The UBC Thunderbirds women’s basketball team erased two years of elimination pain at the hands of the University of Alberta Pandas with a two-game sweep in their best-of-three playoff series, booking their place in the Canada West final four.
A dominating 85-51 win in game one on Thursday was followed by an intense Saturday afternoon game where UBC fell behind in the first half but came out on top 82-71. The Thunderbirds stormed out of the gate on Thursday, grabbing an early lead and dominating both ends of the court. Alberta never posed a threat all night as UBC’s stifling defence stymied the Pandas from gaining any momentum.
Alberta responded to the tough loss by coming out with a big start of their own on Saturday. After UBC fell behind 17-13 with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter, Kristjana Young rescued the ‘Birds by scoring 2 layups in quick succession to tie the game at 17 going into the break.
A three-pointer from Alberta’s Sally Hillier set the tone for the second quarter and UBC fell behind 28-22. But with 5:33 to go, a monstrous block by UBC’s Leigh Stansfield helped stem the tide. Young carried the team again with some big plays, including a spectacular hook shot with three seconds left to keep the game close. UBC went into halftime trailing 34-33.
The third quarter started off scrappy and UBC’s Zara Huntley went down from an elbow in the neck area with 5:28 left in the quarter, prompting a stoppage in play as she was helped off the court. The incident—which went uncalled by the referees with the score 44-40 in Alberta’s favour—lit a spark for the T-Birds and they responded with a 17-4 run. Cassandra Knievel nailed two clutch three-pointers during the run and UBC exited the third quarter with a 57-48 lead.
UBC was able to hold off Alberta in the final quarter and Young came up huge again with 5:51 left, scoring a smooth turnaround jumper to beat an expiring shot clock and put the score at 59-54. Kristen Hughes added some big three-pointers in the final quarter, finishing with 21 points while Young led the team with 26.
UBC head coach Deb Huband was pleased with how the team bounced back after being on the back foot in the first half. “I think they came out with a lot of intensity and they set the tone. It took us out of some things, our timing was off, we struggled with handling their pressure initially, and then I think we adjusted to that in the second half and did a much better job executing and scoring some points.”
The momentum shift when Huntley caught an elbow played a role too. “Any time you see one of your all-star type players go down, it’s certainly going to draw some attention and people are going to want to rally around her and step up their game,” said Huband.
After beating the team that eliminated them the last two consecutive years, Huband said it was fantastic to get over the hump.
“This team’s a special team, the chemistry’s outstanding. It started the day after we got eliminated last year with the commitment, dedication and hard work the girls have put in. It’s very fitting and rewarding that we got to the final four.
“Today we had to work a lot harder for it and find different ways to get it done. It’s the sign of a good team that you can find ways to win regardless of what the situation is on any given day.”
The Thunderbirds will travel to Regina for the Canada West final four next weekend.