BURNABY — Earlier this week, for just a fraction of a second, G.W. Graham Grizzlies head coach Jake Mouritzen wondered aloud if he should be revealing to the media just how voluminous a three-point shooting threat his senior guard Cairo Almarez has been this season.
In the end, however, as his Triple A No. 1-ranked team prepared to open its four-day run at the St. Thomas More Chancellor Invitational in Burnaby, he came clean.
Over the first 16 games, Almarez had hoisted 160 three-point attempts and made 60 of them. The bottom line to the rest of the field was to be ready because he wasn’t going to stop shooting them.
Well, even with that intel floating through the spacious STM gym Friday night, heading into the Grizzlies’ Final Four showdown with East Vancouver’s No. 5-ranked Sir Charles Tupper Tigers, Almarez wasn’t going to be denied.
“It was that kid in the corner, four times, four times from the same spot,” said Tupper head coach Jeff Gourley after Almarez shook off an 0-for-6 start from distance and hit four of the timeliest second-half triples you’re apt to see, all from the very same spot on baseline corner to give the Grizz a 70-66 win and set up a battle against No. 2 Duchess Park of Prince George in Saturday’s 6 p.m. tournament final.
The Tigers played a dynamic game, building a 19-10 lead late in the opening quarter, and holding a 32-30 halftime advantage.
Yet down the stretch drive, Almarez hit two of the biggest shots of his career.
First, a triple with 3:11 remaining to give G.W. Graham a 62-61 lead, a momentum swinger for sure, especially after Tupper’s Liam Stanley had broken a 59-59 tie with a decisive baseline drive he turned into a highlight reel reverse lay-up.
After the Tigers took a 63-62 lead, Almarez hit his final trey off step-back move for a 65-63 lead with 2:27 remaining.
The Grizzlies finished up by going 5-of-6 from the free throw line the rest of the way.
“Cairo took a bump early and definitely wasn’t Cairo in the first three quarters,” said Mouritzen. “I just kept telling him to relax and that it would come. He’s gonna hit shots, but the big thing for us this season is that we don’t have to rely on it.”
Almarez actually did hit two treys in the third quarter, including one with 13 seconds left in the frame to give the Grizz a 51-50 lead heading into the fourth.
On the night, forward Matthias KIim led GWG with a game-high 21 points. Almarez added 17, Jude Hall 12 and Zach Klim scored all eight of his points in the third quarter.
For the Tigers, Luke Tobias scored 18 points, Rhys Maestre and Liam Stanley 11 apiece, and Noah Basas and Matt Dunkerley nine each.
Mouritzen admits being No. 1 comes with its own set of challenges.
“This is the third game in a row we’ve had to battle and what these guys appreciate is that while rankings mean nothing, if you’re No. 1 in the rankings, everyone hates you,” he laughed of taking over the top spot. “We came the first day and the boys are like ‘Why is everybody yelling at us?’ So it’s hard to be No. 1 now, but it’s even harder to be No. 1 at the end of March.”
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