For the UBC Thunderbirds women’s basketball team, their 16th straight win could not have been any sweeter.
A night after securing a berth at the CIS national championship tournament, the T-Birds completed a thrilling comeback on Saturday to win the 2015 Canada West Championship by a final score of 69-68.
With the Saskatchewan Huskies up four points and the clock ticking down fast, Adrienne Parkin drained a huge three-pointer with 18.7 seconds remaining.
Strategically, UBC quickly used up their remaining fouls to give, sending Saskatchewan’s Kelsey Trulsrud to the free throw line. She missed both the freebies and when Kris Young picked up the rebound, she knew exactly what to do with it. The two-time conference MVP took the ball from end-to-end, expertly used her body to create space and banked the ball off the glass into the basket.
With no timeouts left and six seconds remaining, the T-Birds defence was able to shut the Huskies down, the final buzzer sounding before they could get a shot off.
“Oh my god, honestly, this is a storybook ending for me,” said Young. “My last game in War [Memorial Gym], I got MVP, we won and I hit the game winner. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than this.”
UBC was down early and often in this game. Saskatchewan was up by as many as 12 points in the first quarter and took an 11-point lead into the half.
The Huskies had been shooting 50 per cent from the field in the first half, but went ice cold in the third quarter, allowing the T-Birds to pull themselves back to a two-point deficit at the end of the frame.
At that point, one could sense that it was time for the Kris Young show. Held to just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting through the first three quarters, UBC’s all-time leading scorer was on an entirely different level in the fourth. Playing every minute of her final home game, Young hit six-of-nine shots en route to 13 points in that final frame, electrifying the crowd into loud “M-V-P” chants.
“Kris did some remarkable things down the stretch,” said UBC head coach Deb Huband. “You could see she wanted it so bad and so did her teammates. It takes a lot of courage to step up like that when the game’s on the line.”
Credit to the Huskies though, who were hitting seemingly every three down the stretch. The T-Birds only led the game for a total of 43 seconds, but had the upper hand when it mattered most.
“I think it was great for us to be challenged like that and have to answer the bell, come from behind. [It helps] prepare us going into nationals,” said Huband.
While there was the obvious standout performance from Young -- who led UBC with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three steals -- as well as the game-changing triple from Parkin, the T-Birds dug in as a team and stayed calm and composed throughout the game. They’ve got plenty of star power between Young and Harleen Sidhu, who had 18 points, but their improved depth is what’s gotten them through their current 16-game streak.
“Deb always talks about showing yourself and having different people on our team step up,” said Young. “I think that’s what has been amazing about our progression over this season. We’ve had people step up when we need it. It’s not just me and it’s not just Harleen getting buckets, it’s everybody. It’s a team game and it’s way more fun and that’s why we’re succeeding.”
The T-Birds still have a long way to go to reach their ultimate goal this year. All season long they’ve been wearing shirts with “3210” written across the chest. That’s how many kilometres it is, as the crow flies, from Vancouver to Quebec City, where nationals are being held.
“We wanted to have it in front of us all the time to know that was our end goal and know the little steps that were going to get us there,” explained Young.
But since 3,210 kilometres is actually quite a bit of an underestimate, the ‘Birds will have to go the extra distance if they want to bring home the rather ironically named “Bronze Baby Trophy” for the first time since 2008.
Thankfully, they’ve got the wind at their back.
“I think the real importance of this game was momentum,” said Young. ”We had a tough, tough win and that’s going to make us better.”