It may not be the most heated rivalry as of yet, but the UBC Thunderbirds and UBC Okanagan Heat planted a seed when their men’s basketball teams clashed for the first time this past weekend.
With both teams heading in totally different directions this season, the intensity and drama of a series between two schools with the same academic affiliation was minimal. Rivalries always take time to develop, especially in this case, when the talent and age level in both groups is so diverse.
However, in a few years these teams might have more similarities than just the UBC in their names.
The Heat (2-12) are experiencing growing pains in their first year in the CIS and have a roster full of talented young players. With only one senior on their roster, they are looking toward the future as they hope to build a competitive program.
On the other hand, the T-Birds (12-2) are a team loaded with fifth-years and have been a powerhouse in the Canada West for years. They expect big results every year and are usually very successful.
UBC-O clearly had it tough against such an elite opponent; UBC has the edge on them in all categories, and that disparity was evident in the weekend’s score lines.
The ‘Birds were able to take control from start to finish and win by convincing scores: 77-43 on Friday night and 78-48 on Saturday. UBC is now on an eight-game winning streak and remains atop the Canada West standings.
Despite the lopsided outcomes, both head coaches forecast better games between their teams in the upcoming years and look forward to more intensity.
“[UBC has] nice players, guys that compete, a class act,” said UBC-O head coach Darren Semeniuk after Saturday’s game. “Hopefully it’s the start of a good rivalry, because it’ll be a good, tasteful rivalry. Hopefully we get there soon.”
UBC head coach Kevin Hanson, who reached a personal milestone on Friday night with his 300th win as coach of the T-Birds, echoed the same thoughts.
“I thought Darren has done a good job in a short period of time [in developing a program]. I thought they competed hard both nights.”
As much as the coaches respect each other’s program, on game days they both expect to win. These two campuses are in a unique situation in that they’re both part of UBC, and because of this there will always be bragging rights on the line. Both campuses want to prove they have the better team.
At a time when every win is crucial to the Thunderbirds, UBC could not afford to ease up on the newcomers because of their poor record. The ‘Birds know they can’t take a game off, as evidenced by the fact that one of their losses came against a lacklustre University of Calgary team. To stay on top of the Canada West standings, UBC needed to take UBC-O seriously.
Despite this, UBC was unable to play a complete game on either Friday or Saturday night. They coughed the ball up 38 times on the weekend, but once again were able to make up for the offensive miscues on the defensive end.
“It’s who we are,” said Hanson. “I’ve decided I’m not going to get any more grey hair because of it. If we’re going to give them ten more possessions than us a game, then we better be defensively ten points better than them.”
If not for tough play on defence, the Thunderbirds would not be the best team in the west. Most teams who are that sloppy with the ball end up paying for it on the scoreboard, but so far the ‘Birds have managed to survive. They made up for it on Saturday by holding the Heat to 29.3 per cent shooting and recording 17 steals.
Whether this defence can stay strong will decide how far the team goes come playoff time.
In the midst of a season where close games have been the norm, the games this weekend will probably not stick out in the minds of many of the UBC players. It was assumed that the T-Birds, with their experience and skill level, would easily come away with two wins this weekend, and that proved to be the case.
But with the maturity of a young UBC-O team and with several key UBC players graduating this year, there will be a new look to the series next year. With a seed planted and familiar faces squaring off again, the fight for campus bragging rights may give way to a hard-fought rivalry.