Making the playoffs is never supposed to be easy, but things may have gotten tougher for the TRU WolfPack men's basketball team.
The WolfPack is scheduled to return to Canada West action on Saturday, when the UBC-Okanagan Heat visits the Tournament Capital Centre. TRU has been off since the end of November because of the conference's December break.
TRU is as close to a playoff spot as it has ever been at this point, but suffered another blow during a pre-Christmas exhibition tournament in Arizona.
Will Ondrik, TRU's leading scorer, went down with a knee injury. He's likely to miss Saturday's game, and possibly longer.
"It looks like he'll probably be out," WolfPack head coach Scott Clark said Wednesday. "Nobody knows for sure what's wrong with his knee."
Clark is planning to play without Ondrik on Saturday.
It comes at a terrible time for the WolfPack, which is 4-6 and fifth in Canada West's Pacific Division. The top four teams from the division make the playoffs, with the UNBC Timberwolves (5-5) sitting in the final playoff spot.
Through 10 games, Ondrik, a 6-foot-7 forward, leads the WolfPack in points (16.5 per game) and is second in rebounding (6.1). He has been, to this point, TRU's most reliable player.
Clark said that D.J. Oates, a rookie from Australia, will likely pick up Ondrik's minutes. The 6-foot-6 Oates was a starter at the beginning of the season, but an injury forced him to miss four games. He is averaging 2.3 points and 3.0 rebounds.
Even with Oates stepping in, Ondrik's departure will make the WolfPack's push for a playoff spot that much more challenging.
Between Saturday and Feb. 16, when the WolfPack's regular season ends against the Heat in Kelowna, TRU will play 12 games. And with UNBC one game ahead of the WolfPack with a similar remaining schedule, it's pretty clear what Clark's men will have to do.
"I think . . . 10-11 (victories)," Clark said. "That means we need five, six or seven wins (in the second half) - somewhere in there.
"Maybe at the break, you look ahead. But right now . . . and it's a clichÉ, but we're just looking at it one game at a time. In getting six, you have to start at one."
The WolfPack's second half also will include home games against the Lethbridge Pronghorns (5-5) and Calgary Dinos (4-6), home doubleheaders with the Victoria Vikes (7-3) and Trinity Western Spartans (3-7), along with road games against the Alberta Golden Bears (9-1) and Saskatchewan Huskies (6-4), and a road doubleheader with the Fraser Valley Cascades (7-3).
TRU feels prepared for the second half after losing four games to American schools over the break. These weren't easy games - two of TRU's opponents won national championships last season.
On Dec. 22, TRU lost 85-56 to the Concordia Irvine Eagles in Scottsdale, Ariz. Concordia is the defending champion in the NAIA, the American conference for smaller colleges and universities.
On Sunday, TRU went into Bellingham and lost 98-62 to the Western Washington Vikings, the defending NCAA Division II champions.
And while UBC-O, which is 1-9 in its second Canada West season, isn't as strong as Concordia or Western Washington, Clark wants his team to be just as ready.
"It's our job to prepare and in having good preparation, have confidence," he said. "We just came off playing the NAIA and NCAA Division II champions. I told them, 'You can't be wowed by them; let's just prepare for what's in front of you.' "
Saturday's game starts at 7 p.m.
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The WolfPack women's basketball team is in great position to secure a playoff position, and will begin its second half against the Heat on Saturday at 5 p.m.
TRU went 7-3 in the first part of the schedule, and sits tied for second in the Pacific Division. UBC-Okanagan is 4-6 and fighting for the last playoff spot.
Last season, with four fewer games on the schedule, the WolfPack went 9-9 and made the postseason for the first time.
The WolfPack has won three straight conference games, and also went 3-0 on a trip through Arizona after Christmas. TRU has won eight of nine altogether, its lone blemish an 84-64 loss to the visiting Regina Cougars on Nov. 23.
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The WolfPack volleyball teams won't return to Canada West action until Jan. 11-12, when they head to Saskatoon to play the Huskies.
TRU's men are 5-7 and one spot out of the playoffs. The WolfPack women are 0-12.
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After losing its last three B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League games before Christmas, the WolfPack will return to play Simon Fraser in Burnaby on Saturday.
TRU is 4-6-0-1 and tied for fourth in the five-team league. It last played Dec. 1, when it lost 7-1 to host SFU - that came 24 hours after SFU had won 7-1 in Kamloops.
Including Saturday's game, TRU has 13 contests remaining.
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