by Lee Dorner
January 24, 2014, Vancouver (ISN) - Coming off splits in their first two weeks of conference action in 2014, the Thunderbirds need a big stand this weekend at home as they look to climb back to .500 and gain ground on a playoff spot with the struggling UNBC Timberwolves coming to War Memorial Gym.
The 'Birds can't be too upset about splitting their first weekend against 12-2 Alberta and 11-3 Saskatchewan, but they will be disappointed about dropping game two last week against fellow Pacific Division playoff hopeful Mount Royal. That kept them one game back of Mount Royal (7-7) and what is now a three-way tie for third in the division, and they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, with eight games to go.
After shooting over 47 per cent in game one against Mount Royal, the 'Birds went cold from the floor in game two while their opponents shot the lights out, particularly in the second half. But there were good things to take away from that weekend and even from the loss for the T-Birds, as they racked up a whopping 29 offensive rebounds in game two and even won the turnover battle, which is not something they typically do with their overall -1.57 turnover margin. Usually, winning the turnover and rebounding categories, particularly on the offensive glass, are pretty stable predictors of basketball success, so the overall effort for the 'Birds last weekend was probably better than the results show.
Another thing to factor in was the availability, or lack thereof, of Brylle Kamen. He is returning from elbow surgery over the semester break, and although he had a huge weekend against Alberta and Saskatchewan with 45 combined points, he only averaged 16 minutes last week against Mount Royal. Kamen is the team's leading rebounder despite his limited minutes this season, and he can contribute offensively from anywhere on the floor, so getting him back to full strength will really give UBC a boost in the playoff chase.
Kedar Wright was the biggest individual bright spot from last weekend, as he led the team in scoring with 17 and 20-point performances, smashing his previous scoring high of 11 and average of less than six per game. But there is reason to believe that kind of production is the real thing, and not just a quick hot streak from Wright. While his points per game average is now up to just 7.5, he actually leads the team in points per minute by a pretty significant margin, averaging 0.51 while nobody else on the team tops 0.43. He's also been the most efficient three-point shooter at .394 on the season, so it will be interesting to see how his role with the team takes shape as the games get more and more important with playoffs approaching.
For UNBC, the playoffs don't seem to be approaching so much as they're slipping away. They are actually just three games out of a spot, but they have lost three straight and six of their last seven. And on top of that, every team they play for the rest of the regular season (except UBC) is at or above .500, so they have a very tough road to the postseason. They will need to step things up on the glass to be successful this weekend, as they have been one of the weakest rebounding teams in the conference to this point and will be vulnerable to second-chance points against UBC's aggressive forwards. Charles Barton, the team's leading scorer (15.1) and rebounder (6.5), could be the key to the game for the Wolves on both ends of the floor.
Game time is 8 p.m. Friday night and 7 p.m. Saturday night at War Memorial Gym.