Varsity Blues defeat Queen’s, remain kings

The Varsity Blues men’s basketball team is aware of its environment. In their final home game of the season, a 63-48 victory over the Queen’s Golden Gaels, homecourt advantage was key.

The team trounced Ryerson in their final regular season game, reaching triple digits in scoring, a rarity in OUA competition. As the Blues had already clinched third place going into the Ryerson game, their match against the pesky Gaels was greatly anticipated. Most of the Blues players shaved their hair into fauxhawks, or “Bluehawks” of various lengths, in a spirit of team unity. Their shorn locks stood in contrast to the Gaels players, most of whom sported flowing blond hair.

While the Blues were dressed to impress, they started the game slightly frantic. The visitors brought a physical game with an up-tempo style that the Blues seemed anxious to copy. Blues head coach, Mike Katz, who was generous in his praise for Queen’s, was disappointed with his team’s first-half effort. The Gaels didn’t possess the talent of the Blues, but were exceptional at moving the ball around, even though they did not always convert their opportunities. Queen’s also featured a deep bench, and a constant rotation, while the Blues mainly stuck to their top seven players.

The first half was something of a stalemate, as both teams put up a very low number of points, astonishing for a Blues team that scored at will against Ryerson. More amazing is that Queen’s held a slight edge in rebounding, which is one of the Blues greatest strengths.

An expected strength worked against the Blues: a large crowd showed up to support the home team, but remained fairly quiet. This was despite the presence of the cheerleading squad, an engineer band that blasted wacky songs throughout the Athletic Centre, and the general misuse of a loudspeaker.

The mood was soured by the U of T women’s basketball team, which had just gone down to a stunning defeat, despite a valiant effort. The gym smelled like tears and deodorant. The men’s team seemed anxious to get the crowd into the game early, but in doing so, they compromised their style, appearing listless at times, especially in the second quarter. It didn’t help that players from the women’s team would occasionally wander into the stands, revealing long faces and sad eyes.

The men’s team, who had watched the end of the earlier game from the sidelines, seemed intent to wash away the memories of the bitter defeat. Once forward Ahmed Nazmi knocked down a critical three-pointer at the start of the second half, the sense of momentum clearly shifted. Nazmi waved his hands in a motion that suggested “on your feet,” and the crowd responded, many actually standing up. Shockwaves erupted throughout the stands. “I was just praying it would go in, so I could turn to the crowd and give them something,” said Nazmi of the shot. “The crowd just gave us what we needed, and we went on from there for a couple of baskets”.

Nazmi had knocked down his only three shots of the first half, lay-ups from in close. Nazmi admitted that he prefers outside shots, and had the bold idea to launch a three-pointer. “I really try and keep an eye out for the crowd. The crowd is, I think, after the five players on the court, the most important factor. This is why home advantage is so big for us,” he revealed.

On the next trip down the floor, Nazmi attempted a behind-the-back shot that just glanced off the rim. The crowd gasped with excitement as the team managed to score on a putback. “[I try] anything that can get the crowd revved up and get them involved […] They are a beautiful crowd, they come right back with that enthusiasm, and that gets us going. This is why I love playing at U of T,” concluded Nazmi.

From that moment on, the game was transformed, and the Blues started to maneuver the court with a newfound sense of confidence. They held the lead for the rest of the game. “I thought we did a good job in the second half, rebounding and catching the ball, and pretty much ran our offence,” said head coach Katz. “Our guys have been good all year enough to win.”

Two Blues players reached double digits in both points and rebounds against the Gaels. One was sharpshooter Ahmed Nazmi, who while battling a cold all day, quietly and efficiently added 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points.

The other player to score a double-double was Nick Snow, earning the Blues player of the game title with a whopping 15 rebounds, to go along with his 11 points. After the game, Snow was drenched with sweat from his effort, but beamed from ear to ear, elated from the victory. Though the always humble Snow was quick to praise his guards for their clutch shots, often it was Snow’s battle for the rebound that led to his teammates’ second chance points. Snow talked about the difficulty of putting shots up from inside, and battling hard for rebounds. He clearly had the advantage of extra practice time during reading week, when the coach stressed the value of fundamentals. “It has been a point of emphasis we’ve had the last couple of weeks—rebounding, especially offensive boards, second chances, easy points,” said Snow.

Nazmi and Snow were especially needed because the Blues’ leading scorers, dynamic duo and potent one-two punch Rob Paris and Nick Magelas, did not have their typical shooting games. Both aggressive players dictated the flow of the offence. They managed to find open looks for their teammates, and clearly outclassed their opponents while the Blues played on. As the Blues started to make their shots, and even for the shots that they missed, they grabbed the offensive rebounds. They would often rip the ball right out of the hands of Queen’s defenders, and go to the net without hesitation.

The Blues changed their style in the second half, using their talented guards to distribute the ball, rather than trying to put up long-range shots. The Blues started to execute their set plays to great effect, and stopped trying to keep pace with Queen’s running game. Reserve point guard Anthony DeGiorgio overcame a rough start, shooting some clutch-free throws in the third quarter, essentially putting the game to bed.

The Blues are a team that clearly plays with a sense of purpose. The coach stresses fundamentals, keeping the game simple, focusing on rebounding, execution, and defensive intensity. The squad is resilient. They stick to their plan, and if that is not working, they find a new way to attack their opponents, and exploit their weaknesses. They show great tenacity, and revel in their roles as hard workers and crowd pleasers. Though they lost the quarter-final to the Gee-Gees on Saturday in Ottawa (96-81), the Blues are always in it to win it, and greatly appreciate the support of their fans.

Blues bounced from playoffs

They were the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference of women’s OUA basketball, riding a 14-game win streak that dated back to Nov. 29, 2008. They were a confident and experienced group, strengthened by their leadership and emboldened by their talent.

That confidence was dashed on Feb. 25, when the Blues hosted the Ottawa Gee-Gees at the Athletic Centre Sports Gym in a single-elimination playoff battle for OUA Eastern Conference supremacy. But far from playing like a top-seeded team, the Blues played what was perhaps their worst game of the year in their most important match as they were steamrolled 68-55, losing for the first time 2009 in what became their last game of the season.

“Ottawa came in and basically beat us up on our home court,” said head coach Michele Belanger, her voice tinged with the disappointment of a lost opportunity.

It was an uphill battle from the beginning. Struggling with their shots and consistency, they opened the game with a terrible first quarter. Costly turnovers in both zones and poor decision-making by the Blues allowed the Lady Gees to scorch them to a 17-9 lead in the first. It was the first time an opponent has succeeded in limiting the Blues offence to only single-digit points in a quarter this season. The Lady Gees employed a strangling zone defence and a swift transition game that left the Blues running around offensively and defensively.

Only after the Lady Gees extended their lead by as many as 15 points in the second did the Blues slowly wake from their stupor. Sparked by fourth-year guard Jessica Hiew’s three-pointer at the eight-minute mark of the second, the game opened up as they roared with a 12-4 run to finish the first half down 28-21.

A back-and-forth affair in the third quarter saw the Blues play tougher in the paint and smarter in team positioning. This cut the Lady Gees lead to 42-37 and within five points to start the fourth quarter. The game was still in hand and a victory still possible.

But whether it was the nerves of having to battle from behind, or the aggressiveness of the Lady Gees, the Blues fell apart at the seams in the final quarter. They first lost the on-court battles before losing their on-court composure.

“We fell apart,” explained Belanger. “They just fell apart. We didn’t close out well, put them on the foul line and they started making their foul shots. And they got a lot of shots in the second half.”

Of the 27 free-throw attempts made by the Lady Gees, who have been brilliant from the line with a free-throw percentage of 88.9 per cent, 23 of them came in the second half. The Blues by contrast shot only 58.3 per cent or 14-for-24 from the free-throw line, a costly statistic that proved to be the Blues undoing.

“They shot the ball well from the foul line,” said Belanger. “We didn’t shoot the ball well from the foul line. We didn’t shoot the ball well, period. Not sure what that’s from, it’s certainly more a personal thing than a mental thing. We were offensively out-of-synch.”

The better team won the game. Ottawa outplayed, outsmarted, and outlasted Toronto, superior to the Blues in nearly every major category and aspect of the game. They succeeded in containing Toronto’s OUA All-Stars in fourth-year Alaine Hutton and third-year Nicki Schutz, as they struggled against their shots. They combined for only 15 points in the game, a number well below their regular season average and arguably their worst performance of the year, a bitter and crushing ending to a solid year of women’s basketball at U of T.

“Overall, I’m pretty pleased [with the season],” said Belanger with a last smile. “They amounted to a lot. We just ended up falling apart and it’s just unfortunate it had to happen in this game.”

Dry Ice

Inconsistency for the Blues is like a bad penny, it keeps turning up.

In the first and third period, Toronto matched McGill in intensity, speed, and physical play. The middle stanza was their undoing in a season that ended too soon for the Blues.

The Redmen took full advantage of Toronto’s lack of focus as they scored three second-period goals en route to a 6-3 series-clinching win at Varsity Arena on Saturday night.

“We held the play for a good portion of the game but silly mistakes got the best of us,” said Blues forward Joel Lenius. “I thought we played a good 40 minutes but it’s the other 20 minutes, where we didn’t play our best, that kind of caught up to us.”

McGill had the upper hand in the battle of special teams. In game one, of the best of three, the Redmen scored three power-play goals in a 3-2 win last Wednesday night.

On Saturday, the visitors converted on two of five power plays while the Blues went scoreless in seven opportunities.

“We had a really good year as far as penalty-killing went,” said Toronto head coach Darren Lowe. “When you get to this part of the season, it’s special teams that win and lose games for you and unfortunately, we didn’t do as good a job on our penalty-killing or our power play […] and that’s the difference in the hockey game.”

The winning goal came on the power play at 6:50 of the second period when Eric L’Italien jammed a rebound through the legs of Blues goalie Russ Brownell.

The Redmen opened the scoring at 3:41 of the first period when Andrew Wright beat Brownell with a wrist shot that hit the right post and went in.

Blues rookie Byron Elliot had a chance to tie the game three minutes later. He intercepted a McGill pass in the slot but couldn’t finish.

The Redmen made it 2-0 at 12:43 when Guillaume Doucet found himself alone in the goal crease. A pass squeaked between Brownell’s legs and the right post as Doucet tapped the puck into the empty net.

Toronto responded with desperation, as Elliot scored a much-needed goal at 14:32 to cut the lead to 2-1.

Andre Picard-Hooper and Marko Kovacevic also scored for the Redmen in the middle stanza.

Brownell allowed three goals on nine shots, as Lowe yanked him at the end of the second in favour of Andrew Martin.

“I’m sure [Brownell] might have been a little tense coming home down a game,” Lowe said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way […] I can’t say enough about the way he played for us this year. He was fabulous.”

Goals by Sean Fontyn, in the last minute of the second and Claudio Cowdrey, early in the third made the score 5-3.

The Blues thought they narrowed the game to 5-4 with 15 minutes remaining when the puck appeared to cross the line, but the referee waived it off.

“For sure the puck was in the net,” Lenius said. “The puck bounced off the goalie’s glove and I pushed it in over the line.”

The Blues pressed the issue, but McGill goalie Kevin Desfosses made some big saves, including a right leg stop on a breakaway for Toronto forward Joe Rand with 1:40 left in the third.

“[Desfosses] joined us at Christmas time and he has given us some stability in the net,” said McGill head coach Martin Raymond. “Having him down the stretch has helped as we keep going [to the next round].” Desfosses stopped 23 for the win.

The Blues pulled their goalie with 1:29 remaining, but it was too little too late.

Vincent Lambert iced the game with an empty netter.

“The guys really battled hard in the third period,” Brownell said. “Our guys never quit. That’s one thing that characterizes our team: the guys never give up.”

Status update: Giving up FB for JC

Bask in the advent of Religion 2.0, as Christians worldwide decide to give up Facebook for Lent. The trend, popular last year among teens and university students, involves abstaining from using Facebook during the 40 days that separate Ash Wednesday from Easter Sunday. This year, adults are jumping on the bandwagon as well—presumably having only recently discovered the social networking site.

Facebook usage has increased among adults in recent years, and Christians among them are flocking to join such Facebook groups as “Fast Facebook for Lent” and “The Lent Facebook Switch-Off” (presumably if the group shows absolutely no activity, it’s working).

Supporters say giving up FB for JC helps them control their temptations and save time.

Pitching scientific research

Competition is a concept prevalent in all aspects of life, from the economic marketplace to evolutionary biology. Competition similarly exists in the promotion of scientific research. There are millions of stories being pitched but very few that actually get print space, or screen time. Creating public interest and generating awareness about scientific developments and issues are difficult for researchers and science writers alike. People are wary of science, and often have to be spoon-fed bits of information that can be made applicable to their daily lives. Medicine and public health concerns are the main science-based issues that make it to mainstream media. All the rest must compete with celebrity gossip and breaking news.

Scientists and science writers are posed with a real challenge: how do they to present their research in ways that appeal to both their audience and, more importantly, the assignment editor? In a talk conducted by Discovery Channel’s supervising producer Penny Park, participants discussed the issue of communicating research and pitching scientific stories to television stations’ assignment editors. Park has a lot of experience in the television business, first as a scientific journalist at CBC News before moving to the Canadian Discovery Channel. “Forget the host, forget the star, it’s all about the assignment editor,” says Park.

As supervising producer of a national science channel, Park is well aware of the difficulties of getting people to watch factual TV. The television business has competition down to the minute for screen time. If material isn’t presented in an innovative and engaging way, it won’t get the attention of the viewer or the assignment editor. Daily Planet is a popular program on Discovery Channel Canada. In some behind-the-scenes footage shown at the talk, it was apparent that absolutely everyone is pitching a story. It’s the assignment editor’s job to ask questions like: Why should I care? Will viewers care? Is it practical? What will it cost? Does it have visuals? Park offers some helpful insight as to how a science writer or researcher should approach an assignment editor, as well as their own story idea, so that it gets chosen and has maximum viewer satisfaction potential.

One of the most important tasks is getting to know your assignment editor. Get familiar with the channel or program and see what kinds of stories are normally aired. Keep in mind that sometimes the same story has to be repackaged in order to be sold. Penny says to “give the assignment editor the story on a silver platter.” There’s tons of competition for screen time, so you have to prove your story is reliable, straightforward, and possess some creative element. One strategy is to use compelling characters when telling issue-based stories. Tailor the story to the program, the target audience, and the assignment editor.

With today’s technologically inclined society, the TV audience has decreased. Internet viewing and gaming have become more popular with viewers young and old. The audience likes to be engaged, and Internet games create the opportunity for education to occur through interaction. Whether online or on-screen, originality and creativity are key. Scientific ideas are often easier to comprehend when accompanied by animations and visuals. According to Penny, “no matter how big or small your story is, if you can incorporate those aspects […] you’ve got it made.”

Queen’s honours first black graduate

Queen’s University will name their Policy Studies building after Robert Sutherland, Canada’s first black graduate. Sutherland is credited with saving the university from financial ruin and an impending takeover by the University of Toronto by bequeathing his entire estate to the university. Queen’s has recently been mired in controversy over claims of racism and intolerance towards minorities on campus.

After students and alumni campaigned for the naming, the board of trustees approved the motion in a unanimous vote. Although Sutherland is recognized at Queen’s through scholarships and bursaries, a reading room named in his honour, and a plaque in the Great Hall, students wanted more. “We were looking for something that would appropriately reflect the life and achievement of Robert Sutherland,” said student rector Leora Jackson.

Queen’s is seeking living descendents of Sutherland for the unveiling ceremony.

Admin initially refused to name the building after Sutherland, lest they lose a potential donor.

Short Cuts

Arts and culture news from Toronto and around the world

CMW hits Toronto

Nearly every venue in the city is gearing up for Canadian Music Week, the annual Cancon blitz that goes down March 11-15. With 500 bands performing over five nights, the festival is a must for music lovers, who will pray for good weather and ploughed streets as they take in sets from high-profile imports like Bloc Party and The Ting Tings. For the more casual listener, CMW is a weekend-long crash course in the Toronto music scene, offering a chance to get acquainted with the most exciting local musicians, many of whom are poised to break out. The festival’s full lineup is available at Wristbands are $50 and provide the holder full access to shows at all 50 venues. Be sure to check out our CMW preview in the March 12 issue of The Varsity.


Stephen Colbert vs. Carl Wilson

Toronto rock critic Carl Wilson, of and The Globe and Mail, got some love from actor James Franco on the Oscars red carpet. In conversation with MTV News, Franco recommended the local writer’s 33 1/3 dissection of Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love, deeming it “a real investigation into what constitutes taste and why we like some things over others.” Curious and curiouser, Wilson will appear on The Colbert Report this Wednesday, March 4th to discuss his newfound pop cult status and defense of the Quebeçois icon. Wanna get in on the action? Celebrate with your fellow Torontopians at the official Wilson watch party, Wednesday, March 4th, at The Pilot (22 Cumberland Street), with performances by Laura Barrett, Sean Dixon, a.a. Rawlings, and DJ Brian Joseph Davis, starting 9 p.m. Let’s talk about Carl!


No polling station for St. Mike’s

Michael Alvaro is miffed. Alvaro is president of the student union at St. Michael’s College, which will not get a polling station for UTSU elections. On Friday, UTSU directors voted down St. Mike’s rep Jonie Sullivan’s motion to install a polling station at Kelly Library or the lobby of Brennan Hall.

The booth would have cost $800, money that the Election and Referenda Committee does not have, according to the committee chair Dave Scrivener, who is also UTSU’s VP external.

Scrivener said that in the past, the U of T Mississauga Students Union has shared UTSU polling stations in Mississauga and split costs. This year, UTMSU elections are being pushed back two weeks, so UTSU will fund its own three stations. St. George has 10 polling stations, down from 12 last year, down from 12 last year.

Sullivan, the St. Mike’s rep, said that with only two polling stations, the parts of campus east of Queen’s Park have gotten the short shrift. On the west side, the Athletic Centre polling station has been removed.

“Relations between St. Mike’s and UTSU had been poor in the past, so this would actually give our students a voice and it would give us representation,” said Alvaro. “Our students are not going to care enough about UTSU to make the walk out to UTSU because they have been so distanced from St. Mike’s this year.”

Sullivan argued that Brennan Hall is the hub of student life for St. Mike’s. “Almost every student passes through Brennan at least once a day. That is where the cafeterias and student government are located,” she said.

Scrivener said polling stations should be planned around class locations. “Classrooms or lecture halls are the locations with maximum traffic from the greatest diversity of constituencies,” he said. Neither of the proposed St. Mike’s locations fit the bill. Scrivener also rejected Alumni Hall, which had a polling station last year, because it doesn’t have wireless internet access.

Wymilwood Café at Vic will be the closest polling station to St. Mike’s, but concerns over lack of wheelchair access were raised at the board meeting.

Each slate has an exec candidate from St. Mike’s: Daniella Kyey for VP equity and James Finlay for VP external.