It was not looking good for the Thunderbirds.
Down by two points with two seconds left in Friday night’s game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears, it seemed as if a UBC loss was inevitable. The T-Birds were playing defence after failing to tie the game on what should have been their final possession, and were on the verge of losing their third straight game of the regular season.
The whole crowd, including myself, may have thought the game was over, but the T-Birds never gave up. Thanks to that attitude, they miraculously tied the game and pushed the game to overtime.
After Malcolm Williams forced an inbound violation by Alberta (6-4), UBC (6-2) got the ball back. Williams then proceeded to throw a perfect alley-oop pass to a flying Kamar Burke, who tipped in a lay-up that tied the game just before the clock expired.
The play inspired a team who had struggled for most of the game, and they used that momentum to dominate a deflated Alberta team in overtime, winning 82-71.
If UBC makes a deep run in the playoffs this year, they will look back at this game and that play.
If they had dropped Friday night’s game, the ‘Birds would have fallen to 4-3 in regular season action, erasing a successful 4-0 start. The CIS No. 4 ranked Saskatchewan Huskies were coming to town on Saturday night, providing another tough test for a team who would have entered the game with little momentum.
Instead, No. 7 ranked UBC managed to escape the weekend with a 6-2 record after beating 2 higher ranked opponents. And I mean escaped.
The T-Birds by no means played fantastic basketball this past weekend and should consider themselves lucky to have won both games. After making an improbable comeback on Friday night, UBC needed another hard-fought effort to beat Saskatchewan 69-60 on Saturday night.
The ‘Birds committed 29 turnovers and gave up 22 offensive rebounds against the Huskies, and at times looked unable to handle Saskatchewan’s pressure. However, UBC played tough defence and held their opponent to a meagre 60 points. And it was precisely because of their defence that UBC emerged victorious.
Head coach Kevin Hanson was amazed that his team managed to pull out the win, and was pleased with how they came through against a tough opponent.
“That was a very explosive team, and to hold a team like that to 60 points is really good,” said Hanson after Saturday’s game.
UBC did an exceptional job of shutting down Alberta’s and Saskatchewan’s top players. Entering the weekend, Jordan Baker of the Golden Bears and Jamelle Barrett of the Huskies were averaging 20.3 and 19.3 points per game respectively, but this weekend UBC forced them off of their games. Baker finished with only 6 points while Barrett shot 4-20 from the floor.
“It took a team effort in order to stop [Barrett], and that’s all you can do to guard a guy like that,” said Hanson. “Overall I’m pretty happy with the defensive effort.”
The games would not have been won without some big plays by some of UBC’s senior players. Burke was all over the court during both games, hauling in rebounds and helping control the offence. He currently leads the Canada West in rebounding with 11 per game.
Nathan Yu was once again a spark plug on offence, scoring 22 points both nights. During the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game when Saskatchewan was closing in on the ‘Birds, Yu always made sure to answer back and helped preserve the lead.
Williams may just be a first-year, but he has played like a senior this season and continued that strong play this past weekend. His composure on that inbound pass to set up the alley-oop against Alberta was superb, and on Saturday he helped ice the game by draining a clutch three-pointer.
“Once again, I was really impressed with [Williams],” said Hanson. “I’m really happy with the minutes he provided.”
UBC desperately needed those wins this weekend. After losing disappointing games before the Christmas break to weaker opponents in Calgary and Lethbridge, the ‘Birds needed to get back on track if they wanted to prove they are a contender in the Canada West.
They may not have put forward the effort they wanted to, but a 2-0 weekend against two higher ranked teams is hard to complain about.
What matters most now, though, is that UBC is 6-2. They have proven to themselves and the rest of the conference that they can win tough games, even when they’re not playing their best basketball.
Thanks to that alley-oop, the Thunderbirds are once again one of the best teams in the West.