The UBC men’s basketball team limps into the playoffs following a two-game set in which it was swept by the Alberta Golden Bears. The pair of losses ended a streak on which the Thunderbirds had won 16 straight — and resulted in Alberta edging them out for second place in the conference behind the Calgary Dinos. The Dinos are a familiar foe for the Thunderbirds — last year’s national championship team was the very same that eliminated UBC in a heartbreaking semi-final series sweep last February.
For the second straight year, a third-place finish in the regular season means the Thunderbirds will likely have to travel for Canada West semi-finals and finals on the road, unless one of the Alberta-based juggernauts falls in an upset. The prospects of either traveling to Edmonton to face the Golden Bears again or to Calgary to face the Dinos for the first time since last year’s heartbreak are equally daunting.
Before that, however, the ’Birds have a non-trivial matchup with the University of the Fraser Valley — a best-of-three set that kicked off Thursday here at home. UBC has not faced the sixth-ranked Cascades this year. They need to take this matchup seriously, both as an elimination threat and as a potential momentum-builder following their weekend rout at the hands of the Golden Bears.
Though Manroop Clair made his return to the lineup on Thursday night after an absence, the team needs to see a big series out of the team’s other top talent too. When Jadon Cohee is on his game, he’s one of the top scorers in the league — and the team needs him to get hot down the stretch. Expect to see his number called early and often if things are falling his way.
Grant Shephard, too, has been a dominant force in just his second year with the team. Despite a pair of tough games in the sweep by Alberta, Shephard put up a monstrous month of January. He averaged a double-double for the month, 18.4 points and 10.4 rebounds. He too, will need to be on his game if the team has a chance at contending for a title.
There’s a long road ahead of the team, with two powerhouses atop Canada West looking down — but when this T-Bird team is rolling, they can definitely hang with the best. We’re hoping for a spot at nationals this year from these guys, though we won’t say where they could place from there.
First things first, and as Eric Mangini once said, "If you want to be the best you have to beat the best" — that very well could be the Alberta sides.