This past weekend, the two game mini series featuring the UBC Thunderbirds and the TrinityWestern Spartans welcomed a number of compelling stories that will no doubt have an impact on the Canada West standings and quite possibly an indication of one of the participants in the CIS Championships in March. With two highly touted bench bosses in search of their first CIS ring, UBC’ s Kevin Hanson (2 CCAA Championships with Langara College) and TWU’s Scott Allen (3 BC High School Championships with White Rock Christian Academy) have without a doubt, made sure that their respective teams realize the importance of this weekend regardless of the outcome.
On opening weekend the number one ranked Thunderbirds opened with a dominating performance against last years CIS Champions, the Saskatchewan Huskies, before dropping a single point loss the following evening. Meanwhile, across town, the Spartans grabbed a pair of W’s against the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
Although history favored the team from the Point Grey campus 6-1, the one loss did come during their only visit out to the Fraser Valley and the historic David E. Enarson gymnasium, which reminded many of the classic NCAA field houses. With Trinity Western settled into their new state of the art home at the Langley Events Centre, the additional seating and help from ruckus crowds will only serve the Spartans well. While the home team will be looking to use the fan support as the proverbial sixth man, UBC guard and former University of Fraser Valley guard Doug Plumb believes that the change of venue will not have the impact that the former home court held.
“I remember playing at Trinity’s old gym and it felt like the crowd was literally breathing down your neck because of how small and packed the gym was. The crowd will undoubtedly be a factor but from what I have heard the size of the LEC somewhat diminishes how loud the crowd can make the gym.”
Entering the LEC on Friday evening, the electricity could be felt throughout the concourse and hallways that something big was in the air as fans packed into both seating on both sides of the court with a Trinity Western record attendance of over 1700. With the ‘Birds ready to prove that their single point loss was just a slip and the Spartans looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2009-10 season with a well stocked roster, the hype for this matchup reached playoff levels. Asked prior to the Friday night tilt about the difference between last year’s team and the one that he leads into his final year of eligibility, TWU forward Jacob Doerksen stated:
“Last year we definately gave into the hype that was bestowed upon us by the recruitment of big name tansfers. We were expected to be this great team which we weren’t. We are older and more confident this year and playing in our home gym this year will definately give us an added edge.”
While both squads appeared to have early game jitters, evident by each missing their first three attempts, nerves settled at the eight minute mark with a Doerksen post up and a Josh Whyte (UBC) transition layup. Jumping out to an early 19-5 run behind a set of “and ones’ on a Brent Malish put back and a four point play from Whyte the Thunderbirds carried a 27-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. UBC continued to keep the capacity crowd at bay by holding a ten point advantage throughout the second quarter, capped off by another untimely TWU foul on Whyte beyond the three point line.
Following a stirring Michael Jackson Halloween piece by the Mennonite Educational Institute Screaming Eagles Marching Band to bring the crowd back into the game, the Thunderbirds defense quickly extinguished any hopes of a Spartans comeback despite the best efforts of Doerksen and Tyrell Mara. Extending the lead to as many as 29 points in the third, the Birds solidified their case to hold on to their top ranking with a dominating 91-69 victory.
Returning Saturday evening for the second game of the back to back, the Thunderbirds knew that the team they faced on Friday night would not be the same. Right off the tip the Spartans wanted to save face with a quick six point run, looking to establish control of the scoreboard. However just as quick as Trinity put up the points, UBC countered with a game changing series of baskets from Whyte and Plumb turned the game in favor of the Thunderbirds for the remainder of the night.
While the Spartans were able to hold on to the ball more Saturday evening with only 18 turnovers, as compared to the 32 that UBC forced the previous night, the lack of finish haunted the home team, connecting on only 39% of their field goals and 57% of their free throws. Those percentages were heavily influenced by a stronger second half performance as the Spartans were able to outscore their visitors 42-40, but the deficit that they faced going into halftime was just too great, as their record dropped to .500 on the season with a 90-77 loss.
Heading into a road trip against Alberta during the first weekend of November, Plumb reflected on what the two victories meant for the UBC team
“A pair of wins means we did what we wanted to do; go into a hostile environment, come together as a team and gut out tough wins.”
On the flip side, Spartans second year forward Kurtis Osborne knows that the two losses early in the season could come back and hurt his squad down the road as they did last season:
“The thing is we missed playoffs by one game last year, so we need to play every game like our season is on the line.”