VANCOUVER — Like your favourite TV drama, Manroop Clair and Mason Bourcier are easily the equivalent of a solid hour’s worth of entertainment for UBC Thunderbirds’ men’s basketball fans.
But take them out of the ensemble cast of one of the nation’s most successful programs, like the No 6-ranked ‘Birds, and you risk the chance of some very dramatic pauses.
“When you’re missing two key pieces like we were, 60 minutes is a lot of minutes to replace,” UBC head coach Kevin Hanson said on Wednesday, happy that as the post-season begins, a healthy Clair and Bourcier along with their combined near-60 minutes per game won’t have to be replaced as the No. 3-seeded ‘Birds (17-3) play host to the No. 6 seed Fraser Valley Cascades (13-7) in opening game of a best-of-three Canada West quarterfinal Thursday evening (7 p.m.) at War Memorial Gymnasium.
Fortunately for UBC, its finish among the conference’s top four provided a bye week, which not only gave the pair a chance to recuperate and bring their usual combined 57.8 minutes per contest, but also gave the line-up a chance to re-acclimate itself with each other
Shooting guard Clair had been averaging 27.7 minutes of the 200 total available player-minutes per game prior to being shelved three weeks ago with and elbow injury.
Bourcier, who didn’t miss any games, had been averaging 30.1 minutes, but saw those numbers and their overall effectiveness fall over the Feb. 1-2 weekend in Edmonton as he fought through a foot injury and his team through a surprising sweep at the hands of the host Alberta Golden Bears in the conference regular-season finale for both teams.
“I think this year, it was probably a blessing for us with the injuries we had, to get an extra chance for some bodies to heal, and for us to reflect,” continued Hanson, whose team had won 16 straight in the Canada West following a 102-93 loss to visiting Saskatchewan back on Oct. 27.
“After a loss it can be healthy to get back on the court right away and right the ship, but this gave us time to work on ourselves,” he added. “If thing always go your way, you don’t put the same energy in and things can slip. To us, this wasn’t a slap in the face. It was a punch in the face. Hopefully, we woke up.”
Yet the reality of the situation, against a vastly-improved and energized Cascades team, is that Bourcier and Clair are not as ready to go as each would like.
“They are banged up, but they are both as good as they are going to be,” said Hanson of the pair who have comprised two-fifths of an outstanding starting five that has included team scoring leader Jadon Cohee, fifth-year forward Pat Simon and dominant inside force Grant Shephard. “Both of them got the green light to go and so we expect both of them to be in the line-up, and we expect big things from both of them.”
Yet after Bourcier (11.6 ppg) was limited to just 18 minutes in UBC’s opening 85-75 loss to Alberta two Fridays ago, then came off the bench the next night and gutted out 28 minutes in the 87-79 loss that ended the regular season, Hanson quickly realized — with Clair already out — just how young his lineup really is.
“You look down the bench and your first option is a first-year guy, your second option is a first-year guy…,” said Hanson.
Cam Morris, Lincoln Rosebush, Jonah Morrison and Brian Wallack are talented, but are also all players in their first-year of Canada West eligibility.
The funny thing is, Bourcier’s pure-sophomore status means he’s almost as young as the average age of that group which includes redshirts.
“Sometimes I forget that he is only in his second year,” Hanson said. “I treat him like a fifth-year and I expect him to play like it because he’s started for two years. Usually, the first- and second-year guys are more worried about themselves at that stage of their careers than the team, but Mason matches up with the toughest offensive player on the other team. We ask a lot of him and he’s had to mature way earlier.”
Come Thursday, that may well mean he’s assigned to guard the Cascades’ leading scorer in Parm Bains (16.1 ppg) who plays starter’s minutes off the bench for UFV head coach and former Thunderbird (2006-07) Adam Friesen.
Clair (18.9 ppg) was playing the best basketball of his entire career before the elbow injury sidelined him and Hanson has seen how hard he’s worked to get back to form.
“He missed three full weeks or practice so getting that cohesion back as a group is challenging,” Hanson said. “He knows the Fraser Valley guys well and he knows they are going to bring a lot of emotion.”
Shephard (16.2 ppg) has been a rock, with solid rebounding, 18 straight games as a double-figure scorer and a conference-best .667 field-goal percentage. Simon (11.4 ppg), coming off a season-high 20-point outing recently, is playing the best basketball of his ‘Birds career. And both guard Isaiah Familia and forward Grant Audu have been huge pieces of the puzzle, especially over the past few weeks with Clair and Bourcier fighting to be at their best.
That, of course, leads to Cohee.
Not only is he averaging a team-leading 19.3 ppg, he brings a level of desire to the table that Hanson has not been able to ignore.
“This is the reason he and Manroop wanted to come back,” said Hanson of the pair’s return from NCAA Div, 1 programs to their old high school stomping grounds prior to the start of this season. “Jadon is an incredibly intense player, and the one thing I have really loved is the opportunity to really be confident in this team because of his confidence in both us and himself.”
Game two goes Friday, and the if-necessary Game 3 on Saturday. All three games have War Gym tip-offs of 7 p.m.
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