Saskatoon, SK – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s basketball team suffered its toughest loss of the season falling to the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West semifinal by a 81-75 score. Though UBC led at the latter two breaks, the host Huskies outscored UBC by eight points in the final quarter to book their ticket to the Canada West Final and earn an automatic berth to the CIS Final 8.
Down by two points at the 4:23 mark of the fourth quarter, the T-Birds were unable to complete the comeback, despite leading for the majority of the game. Tommy Nixon was stripped on the T-Birds next-to-last possession that forced the T-Birds to foul and ultimately be eliminated from Championship contention.
UBC will now fight for the Canada West bronze medal against Fraser Valley tomorrow at 4 p.m. PST while the Huskies will play the Victoria Vikes for the Canada West title. Kedar Wright had a season high 23 points in the losing effort on Friday while Canada West First Team All-Star Nixon was four assists shy of a triple double, thanks to a 12 rebound, 14-point performance.
“We predicted a tough physical game and that’s exactly what we got,” said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. “We struggled to guard and didn’t rebound the ball well enough to win, two things that we tried to focus on all year. We hung in for three quarters but couldn’t close out the fourth. hey went on a run mid-way through the fourth and we could not climb back. During that phase we missed some defensive assignments and they got some big shots.”
Canada West Defensive Player of the Year Ben Baker displayed his offense prowess on Friday putting up 20 points, a number matched by teammate Dadrian Collins. UBC held the edge shooting 50.0% from the field over the Huskies’ 46.9% shooting, but were a mediocre 16-for-23 (69.6%) from the free throw line.
In what was Saskatchewan’s second time hosting the Canada West Final Four in the last four seasons, the two highest scoring Canada West teams were pitted against each other in the latter semifinal matchup.
To begin the game, the Huskies gave the T-Birds some easy looks early on, allowing UBC to jump out to an 11-4 early quarter lead with some strong outside shooting. However, the crowd would get behind the Huskies spurring a first quarter comeback that had the score tied up at 18-18 after 10 minutes of playoff action.
The Huskies drained the opening basket of the second quarter to take its first lead since the game’s opening possession but was erased thanks to three straight baskets from the T-Birds. Saskatchewan had no response for Nixon, who drained five consecutive free throws making it a 30-23 ball game as the Huskies were substituting like a revolving door.
The Huskies went on a 10-3 run from there, capped off by a Baker three-pointer forcing UBC head coach Kevin Hanson to call a timeout, which gave his team a chance to regroup and regain the lead. The second quarter concluded an exciting first half with UBC exiting with a two-point, 43-41 advantage over host Saskatchewan.
UBC’s Tonner Jackson had a game high 12 points at half time while Wright complimented with 10 points himself. Baker led the Huskies with 10 points at the break while UBC’s Nixon was more than halfway to a triple double, with five assists, eight rebounds and seven points in the opening half.
UBC struggled to open the third quarter, allowing the Huskies a number of uncontested looks, including a pair of consecutive three-point shots. Thankfully, Wright was on fire for the Thunderbirds with 22 points after the third quarter, going 9-for-13 up to that point, en route to a 62-60 UBC lead at the whistle.
Forbes and Collins drained back-to-back Saskatchewan trays to begin the fourth quarter, with the five unanswered giving the Huskies its largest lead of the game at three points, and soon to be eight points shortly thereafter. Nixon helped his UBC team claw its way back into contention and with UBC down 77-75 with less than two minutes remaining.
But with just 26 seconds remaining in the game, Nixon was stripped of the ball and Collins would drain a pair of free throws for the Huskies to make it a two-possession game. Conor Morgan had an open look for three with 7.5 seconds remaining in a last second glimmer of hope but missed from just shy of the half court line.
“It’s a tough loss but we competed hard and you can’t question the heart that the boys showed tonight,” said Hanson.
The T-Birds noticeable advantage in size wasn’t enough to solve the Huskies, a team in which UBC swept during the regular season, despite missing Huskies 6-foot-6 forward Shane Osayande due to an ankle injury on Friday. UBC now faces a Fraser Valley team that lost 86-61 against Victoria in the other semifinal, but was 17-3 during the regular season and crowned the Canada West Explorer Division Champions.
The Canada West Final will be played at 6 p.m. PST tomorrow at the Physical Activity Complex in Saskatoon preceded by the bronze medal game at 4 p.m. between the T-Birds and Cascades.