Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds defended their home court as they defeated the University of Alberta Pandas in the Canada West semi finals on Friday night in War Memorial Gymnasium by a score of 72-59. The Thunderbirds advance to Canada West final and in doing so earn a ticket to the CIS National Championships at Laval University next weekend.
Third-year forward Kara Spotton had a breakout game for UBC, scoring a CIS career-high 21 points in 29 minutes of play. Spotton, in her first season with the Thunderbirds after using her first two years of eligibility in the NCAA, averaged 7.3 points per game throughout the regular season.
“My focus [tonight] was just to take it inside,” said Spotton, who shot eight-of-nine from the free throw line. “I got a lot of good passes from my teammates; they were looking for me, and my shots were going in.”
Spotton had by far her best performance in the season’s biggest game. Her play earned praise from teammate and fifth-year Harleen Sidhu.
“It’s great that Kara was able to step up,” said Sidhu. “For her to come out like this on this game is really huge for us.”.
Sidhu, the Thunderbirds second leading scorer throughout the regular season, scored 17 points in Friday’s game.
“[Tonight] we just took advantage inside,” said Sidhu, who was recently named a Canada West Second Team All-Star. “We know that if we hammer it inside, and they try to take that away, it’s going to open up our guards on the outside. It makes us very hard to guard.”
It was truly a full team effort for UBC, with a few special individual performances highlighting the game. The Thunderbirds tallied assists on 16 of their 26 field goals, led in that category by second-year guard Cherub Lum‘s six assists.
Although UBC’s leading scorer and Canada West Player of the Year in Kris Young was held to just six points, she was able to contribute in other aspects of the game, specifically on the defensive end.
“It just goes to show how deep a team we are,” said Young. “Other teams know that I’m a scorer, and they try to shut that down, but it’s impossible to shut down our entire team when we have so many different scorers.”
Young had three blocks, two steals, and pulled down six rebounds in a game-high 31 minutes, despite being forced to briefly leave the game in the second quarter with a gash above her right eye that required stitches.
Fourth-year guard Diana Lee contributed with 10 points, two assists, and two rebounds through 27 minutes of play, including several key consecutive baskets in the third quarter to give the Thunderbirds an insurmountable lead.
“We took care of business,” said Young. “We just did what we’ve been doing, steadily getting better. This just showed how good we’ve gotten over the last term.”
After a defensive first quarter, with both teams aggressively denying the rim, the Thunderbirds led 10-9. A quick 5-0 run by Spotton to start the second quarter gave the Thunderbirds a six-point lead, a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game, and build to maximum of 22 points in the second half.
“I thought we could have put up a better fight than that,” said Alberta fifth-year Saskia van Ginhoven, who had seven points in a losing cause. “I guess they were just ready to go, and we weren’t.”
Van Ginhoven was named a Canada West First Team All-Star in her final season in the league.
Alberta, who was led by fifth-year Sally Hiller with 15 points, made a mid fourth-quarter push to make things interesting, but to no avail. A quick 7-0 run for the visiting team pulled them within 13 points at 59-46, but once again the Thunderbirds would stand tall. UBC would calmly and confidently hold on for the 72-59 win, and advancement to the Canada West Finals.
“Our coaches did a great job of scouting, and this entire week we were able to mentally prepare,” said Sidhu. “We knew what kind of physicality we were going to have to deal with, and I thought we did a good job of stepping up to it.”
Alberta’s physicality led them to take 22 personal fouls on the evening, putting UBC on the free throw line 20 times where they would make 17 of them.
“That was something that we wanted to take advantage of,” said Spotton of Alberta’s physical intensity. “We knew that they were going to foul, so we just hammered it inside.”
The victory is UBC’s 15th consecutive, as they still have yet to drop a game in 2015. They will advance to the Canada West final, which will take place on Saturday against the winner of the other semi final, Victoria versus Saskatchewan.
“We have to take care of what we can control,” said Sidhu. ” We have to play our game, our defence, and everything else should fall into place. As long as we can take care of our own business, we’ll be setting ourselves up for success.”
Members of the current Thunderbird squad last saw Canada West final action in 2012, where they defeated Regina to earn a Canada West Championship.
Saturday’s gold medal game will commence at 7 p.m. within UBC’s War Memorial Gymnasium.