BY ANEESA HEATHERINGTON
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds dominated the paint and fought off the sharp-shooting UNBC Timberwolves for an 88-73 win on seniors night at War Memorial Gym. UBC improves to 17-1 in conference play after their 16th consecutive victory with just two games remaining in the regular season.
“I thought we weathered the storms when we needed to,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “I think it’s good for us to be in that situation – they came back and made a run there late in the third and earlier in the fourth. It was nice to see us take care of business. You need to be in these games to make sure you’re improving on the finer things you need in order to be good in fourth quarters moving forward.”
UBC graduating senior Patrick Simon finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and a block in his final regular season game on home court.
“Coming into this weekend, and today, I didn’t think it would affect me as much as it did,” said Simon. “Today I’ve been overwhelmed with different memories and feelings…it’s been a long one but we pulled through and got the win which was the most important thing. Now it’s time to celebrate a little bit and have some fun.”
Simon hit his second three before being subbed off in the final minute to a rousing ovation. Fellow graduating senior Charles Dai re-entered the game to receive his own lively applause for his final moments on home court.
“It’s tradition that we start the seniors, it’s tradition we give them their final curtain call,” said Hanson. “At the end of the game to let the crowd appreciate them and what they’ve done for this program…it’s always special. It was nice to get [Charles Dai] in there as well.”
Grant Shephard went 10 for 11 from the field to lead the ‘Birds with 24 points and 13 rebounds, Jadon Cohee had 19 points and four assists, while Mason Bourcier was one assist shy of a double-double with 13 points and 9 assists – adding five rebounds and two steals.
Vova Pluzhnikov came up clutch for UNBC with 21 points, shooting 5 for 9 from three, and six rebounds. Jovan Leamy and James Agyeman each had 16 points and six boards, while Austin Chandler put up eight points and 10 rebounds – adding three blocks and three steals in the loss.
“We challenged our guys today to be tougher defensively and I thought we did that,” said UNBC head coach Todd Jordan. “We’re dealing with some injuries and we’re a little bit thin up front…got into some foul trouble which hurt us late but I’m proud of how the guys battled today. We did struggle to score in the first half which was probably the major difference in the game but we scrapped back in getting within a couple baskets. UBC is a hell of a team and we weren’t able to get it done today but it was a better effort for sure.”
Simon came up with a big block to earn a 7-5 edge early before Lincoln Rosebush fired a corner three for a 12-7 lead. The Timberwolves ramped up their pressure went on a brief 5-0 run – punctuated by a soft up-and-under finish by Pluzhnikov to tie it at 12-12. UBC responded with a 7-2 run of their own to close out the first quarter up 19-14. Bourcier continued to penetrate the paint in the second quarter and gave the ‘Birds a 21-16 edge, but Chandler swatted a Cohee layup and Tyrell Laing found Agyeman for a jumper to make it a three-point game. UBC’s defense turned it on in the second half of the quarter and held the Timberwolves to just 27.8% from the field in the first half for a 37-28 lead at the break.
UNBC came out firing to start the second half as Agyeman hit a three to bring the T-Wolves within six points before Anthony Hokanson made it a three-point deficit with the Timberwolves’ third straight three. Laing drew UNBC within one at 47-46 with a pair of free throws, but UBC responded by getting to the rim and scoring four layups for an 8-0 run. UNBC continued to run the floor as Chandler made it 61-58 with a follow-up tip. The Thunderbirds maintained their composure and pounded the paint as they cruised to the finish.
UBC will cap off their regular season on the road in Edmonton where they will take on the 12-5 University of Alberta Golden Bears on Friday and Saturday while UNBC host the Lethbridge Pronghorns next weekend.