Coming off of their Courtside victory two weekends ago, the UBC men’s basketball team brought their A-game on Thursday against the Manitoba Bisons — putting up a 106-74 score to open up the best-of-three Canada West series.
For the more senior Thunderbird players, this was not only their 2018 playoff opener but a chance for a little redemption. Last season, the Bisons put a stop to the ’Birds playoff run early, defeating UBC on their home court in two games — the teams haven’t faced each other since.
“I think the returning players are quite motivated to play, and I think there were some of those negative thoughts from last year carried over in the first quarter — some of the guys were a little bit tight,” UBC head coach Kevin Hanson said post-game. “I think once we got the blood flowing and we got into the rhythm of the game, I thought our guys relaxed and we opened up things in that second quarter.”
The T-Birds had to shake some rust off at the start of the game, having had a bye week last weekend for the start of playoffs. Entering into the first frame, the ’Birds were a step behind the Bisons, who jumped to a 5-0 lead with offence from James Wagner and Dharmjit Dhillon.
However, the point gap narrowed down as the T-Birds solidified their defence. A three-pointer from veteran Conor Morgan turned the frame in the T-Birds favour, getting them to the buzzer with a four-point lead at 22-18.
During the game, Morgan — as has come to be expected — took on much of the responsibility up-court for the T-Birds. Putting away 21 points for the T-Birds on the night, he put up 12 points in the first frame for the home side.
In the second quarter, the extensive UBC lead allowed younger bench talent to join in on the scoring — the subs added 10 points to the home side’s tally while the starters took a well-earned break. The all-around team effort only widened the scoring gap going into half-time at 46-32.
The second half saw UBC senior guard Phil Jalalpoor split his offensive work with first-year Grant Shephard, who contributed 13 out of his 17 points of the night in those closing quarters. Jalalpoor also grabbed 13 points of his 17 points in the second.
For the visitors, Bisons’ forward Wagner and Cameron O’Hara kept up some momentum for the visitors, sinking three-pointers that got each of them to 16 and 18 points respectively on the night.
That said, the ’Birds benefited from the depth of their bench throughout the game, as 43 points in total were contributed by the substitutes, compared to just five for Manitoba’s bench.
“Our young guys on our team this year have been great. They step in and they play their hardest, and honestly, that’s one of the reasons why it’s made us one of the very good teams," Morgan said of his teammates.
Together, UBC’s roster outworked the Bisons with 50 per cent of field goals made over the visitor’s 37 per cent. Little by little, the T-Birds pushed their lead up to 81-53 by the start of the fourth and closed out the game at a dominating 106-74 scoreline.
Defence was also key to UBC’s game on Thursday, as the team managed to shut down a league powerhouse in scoring.
“I think the biggest thing tonight for us that we focused on, really, was just defensively. We played really good defence,” he said. “Justus Alleyn, he’s leading the conference in scoring ... we did a very good job on him.”
Alleyn only managed eight points for the Bisons on Thursday.
Going into Friday’s rematch, Bisons head coach Kirby Schepp said that his team needs to put in more effort if they hope to take down a now energized UBC team.
“We need to be a little bit smarter and compete harder physically and certainly ... the rebounding was the biggest story of the game.... We've got to hopefully do a better job of that tomorrow,” he said.
The two teams will tip off again at War Memorial Gym on Friday at 4 p.m. for their second game of the quarterfinal series.