Thunderbirds to battle Bisons in Courtside UBC 2015

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VANCOUVER – With just two Canada West men’s basketball games remaining and a playoff spot locked up, the only remaining hurdle the No. 9-ranked UBC Thunderbirds face are the Manitoba Bisons. Both teams are playoff bound but there is still plenty on the line as just a single game separates first through fifth in the Canada West Pioneer Division.

With the team on a tear, Friday’s 8 p.m. game is featured as the closing act to UBC Courtside 2015, in front of what should be one of UBC’s largest crowds of the season.

Sporting a spectacular 11-1 record over their previous 12 games, the Thunderbirds have hit their opponents with a heavy dose of offense scoring north of 100 points on four occasions during that stretch. In fact, UBC has been held to less than 91 points just twice since Nov. 28, both of which happened to be T-Bird victories.

Those two lesser scoring victories came against the Regina Cougars last weekend as UBC completed its final road trip of the season with a sweep. The Thunderbirds’ defence stole the show on those two occasions, limiting the Cougars to just 133 points over a two-game span. That weekend sweep earned the team a spot on the CIS top-10 rankings for the first time this season, as well, as the No. 9 T-Birds are one of four Canada West teams featured.

Tommy Nixon looks to wrap up his final regular season series in fashion, as the redshirt senior is this season’s Canada West leader in points-per-game (21.6) and total free throws (131-for-152). If Nixon can manage 19 free throws over his final two games, he’ll set a UBC regular season record for free throws made in a season. The current mark of 150 was set by Ken Morris during the 1994-95 season.

If the Bisons have any hope of getting in the win column this weekend, they’ll have to find a way to flip the script. Since the 2003–04 campaign, UBC has gone 15-0 against the Bisons, including the Canada West regular season and playoffs.

Manitoba hasn’t been in action for nearly two weeks after taking a bye last weekend, and is in the midst of five-game losing streak that has marred the team’s 9-9 record. Their most recent play came against its cross-town rivals, the Winnipeg Wesmen, in which the Bisons were swepy in a home-and-away series. By virtue of Regina’s losses last weekend, the Bisons clinched a playoff berth thanks to its edge in a tiebreaker scenario.

With the playoff bracket still unknown, the fifth-place Thunderbirds are just a game behind Saskatchewan and Victoria for first place thanks to a 12-6 record on the season. Depending on how various games play out this weekend, UBC can finish the season anywhere from first in the Canada West, which would give the team hosting duties for the league’s Final Four championship, to sixth, which would force the squad into a play-in series on the road. For Manitoba, regardless of this weekend’s outcome, the Bisons have the seventh and final playoff spot in the division locked up.

The Bisons will be looking to Wyatt Anders to have two big games this weekend as the 6-foot-7 forward sits fifth in rebounds per game (9.5) and third in overall defensive rebounds (121). The team has no trouble scoring either, as five Bisons are averaging double digits in points, led by Amarjit Basi who has averaged 17.0 points per game this season.

Coming off a career high for a regular season game, Conor Morgan looks to build on last weekend’s 30-point performance as the team’s second leading scorer (13.6 ppg). Impressively, six UBC players have been averaging over 10.2 points per game this season, while Nixon also leads the team in rebounds per game (7.5).

Friday’s game is the next-to-last regular season game while the 2015 finale goes down on Saturday at 7 p.m. PST.