It was two more double-digit wins for UBC men’s basketball this past weekend — their 11th and 12th of the season. Ho hum, right? Well, not exactly.
Even though the Thunderbirds’ opponents sported less than impressive records — Brandon came into Friday’s contest with a 3-9 record while Regina entered Saturday at 5-8 — the T-Birds had to withstand some scrappy play from their prairie foes and use strong fourth quarters to grind out their 90-75 and 75-65 victories. However, the close games weren’t necessarily a symptom of poor T-Bird basketball, but rather because of the overall competitiveness of all teams in the Canada West conference.
“The records are no indication of how good these teams are,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson after Friday’s game, in which Brandon trailed by only four in the third quarter. “We watch video tapes, and I can tell how good these guys are, what they do and what they’ve accomplished.… It’s an interesting league in the Canada West, where anything can happen. We don’t care what anybody’s record is.”
The Thunderbirds should remember this notion over the next couple of weeks if they want to remain one of the top teams in the country. Currently ranked No. 2 in the nation and sitting atop the Canada West Pacific division with a 12-2 record, UBC’s next six games are against teams with a combined record of 10-33. But that doesn’t mean it’s time for the ’Birds to take their foot off the gas pedal, especially with the playoffs looming.
“You see videotapes [of the upcoming teams] and they’re up on teams, they play everybody tough,” said Hanson after Saturday’s clash with Regina. “Sometimes you’re playing teams that don’t have any fear of anything; they’re just going out and playing. There’s a lot of older guys left on the teams we’re playing that have a lot to prove in their senior years.
“We’re going to emphasize as coaching staff that the players have to be able to come out [hard], especially on the road. You have to be able to compete hard, and anything can happen in this league.”
Hard-fought efforts from the entire roster have gotten the T-Birds to where they are right now. Every player on the 11-person roster has been a contributor this year. Nine different players have started a game so far, and four are averaging over 10 points per game; Tommy Nixon just misses the cut with his 9.9 per contest. It’s a roster that few other teams can stack up against, and allows the ’Birds to handle almost everything that’s thrown at them; when Brandon threw a zone defence at UBC on Friday night, there was no hesitation to change up the personnel on the floor.
“I think we’ve got enough weapons, so it’s just a matter of having the right personnel at the right time,” said Hanson. “As long as the guys are aggressive, it doesn’t really matter to us.”
“Aggressive” is the key word for the T-Birds this year. Last season, their rebounding was a sore spot and cost them games, but this year it has been vastly improved. Led by the frenzied effort of Brylle Kamen, who leads the Canada West with 11.7 rebounds a game, UBC is by far the best rebounding team in the conference; their rebounding margin of +11.9 dwarfs the +5.4 mark of Victoria, who has the second best margin.
Their power in the paint also extends to offence. When the ’Birds are getting the ball down low and driving to the hoop, they find their most success, but when the settle for jump shots and three-pointers, their offence typically struggles. UBC shoots only 33.2 per cent from three-point land this season, and their habit of settling for those shots was one of the main factors in their loss to Fraser Valley earlier this season. In general, it can allow teams to hang around and go on runs, which is especially dangerous in the Canada West.
As for the play close to the hoop, the ’Birds have been hard to stop. Kamen and second-year David Wagner have been a dynamic duo so far, using their soft touch around the rim to cause fits for the defence. Wagner has been especially solid as of late, and his play has drawn the praise of his coach.
“We needed someone to step up in the post, and he has surprised me with how well he has been playing,” said Hanson of Wagner, who is averaging 10.1 points per game on 50.4 per cent shooting from the floor. “You don’t really want a go-to guy who’s in his second year, but if he can produce for us down there, he’s going to keep getting the ball. As long as he keeps improving, he’s going to be one heck of a player.”
The ’Birds have a fairly young team overall, which is a key reason for their success, but the glue continues to be fifth-year Doug Plumb. The guard seems to quietly go about his business on the court, doing the little things that help the team, but he also leads the team in several key categories: points per game (16.4), field goal percentage (51.9), total assists (49) and total steals (29). Especially with a young team, that is exactly what a team needs from one of their leaders.
Now, it is up to Plumb and company to keep up this aggressive play. It can be tough to stay motivated for the upcoming teams that may not be the cream of the crop, but a single loss can be costly in regards to having home court advantage come playoffs. Now is not the time of the year to be taking steps backwards.
The T-Birds have had their foot on the gas pedal all season, and despite a few moments where they hit the brakes, they were able to keep accelerating this past weekend. But if they want to end up in Ottawa for nationals come March, they can’t afford to slow down at all.
Pulling ahead against Brandon
This interactive graph charts the progress in individual scoring during the UBC-Brandon game Friday night.
Drag the slider to move in time through the game. (Time is formatted as years, as opposed to minutes. Ignore that: Google is weird.) Each dot represents a player; the height of the dot represents how many points the player has scored, while they move to the right based on their team’s score. Yellow dots are UBC, blue dots are Brandon.
You can see UBC start hot, Brandon try to catch up, and the Thunderbirds eventually pull away. Also, you can select individual players and see how they performed over the course of the game. Infographic by Andrew Bates/The Ubyssey