The AMS picked an excellent weekend for their “CourtSide” event. The outsized, outmatched and outplayed University of Manitoba Bisons were dismantled by the home town Thunderbirds in Friday’s matchup.
Latecomers shuffling into the War Memorial Gym may have caught UBC’s Conor Morgan casting the game’s first stone. Morgan had two deafening put back jams early in the opening quarter. What followed was an unimpeded onslaught, a perverse display of one team’s will to dominate their opponent.
All Manitoba could do was slow the bleeding. The Bisons fell desperately into foul trouble in the first half, putting UBC on the line for 23 free throw attempts. Tommy Nixon, UBC’s fifth-year veteran leader and Canada West’s leading scorer with an average of 20.9 points per game, went 7-10 from the free throw line in two quarters of play.
Nixon’s nose has been adept at sniffing out the foul line this year. He leads the team in free throw attempts, and remarkably entered the weekend just 19 conversions shy of setting a UBC single season record for free throws made. The record was set by Kerri Morris during the 1994-95 season.
“I would’ve preferred you not to tell me that,” said Nixon, when asked about the record. “It’s great to hear that, but it’s about winning games right now. That’s the mission we’ve been on for the second half of the season, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
With that said, after finishing Friday’s game shooting 10-15 from the free throw line, needing just nine more for the record, Nixon had an uncharacteristically quiet Saturday night. He will remain in second place with 144 made free throws this year.
Another UBC fifth-year, Tonner Jackson, made his presence known in the third quarter of Friday’s game. The 6’7 forward was diving for loose balls, intercepting passes and leaping over defenders for offensive rebounds. Jackson passed the torch to teammate Andrew Mcguiness, who made his long awaited return to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury on January 24. Mcguiness casually knocked down a few triples in the fourth. Six ‘Birds finished the game in double figures, and UBC strolled to an easy 98-82 victory.
“I thought overall we played pretty well. The disappointing part is that we let them back in the game towards the end. We let them get a feel and little bit of momentum going into tomorrow. Other than that, I thought we did a pretty good job,” said Nixon.
After what I’m sure was a tiresome evening spent in the film room, Manitoba was able to curtail UBC’s offensive assault in Saturday’s rematch. The Bisons pushed the pace in the first quarter, and were rewarded with fast break points on the transition. Defensively, they forced UBC to take ill-advised outside shots. Early in the second quarter of play, the Bisons held their first lead of the weekend, 21-18.
Saturday’s was a game defined by bizarre turnovers, head-scratching officiating and nauseating shooting percentages. UBC shot 35.9 per cent from the field in the first half, and posted one of their lowest offensive outputs this season with 33 points. Still, they held a one-point lead over the Bisons going into the break.
Conor Morgan heated up in the second half, shooting 4-7 from behind the arc. The second year Victoria native lead the ‘Birds to a shaky 82-62 victory.
More significantly, the win marked the end of the road (at least the regular season road) for four of UBC’s seniors. Andrew McGuiness, Tommy Nixon, Tonner Jackson and Brylle Kamen were all honoured for their services during Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s a lot to take in,” said Nixon, who finished the year as the Canada West scoring champion. “I’m just trying to enjoy it. I’m feeling a little nostalgic. It’s been a great ride, but I’m just trying to focus on the next game and keep this train rolling.”
After a disconcerting 1-5 start to the year, UBC won 13 of their last 14 games to finish the 2014-15 regular season with a stellar 14-6 record. UBC will host the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves for the Canada West quarterfinals, beginning on February 26. The Timberwolves finished 12-8 in the Explorer division this year, and will look to put an end to UBC’s recent triumphs in a best-of-three series.