Admit it: being ranked number one in the nation really does sound glamorous and exciting.
It sounds cool to say that the team is “the best in Canada,” and that all other teams look up to them and their greatness.
But truthfully, it is just a title. It doesn’t give the team magical powers, and it doesn’t automatically give them victories. If anything, winning is harder for the top-ranked team.
The UBC men’s basketball team had the honour of being ranked number one in Canada this past week, moving up from number two in the CIS weekly rankings thanks to their perfect 4-0 start to the regular season. And as they found out this past weekend, teams will especially be gunning for them in hopes of knocking the Thunderbirds off their pedestal.
The University of Fraser Valley Cascades seemed to have accomplished that feat. By splitting the weekend series with the T-Birds – UBC won 76-71 on Friday night and fell 89-77 on Saturday – the number-eight-ranked Cascades will most likely push UBC back down in the rankings.
But most importantly, the games showed the ‘Birds that if they really want to be considered one of the top teams in the nation, they have to step up, handle the tough teams and not take any days off. During this past weekend, they didn’t put forward an effort that will suffice come playoff time.
“I thought offensively we didn’t execute very well, and it cost us,” said head coach Kevin Hanson after Saturday night’s game. “Frankly, I think we weren’t ready to play.”
Friday night saw the T-Birds avoid a fourth-quarter collapse to emerge with the slim victory, keeping them safe for the time being. It was yet another all-around scoring effort for the squad, with eight total players chipping in points and five scoring in the double digits. Doug Plumb led the way with 17 points.
Saturday, however, saw the ‘Birds struggle to do the key things that they have done well so far this year. After a first quarter that saw them get out to a 27-23 lead thanks to what seemed like an endless barrage of three-pointers, the offense fell flat in the second and never really picked it up afterwards. UBC only managed 11 points in the second quarter, largely due to giving up nine turnovers.
And the long range shooting game that was so successful in the first half died out in the second. The ‘Birds put up 16 threes – almost half of their total shots – but only sank three of them, as opposed to UFV, who shot eight for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half and 16 for 35 overall.
“As you get down to playoffs and you’re playing top-ranked teams, everybody is going to be able to shoot,” said Hanson. “They busted 16 threes on us tonight, more than I think we’ve ever had against us, and most of them – what I was disappointed with – was that they were naked threes.”
Rebounding also proved to be key factor in both nights’ results. Friday night saw UBC grab 19 more rebounds than UFV, but Saturday saw the Cascades come out on top in that category and win the battle 36 to 32. Granted, there weren’t a ton of rebounds due to the amount of shots that UFV was making, but it still proved to be a significant factor in Saturday’s result.
“It’s totally unacceptable,” said Hanson. “It just felt like we were playing catch-up. Mentally we came out flat and we played catch-up; we got up 10 and we let them come back into it with those nine turnovers.”
Yet despite a few lapses, the ‘Birds are by no means in trouble. Saturday night once again saw five players score double figures and nine contribute points overall, and the victory on Friday night showed that UBC can gut out contests against tough teams even when they’re not at the top of their game.
Saturday’s game also shows them just what they need to do now to be one of the best teams in the nation. Although they won’t be ranked number one anymore come next week’s rankings, it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is them building off of this weekend and learning what it takes to be the best come playoffs.
Sure, still being considered the best team in Canada would be nice for the T-Birds. But honestly, the only time a team really needs to hold that spot is when the championship trophy is handed out.