The UBC men’s basketball team looked to start 2015 off right with a couple of wins over the struggling University of Brandon Bobcats. Winners of four straight, the Thunderbirds were on the cusp of posting a record above .500 for the first time this season. At 5-5, they entered the weekend tied for seventh place in the Pioneers Division.
Brandon proved to be more dangerous than their dismal 1-11 record would have suggested. Early in Friday’s tilt, the visitors jumped ahead to a 9-0 lead. A quick time-out by UBC head coach Kevin Hanson -- who had some interesting things to say for the lapel mic attached to him during the game[link] -- and things settled down a bit. Still, after one quarter of play, Brandon led UBC by a score of 28-27.
UBC managed to pull ahead in the second quarter by exploiting their size advantage over the visitors. There wasn’t a Bobcat player on the floor that could handle UBC’s David Wagner. The 6’9 fourth-year forward dropped 10 hard fought points in the half, all of which came from inside the paint, and led UBC into the locker room with a 57-47 lead.
“The last month we’ve really been trying to emphasize pounding the ball inside,” said Hanson. “We think that’s a big advantage over a lot of teams that we play.”
In spite of their size, the Bobcats would not fold. Beginning the second half much like the first, the visitors cruised to a 58-57 lead after a quick 11-0 run to start the third quarter before an alley-oop thrown by UBC’s Andrew McGuiness to Connor Morgan stopped their roll in emphatic fashion. UBC pulled back in front, holding on to a slim 74-68 lead before the fourth quarter.
The Thunderbirds proved to be the team that wanted it more in the final quarter of play. UBC systematically shut down the Bobcats, with six of their players finishing in double figures in the scoring department. The final score read 97-82 in favour of the home team.
To those who didn’t watch the game, the scoreboard might have been deceptive in telling the evening’s narrative. For most of the game, this fast-paced Bobcat team seriously threatened the Birds’ winning streak.
“They’re a very athletic team. We had problems guarding the ball screen tonight,” said Hanson. “We just didn’t get down in our defensive stance. We just have to remember to stick to our game plan, which got away from us a little tonight. We have to stick to the principles that we’ve worked on all week.”
The fight in Brandon’s game carried over to Saturday. Playing like a team with nothing to lose, the Bobcats continued to dictate the pace early in game two, jumping ahead to a 25-19 lead after one quarter of play.
Morgan helped pull the ‘Birds back into the game in the second quarter. The 6’9 forward, now in his second year of play, was fouled on a successful three point shot. After hitting the free throw to convert the four point play, and knocking down multiple subsequent three-pointers, Morgan finished the half with 16 points, and the ‘Birds led 48-42.
Facing a feisty Bobcats team that refused to shy away for the second night in a row, Hanson had some work to do with his players in the interval.
“We talked about getting focused defensively. We gave up 25 points in the first quarter, and that wasn’t very good at all. We talked about getting our defensive stops, our missed rotations and the back door cuts we were getting burned on.”
Whatever was said, it worked.
Saturday was a night on which the basketball gods smiled down on UBC. Everything was going in. UBC’s Jorden Jensen-Whyte, for instance, attempted to throw a half court alley-oop pass to Morgan. While the pass missed its intended recipient by a long shot, it did not miss the basket. Jensen-Whyte’s inaccurate lob ended up being the longest three point conversion of the game, and Jensen-Whyte, whose countenance rarely betrays any sort of emotion under ordinary circumstances, chuckled as he jogged back on defence.
After the buzzer rang and the cheerleaders stopped dancing, UBC comfortably walked away with a 107-76 win, their sixth consecutive regular season victory.
The Thunderbirds will take a short drive to Langley next weekend to take on the Trinity Western University Spartans, who are having their own problems at 1-11 this season.
“Preparation is the key to success,” said Hanson after the game. “We’re not in a position to take anyone lightly. I thought we were a little complacent today at times, and we just can’t do that. It’s going to be about hard work all week. We’re going to focus on ourselves, make sure we’re doing the right things, and obviously we’ll have to improve our defensive effort.”