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Boykova, Timberwolves beat top-ranked Spartans 74-69

One night after pushing the top-ranked Trinity Western Spartans until the final minute, the UNBC Timberwolves finished the job. Sveta Boykova had 29 points and 17 rebounds and the TWolves topped TWU 74-69 on Saturday in Langley

In the first quarter it was UNBC post Sveta Boykova coming out as the most inspired player on the court. The Russian freshman scored the first nine points of the game for the Timberwolves, while the TWolves swarmed the Spartans defensively to get out to a 13-4 lead.

Boykova continued to fire away, stretching out the TWU defense with her range, finally going to the bench at the four-minute mark with 12 points, including three treys made.  Trinity would settle down in the latter parts of the frame, led by all-star Nicole Fransson who was an obvious focus of the UNBC defensive approach. After ten minutes of inspired basketball, the Timberwolves held a 22-17 lead.

“It was massive. She hit three threes in a row, and it was the energy to get us going. Sometimes we start a little slow. That pushed the momentum for the rest of the game,” said UNBC guard Sarah Kuklisin. “It is rare to have a post who can play outside and inside. It was huge for us to get Sveta the ball out there. A huge advantage.”

The Spartans ramped-up defensive energy gave UNBC trouble early in the second quarter, as the home team looked to create turnovers with great success. Jayden Gill and Kianna Wiens gave the TWolves fits with their pressure, and Trinity took the lead at the 5:15 mark of the quarter on a Kailey Reimer layup, making it 30-29. The TWolves struggled to keep possession, turning the ball over repeatedly, while Fransson went on a parade to the free-throw line for eight points from the charity stripe in the quarter. After the second quarter was over, TWU held a slight 40-38 advantage.

Boykova was the story for UNBC with 16 points and seven boards, while her post counterpart Fransson had 16 and five for the Spartans. A night after committing 26 turnovers, Sergey Shchepotkin’s team again struggled to take care of the ball with 13 turnovers in the first half, leading to 16 TWU points.

In the second half, Cheryl Jean-Paul’s team came out aggressively, but the Timberwolves did well to match their intensity in a loud and boisterous Langley Events Centre. Neither teams had much success offensively, with the Spartans clinging to a small margin of breathing room for much of the frame. Boykove put her stamp on this one with a tough putback and three-pointer on consecutive possessions, while Gill and Jolene Vlieg were crucial for the TWU attack. After thirty minutes of play, TWU led 52-51.

“They are so consistent. Most teams fluctuate. Good and bad. But Trinity has such a steady offense and they are so disciplined on both sides of the ball,” said Kuklisin. “They play well as a team and go back to what they’ve been coached. They are really disciplined.”

It was back-and-forth much of the stanza, with the two teams taking turns holding the lead. A Sarah Kuklisin three gave UNBC the lead at the five-minute mark, but a Jolene Vlieg triple gave the advantage back to the Spartans. With the game knotted at 63-63 at the 2:25 mark, the TWolves showed their character, with the freshman Kuklisin making another trey to give the visitors the lead. Another Vlieg three-pointer cut the UNBC lead back to four points in the final minute, but the Timberwolves were able to use Shakirova and Boykova free-throws to hold off the top-seeded team in the division.

“I enjoy those moments. There is so much adrenaline. Those threes felt so good and I was so glad I was able to help the team out,” said Kuklisin, who is in her freshman season. “I trust all our veterans to be taking those shots, but I try to take what the defense gives me. If I have a wide open three, I have to trust my abilities.”

When the buzzer hit zero, the TWolves had earned an incredible 74-69 victory over the TWU Spartans.

Boykova finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds, while Shakirova added 18 points, even rebounds, and three assists. Kuklisin came off the bench and scored 11 points for the TWolves. Fransson was tremendous for the Spartans with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Vlieg had 16 points and eight boards.

The Timberwolves did a much better job in the second half with ball security, turning it over just four times in the final 20 minutes.

UNBC now improves to 6-7, while the Spartans fall to 13-3 on the Canada West season.

“This is massive. We needed something to keep us going. We have five more games against good teams,” said Kuklisin, postgame. “Winning this game reassures us we can beat any team. Every team is beatable, and this gives us the confidence we needed.”

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