The outlook wasn’t great for the UBC men’s basketball team.
After dropping their final two regular season games, it took a furious second-half push on Friday night to defeat the University of Alberta Golden Bears in game one of their first-round playoff series. And then on Saturday, the T-Birds were outplayed for the majority of the game, losing 81-68 to Alberta. This made for a decisive game three on Sunday night, a game that could have possibly ended their promising season.
But with their season on the line, UBC came out on fire and played perhaps their best game of the season to convincingly beat the Golden Bears 96-67. They got out to an immediate 14-0 lead, leading 45-18 at the half and kept up the pressure in the second to cruise to victory. They now advance to the Canada West final four that they’re hosting next weekend, meaning that the fans in attendance had to return the blue cowbells that they were given at the start of the game.
The T-Birds played with an intensity that was missing during Saturday’s loss. They forced Alberta into tough shots, limiting them to only 22 field goals on 30.9 per cent shooting. They also out-rebounded them 47-25, pouncing on loose balls and keeping the Bears out of the paint. Brylle Kamen, despite having three teeth pulled in the past two weeks and not being able to eat solid food, led the way with 12 rebounds, while second-year David Wagner also grabbed 10.
“That was the type of defence that we wanted to play last night. Last night we got behind and we burned a lot of energy playing catch-up,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson after Sunday’s win. “I thought we came out and didn’t give them many looks. We made some adjustments on ball screens which had hurt us all week, and I thought our guys adjusted very well…. The effort and energy level was tremendous.”
Another main reason for the rebounding discrepancy was due to UBC’s stellar shooting. They were able to score almost at will in the paint during the first half, and got hot from three-point land in the second to finish with a 58.3 field goal percentage. In total, five players ended up in double figures for points: Kamen, Wagner, Doug Plumb, O’Brian Wallace and Geoff Pippus.
“To see us come out fired up like that in the first quarter was really exciting for us, because we haven’t had that real killer instinct for quite some time now,” said Hanson. “I’m just proud of the energy we came out with, and it set the energy for the second half.”
Last weekend saw UBC drop two contests to the University of Victoria and put them on the wrong foot heading into the playoffs. It was a wake up call for the ‘Birds, who had previously coasted to 12 straight victories, and reminded them that they needed to really work for their wins.
“It was a big kick to the ego and to the head,” said Hanson, referring to the Victoria losses. “All of a sudden it put us in a tough situation…. It could’ve gone south in a big hurry. You lose that one last night too, and [it affects] your confidence.”
“We had two options today: we could’ve either cowered in fear at what was in front of us, or just attack it and embrace the situation,” said Plumb, who avoided this being his last game as a T-Bird. “And I feel that we attacked it head on. I was really impressed by all of us.”
Instead of going south, the T-Birds still have a shot of heading east to Ottawa for CIS nationals. The ‘Birds will host the Canada West Final Four next weekend, where a win in the semi-finals will provide them with an automatic berth at nationals. A loss would not be an automatic end to the season, as there is also an at-large berth to the tournament that is awarded nationally.
UBC will take on the University of the Fraser Valley on Friday night, with tip-off going at 7 p.m. at War Memorial Gym. The Canada West final is on Saturday.