EDMONTON - In a battle for first place in the Prairie division, third-year guard Kenneth Otieno took the spotlight, netting a career-high 36 points in a 92-83 victory for the No.6 University of Alberta Golden Bears over the University of Manitoba Bisons, Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Also cracking the double-digit barrier for the home team was fourth-year forward Sahr Saffa (15 points), freshman guard Youssef Ouahrig (12 points), and fourth-year forward Todd Bergen-Henengouwen (10 points), who just fell short of a double-double with nine boards.
The high-scoring match got five Bisons past the 10-point plateau, senior guard Jonar Huertas putting up a team-high 23 points while team leading scorer STephan Walton added 18. Sophomore forward Yigit Ozsayiner (13 points), senior guard Kevin Oliver (10 points), and rookie guard Davidson Joseph (10 points) rounded out the five.
The win improves first-place Alberta's record to 14-3 and almost puts the Bears into a playoff spot with five games left to go. Manitoba drops to 12-6, allowing Saskatchewan, who earned a victory over Winnipeg on Friday, to tie them for second place with a game in hand.
The first half of the game was a back-and-forth affair between the two squads, a strong lead rarely lasting even though Manitoba held a slim lead for almost 10 minutes before Otieno put up five straight points near the end of the second quarter to break a 39-39 tie, but a late Huertas trey had Alberta only up by one at halftime.
Otieno had 17 points in the first half, but the Lethbridge, Alta. native has consistently come up with greater performances in the final 20 minutes as of late, tonight being no different as the Winston Churchill high school grad got his first basket by attacking the Manitoba net down the baseline and throwing down a two-handed dunk to the excitement of the Saville crowd.
Yet the guard, who is averaging 24.4 points per game in the 2013 half of the varsity season, got them on their feet with his best of the quarter, knotting the game at 55 with a beauty of an inside-outside play, finishing with a layup under the glass.
Hailing from Winnipeg, Huertas put up seven in the third for Manitoba, the Bison team putting up a total of 22 points to keep pace with the Bears, but Otieno ended the quarter with another spotlight showcase, taking a cross-court pass from fourth-year guard Tommy Watson before making a graceful but powerful open-court layup inside the key for a 69-65 Alberta lead.
Teaming up with Ouahrig in the final quarter, the duo put up 14 points in the final 10 minutes and, although the Bisons managed to cut the deficit to five three times in the final five minutes, Montreal native Ouahrig drained his one and only trey of the game with 1:10 left to salt the game away.
Game two of the weekend series goes at 8 p.m. MT on Saturday.