With two of their top players gone for the season, the host Kelowna Owls expected there might be an adjustment period during the Interior Savings Western Canada Basketball Tournament.
By the time their third game of the weekend rolled around, Harry Parmar's squad was firing on all cylinders.
In Saturday afternoon's 7th/8th place game, the Owls scored a convincing 93-76 victory over Edmonton's St. Francis Xavier Rams, the third-ranked team in Alberta.
Cooper Simson paced the KSS attack with a season-high 29 points as the Owls finished the 40th annual tournament with a 1-2 record.
"It was a nice effort," said Parmar. "We got all 11 guys in, there were some rough patches but everyone played and we put up more than 90 points against one of the best teams from Alberta. Certain guys are getting an identity, guys are learning to take command of the team, so it's coming together."
The Owls have been adapting to life on the hardwood without two of their top players, as both leading scorer Buzz Truss and senior guard John Katerberg were lost to the team late last month?Truss with a broken ankle, and Katerberg to an eligibility ruling.
With captain Joel Burma and fellow senior Malcolm Hlady leading the way, and strong support coming from the likes of Cooper Simson and Liam McGoran, the Owls are starting to gain some traction.
"We've played five games with our new lineup and this is the best we've looked so far," Parmar added. "This win should give them the confidence to know they can get things done against good competition."
KSS opened the tournament with a 61-55 loss to Winnipeg John Taylor as Simson had 14 points and Darrion Bunce added 10 points and 16 rebounds.
In Game 2 against Calgary's Sir Winston Churchill, KSS fell 77-67. Hlady had 21 points and Burma, 15.
From Cooper Simson's perspective, the Owls generally played well and made some important strides over three days of basketball.
"I think we played really well defensively the whole tournament," said Simson, who scored 57 points over the three games. "Offensively, we learned a whole bunch as the tournament went on and had a really strong game (Saturday).? I think we played really well overall, and we're growing as a team."
As always, win or lose, Parmar said the WCBT is an opportunity for his team to play some quality basketball and prepare for the home stretch of the season?including valleys and, hopefully, provincials.
"That's the beauty of this tournament," Parmar said. "You're going to get a quality game every game out and that's why I love this tournament. It doesn't matter whether you're playing in the final or the seventh-eighth place game, that team you play against could go on in their province and win the championship."
Joel Burma was named the Owls' top player for the tournament, Darrion Bunce was the Owls top defensive player, while Malcolm Hlady was named Kelowna's most inspirational player.
Owls' senior Raphael Jackson won the tournament's Slam Dunk Contest on Thursday night.
The Owls, ranked No. 6 in B.C., will host the Okanagan Valley championship Feb. 28 to March 2.
The winner will represent the valley at the B.C. AAAA boys high school basketball championship March 12 to 16 in Langley.
Meanwhile, in an all-B.C. final of the Western Canada Tournament, Langley's Walnut Grove defeated the Kitsilano Blue Demons 73-57.
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