Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team will look to earn a CIS Final 8 berth this weekend as the team travels to Saskatoon for the Canada West Final Four. The T-Birds, fresh off a two-game sweep of the UNBC Timberwolves, tip off against the host University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday at 6 p.m. PT in the semi final matchup.
The Thunderbirds return to the Canada West Final Four, in search of the program’s 11th conference title, after being eliminated in the quarterfinals last season, and will be eyeing a CIS Final 8 berth. All the top seeds remain, as there were no upsets in the previous round, with 14-time Canada West Champions Victoria still in the mix, as well as the Fraser Valley Cascades and host Saskatchewan Huskies.
The trio of Saskatchewan, Victoria, and UBC, are ranked six through nine in the CIS Top 10 while Fraser Valley owned the best regular season record in the conference with a 17-3 showing. Victoria owns the most Canada West Championships of any program while UBC ranks third all time, behind Alberta. Despite the accolades of the British Columbia programs, Saskatchewan remains the only Canada West school to have won a CIS Championship in the last decade (2010).
The Thunderbirds earned a bye through the opening round of the playoffs, as did all three remaining competitors, and swept the UNBC Timberwolves in two games last Thursday and Friday. In game one, UBC held on for an 83-77 win, while earning a marginally more comfortable 88-78 victory in Friday’s decisive game two.
While the Thunderbirds escaped the Canada West quarterfinals in a two-game affair, the Huskies required had to go the distance to dispose of the Thompson Rivers. In game three, the WolfPack led at halftime but a 30-point performance from Huskies forward Matthew Forbes paved his team to victory.
During the regular season, the Huskies finished one win ahead of the Thunderbirds with a 15-5 record, though the T-Birds swept Saskatchewan in their two-game series this season. Those meetings came at the end of November after UBC started the season 1-5, kick starting a 13-1 run that vaulted UBC into playoff contention. The Thunderbirds’ trip to Saskatoon will mark the first time since Nov. 23, 2012 that the team has travelled to the Bridge City.
The starting five has been the crux for UBC all season, and last weekend’s quarter-final series was no exception with four T-Birds scoring 10+ points in each of the two games. Tommy Nixon had a series high 23 points in game one while Conor Morgan led UBC in points in game two with 19 to his ledger.
Along with Forbes, the Huskies have an array of depth scoring, including Dadrian Collins, who averaged 13 points over last weekend’s three-game stretch, while a total of seven players reached the double-digit mark in at least one Huskies quarterfinal games. The team averaged 31.3 points off the bench in that series while shooting over 46.7% from the field in two of the three games
Saskatchewan also boasts the conferences top defensive player in Ben Baker, who was recently selected as the Canada West Defensive Player of the Year, the second time in three years he’s received that honour. Baker was among the league leaders in rebounds and steals during the regular season, and is coming off a 16-rebound, eight-assist performance last Saturday.
With Saskatchewan hosting, this weekend’s Canada West Championships marks the second time the Huskies have hosted the event in its program history, with the 2,500-seat Physical Activity Complex playing host this time around.
The winner of the UBC vs. Saskatchewan and Fraser Valley vs. Victoria games will advance to the Canada West Final on Saturday while the losers will bid for the bronze medal. The top two Canada West teams receive an automatic berth to the CIS Final 8 in Toronto.