Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team took one step closer to its 11th Canada West Championship with a game two, 88-78 victory against the UNBC Timberwolves on Saturday. The win booked the T-Birds a ticket to the Canada West Final Four after winning the best-of-three quarterfinal series via a two game sweep, in large part due to Conor Morgan‘s 19 points on the night.
 
“It’s a great team win for us, and although we were a bit sloppy yesterday, we really stepped up today to get that series victory,” added Kedar Wright, who had 12 points in the second half en route to a 17-point outing.  “After a disappointing first round last year, it feels good to take that next step and advance on to the next round.”
 
UBC had a 20-point lead at the 9:24 mark of the third quarter, but to UNBC’s credit, the Timberwolves would claw its way back to within two possessions with one minute remaining in the fourth. The all-too-often seen fouling strategy combined with UBC’s free throw shooting strength prevented a successful comeback, conceding the 10-point loss.
 
An extra day’s rest, a strong all-around performance, and momentum going into next week’s Final Four. Life’s good for the UBC Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, Saturday was the final home game of the season for UBC, as the team will hit the road against a yet-to-be determined opponent in one week’s time.
 
Tommy Nixon had 15 points and was 10-for-11 from the free throw line, while Rhys Elliott was the UNBC leading scorer for the second time in as many games with 19 points on Saturday.
 
Despite a two-and-out for their first ever playoff appearance, the UNBC Timberwolves broke new ground this season, after going 11-33 over its first two seasons.  Jeff Chu had 16 points in the season finale, with Devin McMurtry and Billy Cheng combining for 28 points, evenly split.
 
Morgan was a beast in the opening quarter, scoring nine of UBC’s first 14 points. UBC had a three-fold advantage over the Timberwolves early, with a 21-7 lead increasing that lead thanks to consecutive three-pointers from Nixon and Andrew McGuiness. The T-Birds continued to pour it on building a 28-9 lead after one quarter of play.
 
UNBC’s nine first quarter points matched its lowest offensive output this season, marking just the third time the Timberwolves had been held to single digits in a quarter this season. 
 
The Timberwolves’ offense came out of the woodwork in the second quarter, outscoring UBC by three points but the T-Birds went on a 6-2 run to end the half with the score 41-25 in favour of host UBC. Morgan had a game high 12 points through half time with most of that damage coming in the first, while Cheng and McMurtry had six apiece for UNBC.
 
Brylle Kamen checked in midway through the quarter and made his first appearance since January 17. The Paris, France native brought presence to the key and delivered a pair of put backs en route to a six-point second quarter. The pair of layups was outshone by a nasty dunk by Morgan with less than two minutes remaining, in the process posterizing the Timberwolves defense.
 
Both teams came out firing in the third, each draining their first three field goals of the quarter including a pair of UBC threes from Wright and Morgan, and two huge dunks from UNBC’s McMurtry and Franco Kouagnia. The Timberwolves were feisty for the much of the third, chipping into UBC’s initial 20-point lead, down just five points at the 4:00 mark.
 
A McGuiness shot from three-point range restored a precious 10-point fourth quarter lead with UBC in the driver seat thanks to a 62-52 advantage. It was the second time in as many games the T-Birds boasted a double-digit lead entering the final quarter, and again the end result was the same.
 
UNBC would keep it close as they did one night earlier but a stellar final quarter from Wright kept his UBC team in front by at least two possessions. Down by eight points with 52.3 seconds to play, UNBC began a string of fouls to regain possession, followed by a UNBC Rhys Elliott three-ball to make it a two-possession ball game.
 
UBC would make the majority of its subsequent free throws en route to an 88-78 victory, advancing to the Canada West Final Four. Victoria booked its ticket as well, while tomorrow’s games will determine the other two Final Four teams.
 

“We were able to regroup and put our minds together and come back strong tonight, and now moving forward we have to stay focused, and not get complacent just because of these two wins,” noted Wright, who also had five rebounds, and four assists on Saturday.
 
The Canada West Final Four will begin Friday, March 6 with the top two teams ultimately advancing to the CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8 March 12-15 in Toronto.

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