Following a nine game winning streak, the Thunderbirds lost 90–82 in their final home match of the season against the University of Victoria Vikes.
Thursday night’s defeat was just the T-Birds’ second loss since returning from the winter break, marking a remarkable turnaround after a rocky 4–5 start to the season. And with the playoffs starting next week, the stakes of Thursday night’s game were not lost on anyone.
A spirited crowd of over 500 attended the match to cheer on the home team. Even with the disappointing result, fans created an electric atmosphere at War Memorial Gymnasium that is rarely seen during regular season games, especially on a weeknight.
The match itself was exciting too, at least for the first three quarters.
A fast pace was set right from tip-off as both teams tried to gain the upper hand. UBC ignited the crowd early on by bombing away from deep, finishing with four made threes in the first quarter alone.
Thunderbirds forward Sukhman Sandhu stood out in particular. The Vikes constantly attacked him on defence, but the big man answered by hitting a trio of threes and finishing the night with 17 points. Sandhu was also involved in the most exhilarating sequence of the game: following a dunk from the Vikes, he sprinted down the court and answered with one of his own, bringing the whole crowd to its feet.
The two teams continued to trade baskets afterwards, and there were five lead changes in total. Unfortunately for UBC, the end of the third quarter was when things began to unravel.
With mere seconds left on the clock, Victoria hit a huge three that put them up 64–62. Although an entire quarter remained, that shot gave the Vikes all the momentum going into the fourth.
As a result, the visiting side went on a 22–6 run to open the last period, which all but decided the game. UBC would score a flurry of points in the final minute to make the score more respectable, but it was too late by that point.
The loss dropped UBC’s record to 13–6 — fifth in Canada West — and there is no doubt that coach Kevin Hanson will look to get his team back on track with the playoffs beginning next week.
Specifically, the T-Birds will need to shore up their defence if they hope to emerge as champions. Even during their recent win streak, UBC’s play on its own end greatly oscillated — they have conceded between 65 to 86 points over the last month, and their defensive concentration often waxes and wanes from one possession to the next.
Regardless, the T-Birds have been one of the hottest teams entering the postseason and will be a challenging out. If they can become more consistent at both ends of the court, then UBC will have a great shot at re-gaining their pre-COVID-19 form and winning Canada West for the first time since 2020.