In the dying seconds of Friday’s Canada West semifinal basketball game between UBC and Alberta, Kris Young stood up from the bench with one hand holding an ice pack to her forehead, and the other raised to high-five her teammates.
With noticeable bruising and three fresh stitches above her right eye, the two-time conference MVP had a huge smile on her face despite being held to just six points. For the first time since 2012, the T-Birds are headed back to the CIS nationals championships.
“This is the best feeling,” said Young. “I would rather score zero points all season and go to nationals with my team than anything else. I’m so proud of my team tonight.”
With a spot in the CIS tournament on the line, the game had an extra physicality to it. A tight defensive battle and poor shooting from both sides resulted in a narrow 10-9 lead for UBC at the end of the first quarter.
Then in the second quarter, Young, who averaged a team-high 18 points per game this season, was forced to leave the game briefly to stop the bleeding from a gash above her right eye. But in a testament to the T-Birds’ improved depth, other players were able to step up their games and UBC broke out to a 30-20 lead by the end of the half.
“They pushed us around a lot and we played through it,” said Young. “I think the biggest thing was that we feel like we've been growing and peaking as a team. We’ve been steadily going uphill for the whole second half of the season.”
UBC was in control the rest of the game, in large part due to the efforts of third-year forward Kara Spotton, who has really hit her stride during the playoffs. In a breakout performance, she came off the bench and got to the line nine times and shot nearly 50 per cent from the floor, finishing with a game-high 21 points and six rebounds. Harleen Sidhu also chipped in 17 points and six boards as UBC finished with a 72-59 victory.
“One of the big factors is our depth,” said UBC head coach Deb Huband, whose team has won 15 straight games. “Not just with the people that have come in this year, like Diana and Kara, but also the coming-of-age of some of our third-year and fourth-year players, and the ability of them to take on more responsibility on the floor. We used to rely a little bit too much on one or two people, and now we have a team that defends well, is gritty, and knows how to execute."
Having gone head-to-head with Alberta in the post-season plenty of times, UBC knew what to expect. “We knew it was going to be a battle,” said Huband. “We have a lot of respect for Alberta. They’re a very deep, experienced team and we knew we had to perform and bring our A game tonight. It starts on defense for us and I thought we did a really good job.”
In true MVP fashion, Young still led UBC with 31 minutes played despite the hit to the head. While she didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, this was offset by her other contributions, including six rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals.
“We’re going to nationals. That’s all that matters.”
UBC plays the Saskatchewan Huskies Saturday night in the Canada West gold medal game. Tip-off is at 7 p.m at War Memorial Gym.