WAR MEMORIAL GYM - The UBC Thunderbirds start off their journey toward the USPORT Championships next March in Halifax against a young and hungry UFV Cascades squad here at home in Vancouver.
For UBC, they will be without 5th year keystone player and former Canada West MVP, Connor Morgan, who is temporarily out with an elbow injury. This opens up the door for the highly sought-after and new recruit Grant Shephard. Shephard has enjoyed a highly successful summer with the U19 Canadian national team who took home gold over the USA team at the U19 world championships in Egypt.
The two teams were looking both excited and nervous as they go into their first regular season game. With both teams starting off on equal playing fields, it contributes to the highly anticipated opportunities and a chance at the ultimate prize. Who seizes the opportunity, will soon be seen.
The ball is tipped up and 5th year Luka Zaharijevic slaps the ball and quickly takes over possession, both hands grasped tightly leaving the gymnasium to fall silent; the game has begun. With so much control, it is as if he is letting the gym know, this is his home before passing the ball off to guard Jauquin Bennet-Boire. Bennet puts UBC on the board with a quick first step to the rim and we are on our way.
Within the first few minutes, it is clear that we have a playground game on our hands. UBC applying full-court pressure on every score, creating a high turnover up and down style of play; this proves useful as they pull in front 20 - 14 at the end of the 1st quarter.
UFV manages to close the gap to just 2 mid-way through the second. However, with UBC dominating the offensive glass, that 2-point lead ballooned to 13 with 4 minutes left to play in the half.
Active on the bench was the injured Connor Morgan as he quietly coaches his teammates on the floor, pointing out their opponents’ inefficiencies and doing his best from the sideline to lead his Thunderbirds to a win.
Between #7 Phil Jalalpoor and #11 Patrick Simon for UBC, it was an all out 3-point barrage in the closing minutes of the 2nd quarter. With 44 seconds until the half - Mason Bourcier gets fouled hard on his way to the rack and goes 2 for 2 at the line to put up his first career university points and putting his UBC Thunderbirds up 54 - 29 at the half.
Charging back in the 2nd half was #2 point guard for UFV Vick Toor, putting up a quick 6 points right out of the gate. Helping to carry the load was 4th year Andrew Morris as he drives relentlessly to the hoop to try to draw fouls and successfully puts points on the board for a struggling UFV team.
UBC made some adjustments at half and decided to work through 1st year rookie Grant Shephard in the post. With each possession they looked to collapse the defence and worked inside-out for weak-side threes by any number of their shooters posted on the perimeter.
UBC 78 - UFV 51 going into the forth quarter.
A quick run and string of threes by UBC makes it 87 - 56 in favour of the T-Birds, forcing UFV to call a timeout. Out of the timeout - Taylor Brown hits back to back 3’s to effectively seal the deal for UBC.
With 5:32 left to play, starters Phil Jalalpoor, Jauquin Bennet and Luka Naharijevic, come out of the game to a standing round of applause. Coming in to replace them were rookies Mason Bourcier, Grant Shephard and Charles Dai.
Once the win was no longer in question, the objective of the game for UBC turned into getting 5'10, 168 pound, first year guard Charles Dai out of Weifang, China his first buckets. After two missed mid-range jumpers, Mason Brocier found Charles once again on the wing where he shakes his defender and drives to the hoop for the first two points of his university career! Immediately the entire gym erupts! Fans, coaches, players and opposition alike came together for what just might have been the play of the game - Charles Dai for two!
Overall - this was a dominating performance all around by the T-Birds as they put away UFV in their home opener - 111 to 78 the final.
Photos via Victory Creative Group, Inc. - Patrick Giang