T-Birds win wild shootout over Spartans in season finale
VANCOUVER - The Trinity Western Spartans needed a win to make
the playoffs, and they pushed the UBC Thunderbirds to the limit,
but the nation's top-ranked squad had just enough to pull out the
90-83 win thanks to big efforts by its graduating seniors.
The T-Birds led for most of the night but the Spartans wouldn't go away as they fought for their playoff lives, eventually coming back to tie the game midway through the fourth at 72. The two sides battled neck-and-neck down the stretch, but the T-Birds pulled away late. Josh Whyte iced it with under 20 seconds to go, pulling off an around-the-back move to beat a Spartan defender on his way to a layup, making it a three-possession game.
"I'm really happy with the way we executed," said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson. "You cant put a price tag on that type of pressure game where you have to hit free throws down the stretch and get defensive stops."
Fifth-year guard Blaine LaBranche had 13 of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter to lead the T-Birds to victory in his final regular season home game with the team. He made an incredible diving shot with just under a minute left to put his side up 85-81, hitting the shot and drawing a foul while falling to the ground, his body parallel to the floor in mid-air. Kyle Watson, the other graduating T-Bird, also had an outstanding game, leading the team with seven boards in the absence of their top rebounder Kamar Burke.
"I'm elated for Kyle and Blaine playing in their last regular season home game," said Hanson. Blaine, after having asthma and pneumonia fluid in his lungs last week, came out making plays at both ends - taking charges and making plays on offence. Kyle Watson, who we recruited as a wing, ended up playing 30 minutes as a post player. He just left it all out on the floor. That kid couldn't even breathe at the end of the game."
Reigning CIS MVP Jacob Doerksen gave the 'Birds all they could handle on Saturday, but he fouled out shortly after his team tied things up in the fourth quarter.
"Doerksen was just a load during that fourth quarter stretch," said Hanson. "Once he fouled out it relieved us and we were able to put more ball pressure on."
Contrary to their usual scoring-by-committee style, the T-Birds got a lot of production by two players on Saturday. Whyte and LaBranche combined for 56 points and 12 rebounds, and were the only two 'Birds to score in double digits.
Doerksen led the Spartans with 23 points. Tonner Jackson had a strong game as well, with 17 points and four rebounds.
The Spartans finish the year at 9-9, which puts them in a tie for fourth in the Pacific Division with Victoria. However, the Vikes have the tiebreaker advantage, so the Spartans will not make the playoffs this year.
The Vikes are tied for the wildcard spot with the Lethbridge Pronghorns, and the wildcard winner will be decided by a coach's vote. All Canada West head coaches of non-playoff teams will vote for either Victoria or Lethbridge.
The T-Birds, meanwhile, finish the regular season as the CIS number one-ranked team at 17-1. They have the first overall seed in the conference, and will host a best-of-three series against Alberta in the first round. Those games will go February 26, 27, and 28 if necessary, at War Memorial Gym. All games start at 7 p.m.
UBC Sports Information Director