A heave that banked in as the shot clock expired. A three-pointer that seemed to go all the way down but then go out. A big block that managed to stay inbounds.
The Canada West semifinal between the UBC men’s basketball team and the University of Fraser Valley Cascades was a game of bounces, and in the end the ball bounced the T-Birds’ way, giving them a 68-61 win and sending them to the CIS national tournament in Ottawa.
UFV looked in control for the majority of the first three quarters as they took an eight point lead into the half. But a late UBC run in the third saw the score tied at 44 at the end of three, making for a tense final frame.
To say it was back and forth in the final would be an understatement. Both teams traded blows in the last ten minutes, as the game saw seven lead changes and the game tied four times. UBC would go up after their offensive possessions, but UFV answered right back with either a three-pointer or an uncontested layup down low. With just a few minutes left, the game was tied at 57.
The ’Birds had the ball, but a scrambled offensive possession saw the shot clock running down. With UBC right on the brink of yet another turnover — they had 21 on the night — first-year point guard Isaiah Soloman chucked up a prayer from just inside the three-point line to at least have the shot hit the rim. But he did one better; the ball banked in off the glass, giving UBC the lead. It was a lead that the Thunderbirds wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the night.
UFV would cut the score to 61-60, but UBC stepped up the defence from that point on and made the rest of their possessions count. Forced turnovers, a big block from fellow first-year Conor Morgan and clutch free-throw shooting iced the game for the T-Birds, giving the over 2,000 fans at War Memorial a reason to head home content.
“I’m just really proud [that] at the end of the game we had two freshmen on the floor, Isaiah and Conor,… so I’m just really pleased with how these young guys came in and beat a [good team],” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “I thought the second half was really good for us.”
Not to be left out, the third rookie, Jordan Jensen-Whyte, was a catalyst in leading the comeback in the third quarter. He was able to find his way to the rim and finish in close, paving the way for his teammates to do the same.
But who really led the team from start to finish, like he has done all year, was Doug Plumb. The fifth-year, playing what could have been his last meaningful game as a T-Bird, had another characteristic performance as a leader on both ends of the floor. He was extremely efficient on offence, shooting four of seven from the floor, a perfect three for three from beyond the arc and adding four free throws to finish with 15 points. He also led the team in rebounding, assists and steals, racking up 10, three and four, respectively.
Tommy Nixon was also clutch down the stretch, icing the game with clutch free throws and grabbing some key rebounds. He finished with 18 points, and hit eight of 10 free throws.
“We knew it would be a grind of a game — playoff-type basketball is going to be close — so we just had to stay composed and hit some free throws and close it out,” said Nixon.
Overall, it was another team effort from the ’Birds, as eight players contributed points. Six different players also recorded a steal, as a fired-up defensive effort in the second half limited UFV to only 27 points over the final two quarters.
The T-Birds played in front of one of the biggest crowds that War Memorial Gym has seen in quite some time. Two thousand, one hundred and sixteen fans packed the gym, doing their best to lift the roof off the building and propelling the ’Birds to the win.
“We had a crowd that absolutely pumped us up… and the sixth man really helped us tonight,” said Hanson.
Not only have the ’Birds booked a spot at CIS nationals next weekend, but they will also advance to the Canada West final, taking place March 3 at War Memorial. Tip-off is at 8 p.m., and UBC will play either Victoria or Winnipeg.