Khalifa Koulamallah had no hesitation in the final seconds in front of a packed house on December 6, 2023, when the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees were one point behind the Carleton University Ravens.
With 33.7 seconds left and trailing 76-75, Koulamallah slipped inside the three-point line, drove past his defender and scored a layup to give a point for the Gee-Gees who ultimately earned a 77-76 victory over their cross-town rivals.
It’s the latest chapter in one of the most heated rivalries in Canadian university sports and the latest shift in power in Ottawa.
For more than two decades, Carleton has dominated Ottawa’s men’s basketball rivalry while establishing itself as the preeminent force in Canadian university basketball.
Ontario’s 17 U Sports championships and 12 university track and field titles speak for themselves, as does the number of non-conference victories against NCAA D1 competition.
Yet this season, men’s basketball in the nation’s capital is different. It’s the Gee-Gees who lead the OUA East Division with a 16-1 record, while the reigning national champion Ravens are a shell of what they once were, sitting in fourth place with a record of 10-7.
The two schools face off Friday in their annual Capital Hoops game, an exhibition night at TD Place featuring men’s and women’s rivalry games with crowds that often mark the largest gatherings in basketball each year. NBA in Canada.
Last year’s games were attended by 7,029 people, while 10,780 people attended the event in 2015, an all-time attendance record.
The women will be notified at 6 p.m. ET and the men at 8 p.m. ET, with live coverage available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
“It’s a little different dynamic… Carleton’s 25-year career can put into perspective that while our program is very strong, this scenario has never happened before,” said the Gee-Gees head coach, James Derouin. said. “We’ve waited a long time to be in this position, so we’re excited about it.”
The Ravens are in the midst of a young campaign, having lost many key contributors from last year’s championship-winning squad, headlined by Aiden Warnholtz and Grant Shephard. However, the success of their cross-town rival is not unexpected.
WATCH | Aiden Warnholtz reflects on winning the 2023 U Sports championship:
It took a few years for the Gee-Gees to come together. Still, the top-ranked team has a winning combination and lofty goals of securing a national championship banner for its program as it continues to grow out of Carleton’s shadow.
“We have six, seven or even eight guys who can contribute and be star players in a game. We do it by committee and we have a great group, so we’re very lucky,” Derouin said. “This program is hungry for a national championship, and I think at least today we’re in a really good position to compete for a championship.”
Since the Capital Hoops began in 2007, the Ravens have won 13 times on the men’s side, while the Gee-Gees have won three times, the last in 2016 marking the only one in Derouin’s 13-year coaching tenure.
For forward Brock Newton, who transferred to Ottawa after a year with the NCAA’s Bucknell University, the Capital Hoops game marks not only the largest, most passionate crowd he’s played for, but also a test in a pressure-filled environment before running. at the U Sports championship.
“There’s a strong rivalry in this town, and both programs are good every year, so it’s always a good test,” said the 21-year-old from Fergus, Ont. “It was super exciting last year as a freshman, but it was easy to get overwhelmed. But I’m a guy that likes to feed off energy, and I’m excited for this year.”
With a narrow victory against their rivals already under their belt, securing another positive result against Carleton, this time in front of the biggest crowd of the season, could prove a critical moment in Ottawa’s quest for provincial and national glory.
Kali Pocrnic leads Ravens into contention
As the Carleton men’s team rebuilds, the defending U Sports champion Ravens hope to use Capital Hoops as a launching pad in the home stretch of the season while looking to avenge their loss to Ottawa in December.
Heading into what could be her final game at Capital Hoops, fourth-year point guard Kali Pocrnic has taken on a leadership role within the Ravens’ program, which sits atop the OUA standings, led by her 14, 5 points per game.
“This year our standards had to be a lot higher because after you win you have to be at your best all the time,” said the Oakville, Ont., athlete. said the native. “There’s never a time when we can be relaxed; we’re always panicked and we’re not expecting anything; we’re just trying to work harder than last year.”
Looking for a double win again this year 👀 😤
Capital Hoops is just around the corner and we can’t wait for it at CU!
With the loss to Ottawa being the only setback in an otherwise perfect record, confidence is high as the Ravens head into the game as they look to win the event for a third straight season and earn a energizing victory that they know can set the tone for a championship run.
“We’re really excited and Ottawa is a great team to play. They have a lot of depth and great guards, so it’s going to be a battle and we’re excited to see them again,” Pocrnic said. “We’re not trying to look at it as pressure, but rather as an opportunity.”
In the U Sports world:
- The University of Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal University Cougars men’s and women’s hockey teams visited the Calgary Saddledome last week for their annual Crowchild Classic games, drawing 10,474 spectators to see the Cougars men beat the Dinos 3-2, while the Calgary women blanked the MRU 2-0. .
- The Algoma University Thunderbirds men’s basketball team picked up their second victory of the season in a surprising 71-70 victory over ninth-ranked Toronto Metropolitan University Bold.