BURNABY MOUNTAIN — As Steve Hanson made his way across campus Saturday evening for the biggest men’s basketball game at SFU in recent memory, he just knew that nobody was in for an ordinary night.
“When I got here at 5:45 (p.m.), I could already hear the 400 people who lined up,” Simon Fraser’s head coach said of anticipation for the doors to open on the first crosstown Buchanan Cup men’s basketball clash against the UBC Thunderbirds in six years.
“At that point, the buzz was in the building and it was outstanding” continued Hanson, whose team would start hot and then hold on to record a 90-82 win over the ‘Birds in front of a capacity crowd of 1,600 fans.
It was the first sell-out crowd in the 16-year history of the school’s second iteration of the West Gym.
“It was exhausting getting to this night, but I was just so happy for basketball in B.C. to get a crowd and an atmosphere like this, the coach added.”
Oh, and make no mistake about the fact that Hanson was also happy to see the effort put forth by his team against a Thunderbirds team which on two occasions in the second half, trailed by as many as 19 points, but later wound up shaving it to just four points with 1:23 remaining.
Behind the red-hot shooting of senior forward Jasdeep Singh, who not only started the game 5-of-5 from the field but also three-for-three from beyond the arc, SFU opened the game on a 12-3 run, and then with 9:43 left before intermission went up 26-14, both leads courtesy of Singh triples.
None of SFU’s quick start had faded from the memory of UBC head coach Kevin Hanson after the contest.
“I thought we got off to a rough start in the first half,” said Hanson whose ‘Birds trailed 47-34 at the break.
“You can’t let the other team’s senior leading scorer do what he did, which was get the ball and make tough shots, and that is what Jas does,” added Hanson of the 6-foot-8 senior out of Delta Secondary, who had 17 points at the half and finished with a game-high 23. “We didn’t do a good enough job of not letting him get shots. We played a little tentative. The more aggressive team usually wins, and tonight they were the more aggressive team.””
There was also the matter of SFU’s defence, which was suffocating at times, and although it allowed 82 points on the night, that is more an indication of the talent UBC has on its roster.
“Coach Adeel has brought in a different style and we have embraced it,” said SFU guard Drew Bryson afterwards, referencing new assistant coach Adeel Sahibzada’s influence on the defensive side of the ball, one which had the hosts relentlessly closing off driving lanes and in general not allowing UBC to get into anything resembling an offensive rhythm until the second-half clock had truly become an enemy. “We gave up 82 points, and we still have a lot to work on, but that was a good night.”
Simon Fraser’s player’s shouted ‘Wall-Up’ as their battle cry for the defence all evening, and after it forced UBC into a long-range shooting funk to begin the game, their enthusiasm was such that at one stage of the game, they were assessed a technical foul by the officials for their over-zealousness.
Simon Fraser starting point guard, David Penney, outstanding on a night in which he scored 14 points to go along with six assists and three rebounds, was happy that his team was using its length and overall size to its best advantage in the new scheme.
“When people drive on us, we want to look as big as we are,” said Penney. “We’ve got 6-11, 6-9, 6-8 so we want to wall-up and make it look like they can’t get past this wall.”
SFU stood firm, and one brief span in the second half was the perfect illustration of what they were all about.
Just under three minutes in, UBC’s 6-foot-10 Sukhman Sandhu had a lay-up attempt blocked by SFU’s 7-foot Julian Roche, keying Penney’s fastbreak outlet to Bryson for a three-pointer.
Then, a missed triple by UBC’s Brian Wallack was rebounded by Bryson and turned into a Jahmal Wright lay-up.
It may have only been a 5-0 run but the swing was much larger, and 30 seconds after it started, SFU led by 19 points at 58-39.
Roche, the Santa Clara transfer who finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, said afterwards that he needs to use his size just the way he did Saturday on a more consistent basis to be the best player he can be.
“God gave me a lot of height, a lot of size, so I got to use it,” he smiled, “and that is why coach is telling me to wall up.”
Simon Fraser’s Josiah Mastandrea restored the home team’s lead at 19 points with a triple with 9:09 left, but then UBC finally found the run it had been saaerching for, outscoring the hosts 25-10 over a 7:46 span in which a myriad of shooters stepped up and sank shots, including Toni Maric, who came off the bench to knock down a pair of treys over that span, and finish with 10 points.
SFU managed to hold off the ‘Birds however, and the biggest shot down the stretch was a three-ball by freshman guard Elliot Dimaculagan with 1:06 remaining which gave the hosts an 84-77 lead.
SFU’s Steve Hanson felt his team brought some things that UBC does not see in the Canada West on a regular basis, but also admitted that as the game wore on, the Thunderbirds’ strengths eventually rose to the fore.
“I don’t think they see the length and the athleticism that we possess every night,” he said, “but shooters shoot and you could see in that last 10-minute stretch that it was scary because they had so many guys knocking down shots. You are never out of a game when you have that many shooters.”
On the night, UBC had five others reach double-figures in scoring, led by Sandhu with 16, Grant Audu with 15, guard Kyle Foreman, who started in place of the injured James Woods with 13, and Triston Matthews with 12.
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