UBC head coach Kevin Hanson was not happy with his team’s performance two weekends ago.
After two disappointing losses on the road to the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, the Thunderbirds lost their spot atop the Pacific Division standings and dropped to No. 7 in the CIS rankings. As the playoffs approached, an effort like the one against the Cascades was simply not acceptable in the eyes of the coach.
Not surprisingly, the practices this past week for the T-Birds were very demanding. With the first place University of Victoria Vikings coming to town on Friday night, UBC needed a win in order to have a chance at finishing first in the Pacific Division. Hanson needed to whip his team into shape so they would play like an elite team during their biggest game of the regular season.
The T-Birds didn’t disappoint. When it mattered most, they played their best game of the year.
Led by Kamar Burke and a suffocating defence that had faltered in their last two games, UBC used a strong second half to earn a convincing 68-52 win over the Vikings on Friday night at War Memorial Gym.
Quite simply, Burke was a beast. Pouring in 17 points, collecting 17 rebounds and getting 3 steals, the fifth-year forward was doing it all on the court. His strong play on defence inspired the T-Birds, as they ended up forcing 25 Viking turnovers.
“I give it all to [head coach] Kev,” said Burke after the game. “This week in practice Kev demanded so much of us. It was one of the hardest weeks of practice we’ve had all year.”
UVic averages more than 80 points per game, and to hold them to 52 points on 26.2 per cent shooting was impressive to say the least. Their leading scorer, Ryan MacKinnon, was held to a mere 13 points as the Vikings were not able to get much going on offence.
“Kevin wanted us to stop MacKinnon, just box out and be physical with their big guys down low and focus on rebounding,” said Burke, who is second in the Canada West in rebounds per game.
UBC averages 83 points per game, so their offence was not performing to the best of its ability either. At times it was stagnant, as the Vikings’ zone defence slowed down the quick ball movement that is key to the T-Birds’ offensive success.
Leading scorer Nathan Yu was in foul trouble in the first half, so it was up to the other players on the team to step up. Doug Plumb, Graham Bath and Tommy Nixon all played key roles in helping the ‘Birds carry a six point lead into halftime.
“That’s just what a great team does,” said Yu. “We need that coming down the stretch into the playoffs because there’s going to be times when guys are in foul trouble, so it’s great.”
The second half proceeded to be the Nathan Yu show. With the help of his smooth jump shot, the fifth-year guard scored 19 of his 22 points in the half, helping put the game out of reach.
It was a promising sign to see such a well-rounded effort from the T-Birds heading into their final weekend of the regular season. Eight players chipped in points, and the bench players provided an energy on both ends of the court that helped wear down UVic.
Balraj Bains had yet another underrated all-around performance in the win. He only had a modest six points in the win, but his 6-foot-9 presence in the paint caused fits for the Vikings. He recorded 2 steals and blocked 3 shots, bringing his season total to 29, which is the new UBC single season record for blocked shots. He also leads the Canada West in blocks per game.
Needing a win on the road next Friday against UVic to finish first in the Canada West, UBC must once again make the Vikings look like an average team rather than the No. 4 ranked team in the country. A victory will be a testament to how strong UBC really is, and will prove that the losses to Fraser Valley were nothing more than a bump in the road.