The University of Winnipeg Wesmen extended their winning streak to three games with a 78-68 win over the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves in Canada West men’s basketball action in front of a raucous of elementary students from School District 57 (Prince George) and local independent schools at the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre on Friday afternoon.
When Fareed Shittu connected on a layup to open the scoring on the Timberwolves’ first possession of the game, the crowd erupted and they maintained their energy all afternoon.
“It helps a lot,” Timberwolves guard Justin Sunga said of the packed house. “It would have been better if we played better the whole game. But it was nice to have them come out.”
Wesmen forward Mikhail Mikhailov said the visitors enjoyed the atmosphere as well.
“It’s always good to have so many fans watching and enjoying both teams,” he said. “I’m really glad they came out and supported UNBC and us.”
The Timberwolves fed off the energy opening an 8-2 advantage against the third-place Wesmen. The visitors responded with a run of their own, scoring 12 straight as the Timberwolves’ three-point shooting went cold. The Wesmen extended their lead to 20-14 after the first quarter and poured on the offence in the second quarter, taking a 45-24 lead into the break.
“We just lost the toughness battle today,” Sunga said, “We struggled to get back on defence, and offensive rebounds have been killing us the last couple of games, so we need to take care of that.”
The Timberwolves’ offence found its footing in the second half, cutting what was a 26-point Wesmen lead in the third down to 14 midway through the fourth quarter. They got to within 10 in the final minute but were unable to close the gap enough as they dropped their fifth straight game and fell to 5-8 on the year.
“Coach gave us a good talk in the locker room,” Sunga said of the second-half rebound. “We just need to do that for 40 minutes.”
Sunga led the Timberwolves with 20 points on an efficient eight of 13 shooting. Shittu also got into double digits with his 16 points complimenting his 12 assists.
Forward Mikhail Mikhailov led Winnipeg in scoring and rebounding dropping 18 points and picking up 12 rebounds as they improved to 10-3 and stay in the first-place race in Canada West.
“We had a good defensive mindset today,” he said. “We knew that UNBC was a good team and we focused on the defensive end. In the first two quarters what got us in the lead was defence.”
Despite the score, there were some highlights for the home side. In the second quarter, Micah Jesse put on a dribbling display as he managed to maintain his balance while working his through a trio of Wesmen before finding Chris Ross for the lay-in.
In the third quarter, Shittu threw down an electrifying dunk, taking off halfway down the lane and finishing with authority.
The two teams will renew acquaintances on Saturday, with another matinee. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. on UNBC Timberwolves Pride Day.