There was a moment during the final time-out of the UBC Thunderbirds’ 88-77 Canada West men’s basketball quarterfinal win over the Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday night which seems especially relevant this morning.
With 5:16 remaining and a healthy ’Birds lead whittled down to just four points by the Huskies, UBC head coach Kevin Hanson called a time-out that was fully audible over the Canada West TV feed coming out of the University of Calgary’s Jack Simpson Gymnasium.
Just before the team broke the huddle, Hanson implored to his team “to be the aggressors at both ends of the floor.”
Simple advice, yes, but in light the of the fact that the UBC Thunderbirds booked a second straight trip to the U Sports Final 8 national championships this weekend by playing the best two fourth-quarters of their campaign on back-to-back nights, winning a pair of sudden-elimination games against nationally-ranked foes in their chief rivals’ own barn, is truly a whole lotta something for fans of the blue and gold.
On Friday, Hanson’s words worked like a charm, as UBC came out of the time-out and went on a game-closing 17-11 run to win 88-77.
Then on Saturday, with the coach’s theme still percolating like an elixir, UBC turned a 68-68 tie with 3:44 left into a comfortable 81-72 win with the kind of 13-4 game-closing run, which based on this series’ most recent string of results, would have told you was the work of the ‘Dinos, and not the ‘Birds.
“Calgary had had our number, like eight or nine (wins) in a row,” Hanson told Varsity Letters on Saturday evening from Calgary. “So there was a mental barrier we had to get over. But for us, the difference was the play of our seniors. Manroop (Clair, 26 points) was great in the first half, and Jadon (Cohee, 23 points ) was great in the fourth quarter. In games like this you need your seniors to be good, and they performed.”
Calgary certainly was not at full strength.
It’s third-leading scorer Ezeoha Santiago sat with a flu, and Dinos’ head coach Dan Vanhooren admitted that leading scorer Brett Layton was also not 100 per cent.
Yet nothing about what UBC accomplished can be diminished.
They went on the road and won back-to-back games against two of the conference’s best by playing their best when it mattered most, and only hurdling what Hanson felt was become a “mental barrier” with the Dinos, but also showing their naysayers that this season, at 11-2 on the road, they are pretty darn fo=rmidable basketball team.
On Saturday, their efficiency over the final 3:44 was off the charts.
He not only hit a three to make it 75-70 with 1:39 left, he was ‘Santa Clara Steve Nash vs. Arizona 1993’ good from the free throw line, hitting his last six from the stripe and finishing 8-of-8 on the game.
Calgary will rise again to have better days, and barring upsets the rest of the way, they have a very good chance to be a wildcard guest at nationals. They’ll be just fine.
Yet on a night UBC went 17-of-21 from the free-throw line, Calgary went 10-of-24. That is a barometre which can’t be ignored by anyone, including the basketball gods.
“For us, I have loved our resilience late in games,” Hanson concluded. “It’s the defensive energy, hitting free throws, and just being the aggressors.”
No. 1 Alberta plays No. 4 Manitoba in the Canada West’s second conference semifinal on Sunday (1 p.m.).
If the favoured Golden Bears win, then UBC is off to Edmonton for the title game.
If Manitoba wins, however, UBC would play host to the Canada West final.
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