Onto the Canada West Final Four it is for the UBC men’s basketball team. The ‘Birds swiftly handed the visiting UNBC Timberwolves their return tickets home after sweeping a best-of-three series this past Thursday and Friday.
Emotions were expectedly running high to begin Thursday’s playoff game. Looking excitedly tense, both teams began the game by throwing errant passes, committing unnecessary fouls and performing a wide array of other birdbrain errors.
One UBC player seemed unaffected by the heightened importance of the match -- who else, but Tommy Nixon. Nixon, whose regular season success landed him a spot on Canada West’s First All-Star team, put up 12 first quarter points and finished the half with 16.
In spite of their size, and the unrelenting chirps dished out by members of the UBC football team who happened to be in attendance, the Timberwolves put up a fight. Going into the half, UBC led 45-38.
Four of UBC’s players finished in double figures in the scoring department, the high-point man being Nixon with a game-high 23. UNBC rallied late, but the scoreboard exaggerates how close this game really was. The ‘Birds won game one, 83-77.
UBC’s head coach, Kevin Hanson, spoke of his plans for game two:
“I didn’t think we defended the dribble penetration very well, so we’ll make a few defensive adjustments. I thought they scored a lot in transition. You just can’t let teams out-hustle you, and I thought tonight they did a really good job of that. It’s a best-of-three series, and you really want to win in two and get that extra day’s rest.”
Not the least intimidated by UNBC’s late game push, UBC resumed hacking down the Timberwolves’ defence with alacrity in the second game. Connor Morgan, the 6’9 Victoria native, scored the first nine points for UBC as the home team jumped ahead to an early 28-9 lead after one.
The thick-skinned Timberwolves looked helpless. Shooting a lacklustre 33.3 per cent from the field in the first half, UNBC was simply lost. And with the prospect of prolonging their season dwindling, their body language communicated defeat.
Morgan added to the growing pit in their stomachs after emphatically throwing down a monstrous one-handed dunk before the appreciative football team, who, fuelled by liquor and pizza and shirtless with their bodies painted blue and white, returned to Friday’s game to further harass the Timberwolves.
“That was a pretty big league dunk,” said Hanson of Morgan’s play. “I mean, he took off from a mile out, elevated and kept going. He’s tried a few of those this year, and he usually just crams it into the front of the rim because he takes off from too far back. But he got up and that really inspired us. We went on a run right after that. He’s an exciting player. It’s fun to see. The fans love it. As a coach, I usually don’t get too excited about dunks, but that was a pretty big-time dunk.”
Hanson also expressed his gratitude for the lively hometown crowd.
“It was a great crowd tonight. In basketball it’s about a 10-15 point advantage when you do have that home crowd. The football guys, it was great to have them out here. We love to have these crowds out to support us, and it’s something we’re going to look to build on next year when we host the nationals.”
UNBC flared on the scoreboard in the third quarter, the effort akin to the embers of a dying fire. When the clock ran out at the War Memorial Gym, the score read 88-78 for UBC.
UBC has beat the odds to get to where they presently are. After a 1-5 start to their season, critics were beginning to doubt how relevant they’d be come March.
“I think that 1-5 start really set the tone for us. We realized what we had to do. I’m just very proud of these guys. They’ve accepted their roles. Our game plan was know your job, do your job, and I thought our guys really did that well tonight and throughout the season. We’re thrilled to be going to the Final Four; and we’re going to give it our best.”