With 19 seconds remaining and their team hanging onto a three-point lead, UBC players O’Brian Wallace and Brylle Kamen looked towards the crowd and motioned for the spectators to get out of their seats.
It wasn’t really necessary — the crowd of nearly 3,000 had been deafening all game — but the T-Birds wanted more help. UVic was on the verge of tying the game, but the two were confident and wanted the fans to enjoy what would happen next.
And right on cue, Wallace delivered. While following his check, his back facing the ball, the fifth-year lifted his arms up at the last second and batted down the pass that would have taken the Vike player to the rim. He then managed to snatch up the ball to secure it.
Wallace went on to hit two clutch free throws, making it a five-point lead for UBC, seemingly putting the game out of reach. But after Victoria answered with a three-pointer with nine seconds left, it still wasn’t over. Wallace was fouled again and forced to shoot two more huge free throws. Making both would all but seal the victory. Making one would give UVic a chance to tie. Missing both — well, that just wouldn’t be good.
“The team needs these buckets right now for us to seal the win,” said Wallace on what was going through his head during the last four free throws he took. “So I just tried to relax and hit them.”
He hit one of two, making it a three-point lead, and Victoria stormed back down the court to find an open Brandon Dunlop. He was the last guy that the ’Birds wanted to see with the ball; he led the Canada West with a .519 three-point percentage during the regular season.
“As soon as he got it, I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do overtime,’ that’s for sure,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “During the timeout, the last thing we said was, ‘Don’t leave three-point shooters open,’ … and we left one of their best shooters open.”
But the last-second shot bounced off the rim. Despite their lapse on defence, the T-Birds survived, giving UBC a 72-69 victory and a Canada West championship.
“A lot of people just don’t understand that sometimes luck plays a big factor in this game, and we got a little bit of luck at the end,” said Hanson.
Luck notwithstanding, the real reason for the victory — and, in fact, the success of the whole season — was the T-Birds’ defence. So it is true: defence does win championships.
In their last 11 wins, UBC held their opponents to under 70 points, grabbed the most rebounds and held their opponents to an average field goal percentage of 36.5. But in their last three losses, they’ve given up 74, 81 and 91 points and allowed their opponents to shoot 46.7 per cent. It’s therefore not much of a surprise that when UBC out-rebounded UVic and limited them to 69 points and 38.5 per cent shooting, the T-Birds came out victorious.
“I was happy with how our guys executed on both ends of the floor. We’ve done a pretty good job defensively over the last 11 games, and that’s something that’s [important] going into nationals,” said Hanson. “It’s going to be an unbelievably tough tournament to go back there because there [are] eight great defensive teams.”
In the second quarter, the T-Birds played the defence that makes them so successful. They held the Vikes to only one field goal and eight points in the frame, allowing them to build up a 10-point lead at the half.
While applying the pressure on defence, the ’Birds were also responding on offence. Led by Doug Plumb and an efficient fast break, UBC was able to get to the rim and finish, outscoring UVic 22-8 in the second quarter. Plumb finished with 22 points on the night, missing only one shot from the field, and also led the team in rebounds and assists. In a tight game with pressure mounting, the veteran stepped up and delivered.
“Every year I say that your fourth- and fifth-year guys have to be good for you down the stretch, and we don’t have a lot of those guys. Doug played great,” said Hanson.
In addition to scoring their first Canada West title since 2011, the T-Birds will have a better ranking at nationals and enjoy an easier draw. But the close victory also does wonders for the team’s motivation. The T-Birds had some tough games over the past couple weeks, but they always rebounded, and this game showed that this young team can win close games under pressure.
“We’ve done a really good job, with the guys and the coaching staff, of just focusing on the next game and playing our style,” said Hanson. “The last six games, we’ve just been focused … on what we do, and we were able to refocus from the losses to Victoria three weeks ago.
“I’ve got so much respect for the way our guys played and the intensity they brought and the desire to win. I give them full credit for the way they behaved on the floor, and what they did and the way they competed in practice to make each other better.”
Since UBC is such a balanced scoring team, they’re going to have to be the best defensive team once again to prevail at nationals. They haven’t won a national championship since 1972, and if they end that drought, defence will be the reason why.
“Now we have to focus on what’s next,” said Wallace. “[Now] we have to try and get that national championship.”