The atmosphere in the War Memorial Gymnasium was electric as fans settled in for both women’s and men’s basketball action on Saturday for Courtside. The teams hit the floor for back-to-back matchups against the University of Victoria Vikes, with the women winning 72–52 and the men dropping their game 70–58.
The women’s matchup showcased a defensive battle, until the buckets started falling for the Thunderbirds. The Vikes began by getting three points ahead in the opening minutes, but that quickly flipped. Swift perimeter ball movement found fifth-year vet Hailey Counsell wide open for a three, extending their lead to four with under five minutes remaining in the first. The ‘Birds would continue to build on that, reaching a ten-point differential in the opening quarter.
The Vikes came out swinging in the second, keeping it close and reducing the deficit to two with three minutes to go in the half. The T-Birds responded with three-pointers from Counsell and Sara Toneguzzi, going into halftime with a score of 35–27.
The 'Birds continued with solid ball movement in the next half. The team seemed in sync as they continued to find open shots while staying strong on the defensive side. They pulled ahead, establishing another 10-point lead with five minutes to go in the third. They then continued to build on that, doubling it by the final buzzer and finished with a 72–52 victory.
Third-year 6’4” forward Abigail Becker proved to be a force in the paint early for the Vikes, scoring 10 of her team’s first 20 points. However, the ‘Birds quickly adjusted as they limited her touches for the rest of the game and head coach Isabel Ormond spoke on not what needed to be done, rather when it needed to be done.
“Try to limit touches with help defence," said Ormond. "For us, it’s all work before she touches the ball. How can we guard and prevent that catch?”
It paid off. Versatile third-year Olivia Weekes shone in the matchup, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds in a team-leading 32 minutes of play.
Both Counsell and Toneguzzi were highly efficient throughout as the next leading scorers for the T-Birds, finishing with 18 points and 4 of 6 from the three-point line, and 13 with 3 of 6 from deep respectively.
The men’s team, however, saw a difficult challenge with the Vikes. Veteran James Woods opened the scoring for the ‘Birds with a smooth floater but the team followed it up with a handful of unforced turnovers.
With less than five minutes to go in the first, high-flying Fareed Shittu leaped and threw down an aggressive putback dunk, causing the crowd to erupt and the Vikes to take a timeout. Things started looking sound for the ‘Birds as they ended the first quarter with a score of 18–9, but the game started getting away from them.
The Vikes fought their way back to start the second and overtook the Thunderbird lead halfway through the quarter with a handful of threes. The ‘Birds had a cold finish to the half, going scoreless after the Vikes took the lead until a Shittu free throw in the final minute. But a wild half court heave from Micah Jessie at the buzzer converted and cut the Vikes’ lead down to 38–34 going into the half.
Coming out of halftime, the Vikes took advantage of more Thunderbird turnovers. The home squad was outscored 23–9 in the third and entered the final frame down 59–43.
However, the Thunderbirds showed resilience in the fourth. Adam Olsen drove to the basket, hitting off the glass through contact for two points and then converted the free throw. He followed this up on the next trip down the floor with a catch and shoot three, cutting the Vikes’ lead down to just ten.
With roughly six minutes remaining in the game, the ‘Birds kept up the pressure. Brian Wallack emphasized this with a heavy slam through traffic, keeping it tight at 61–56. But that’s as close as they would get, as the Vikes would close out the game with a final score of 70–58.
Woods led the way in minutes played with 38, where he culminated 21 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Wallack also joined the double-double club, finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Olsen rounded off the top three, adding ten points and seven rebounds.
Both teams will travel to Edmonton this weekend to face the MacEwan University Griffins in their last series of the calendar year.