well at times and we're hoping we can build on that and perform even better in the second half. We have to tighten things on the defensive end and continue to try and be more efficient on the offensive end."
Sea-Hawks centre/forward Cole Long, who leads the conference in scoring with an average of 22.8 points per game, said he and his teammates gained confidence from their strong showing during the first semester.
"We've proven that we are a serious team and we are here to compete with the best teams in our conference," said Long, a 22-year-old masters of kinesiology student from St. John's, N.L.
"I love the commitment shown by our team," he said. "It's all been about improving and going into every game with a positive mindset."
UNB's Chris Spurrell is second in league scoring with an average of 19.3 points per game while Osman Omar is third with a 19.0 points per game average. Keevan Veinot is the highest-scoring Tiger and he's eighth overall with a 15.8 PPG average.
The Subway AUS Basketball Championship event is scheduled for Feb. 28-March 1 at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.