Downing the defending champions
The Sheaf (University of Saskatchewan)
HALIFAX (CUP) — The top-seeded University of British Columbia Thunderbirds came away with a bronze medal last Sunday at the CIS men’s basketball Final 8, defeating the Saskatchewan Huskies 111–95.
Coming home empty handed was not the outcome the defending champion Huskies expected heading into the tournament this weekend.
However, UBC was relentless on Sunday, averaging nearly 28 points per quarter with their big guns Alex Murphy, Kamar Burke, and Nathan Yu. Heading into halftime, UBC had a comfy 64–46 advantage over Saskatchewan.
The T-Birds established their dominance after a monstrous 16–2 scoring run brought on by two technical fouls on Huskies’ head coach Barry Rawlyk and point guard Jamelle Barrett.
Even with the absence of CIS first-team all-star Josh Whyte due to a previously undisclosed foot injury, the T-Birds had minimal trouble solving the Dogs defence.
“On Monday, we found out he had a stress fracture in his foot. He didn’t practice all week, took a [cortisone] shot before game one and put together an incredible effort, especially in the second half,” UBC head coach Kevin Hanson said.
“You know he couldn’t walk before the second game and he took another shot. He put everything in his heart towards his team, sacrificing personal injury like that to play.
Although this was a bronze-medal match, UBC and Saskatchewan have proved to be two of the highest scoring teams at the Final 8, scoring 279 points and 269 points, respectively.
But, if a potent rivalry existed between these two teams, it wasn’t evident on the court – a lack of intensity on the Huskies part that coach Rawlyk blamed on exhaustion following the loss.
“I just didn’t think our energy level was there today. I’ll attribute that to fatigue – it’s been a long weekend,” Rawlyk said. “We had guys playing a lot of minutes. It just wasn’t there for us today.”
Player of the game and fifth-year UBC guard Murphy was far and away the most dominant player on the court, notching 36 points and six rebounds in his final CIS basketball game.
“Based on Alex Murphy’s career ¬ – sometimes starting and sometimes coming off the bench – to have a career-high in his last game is an amazing thing. He just held us together like glue,” UBC head coach Kevin Hanson said.
“We are going to miss those [fifth-year] guys, they have been great ambassadors for us, and will continue to be great ambassadors for us and I am very proud to have had the opportunity to coach them.
If Carleton Raven Tyson Hinz was the primary source of frustration for the Huskies’ ailing defence yesterday, the team had an even tougher time containing the vast depth of UBC’s offensive unit.
“They’ve [UBC] got a lot of weapons. [Alex] Murphy obviously had a really good game. He’s a product of all the other guys they have, too … They’re one of the premium teams in the country,” Rawlyk stated.
“They’re not going to rely on one or two guys – they have a bunch of guys they can go to.”
Rawlyk claimed afterwards he maybe would have liked to do a few things differently approaching the Final 8, but indicated he probably wouldn’t have changed anything. It’s up in the air whether or not Rawlyk will return to the Huskies program next season with head coach Greg Jockims coming back from a year leave.
“The plan was all along that Greg is going to come back next season and he’s going to be the head coach again next year. Personally, if I’m going to be back with the program remains to be seen,” said Rawlyk.
“I think Barry gave it his all and Jockims would have done just as well doing the same job,” said Huskies forward Michael Lieffers, who cashed in on 12 rebounds throughout the game.
Despite the loss, Saskatchewan still has reason to hold their collective head high. This season, they were the first Huskies men’s contingent in the history of the program to uphold an 18-game win streak.
Fifth-year Huskies guard Trevor Nerdahl just played his final game of his CIS career but remained optimistic about the loss.
“It’s a tough way to go out for sure but I’m just thankful I had the opportunity to play Huskies basketball,” Nerdahl said. “I had a great two years here. Last year, obviously, we got to go to the national championships and got to experience the highs and right now we’re definitely experiencing the lows. But all in all I made a lot of friendships to last a lifetime.”
With files from Drake Fenton — The Ubyssey (University of British Columbia)