UBC Thunderbirds (16-3) vs UVic Vikes (10-9)
War Memorial Gym - The UBC Thunderbirds returned to Vancouver from Victoria for their final regular season game which was also Senior’s Night for Conor Morgan, Luka Zaharijevic, and Phil Jalalpoor. On Thursday night, the Thunderbirds defeated the Vikes 95-69. The second game of the UBC “Courtside” double header game would be the finale for the basketball season and the three graduating seniors.
The yearly “Courtside” game, now in it’s third year, is a campus wide event that invites students to wear their blue and gold at War Memorial Gym to create the “rowdiest and loudest” basketball game. The Thunderbirds pulled out all the stops this year, including a VIP Courtside Package contest, halftime snowboard giveaway, halftime show featuring dogs, a drumline performance, pre-game festivities, and lots and lots of giveaways. Oh, and a giant screen to show highlights, replays, and rowdy Thunderbird Fans. There was also a t-shirt gun, free pizza, and an appearance by local Super Fan Crazy P. In other words, this is a full on production and an atmosphere that cannot be matched for college sports in Vancouver.
Despite the energy and excitement in the gym from the 2800 home crowd fans, the Vikes got the first bucket from Jake Newman. For the Thunderbirds, Luka Zaharijevic opened the scoring with a lay-up inside and Phil Jalalpoor followed that up with a three pointer. Just before the halfway mark of the quarter, Conor Morgan would get a steal that would give him a free run at the hoop resulting in a thunderous dunk which ignited the crowd into a frenzy. Despite the clear home-court advantage, it was the Vikes who held the lead 23-19 after one quarter of play. For the T-Birds, it was clear that the Seniors would be given every opportunity to lead the team, as they accounted for 17 of the 19 points in the quarter.
In the second quarter, Phil Jalalpoor continued to be aggressive and was actively looking for his jumpshot. He would nail two more triples in the quarter on his way to 18 points at the half. Conor Morgan would again ignite the crowd halfway through the quarter, this time with a putback dunk that would bring UBC within 3. Luka Zaharijevic played an efficient half finishing with six points on 3/4 shoot while grabbing six rebounds. As a result of the strong senior play, UBC gained the lead 42-40 entering the locker rooms at halftime.
UBC Coach, Kevin Hanson, must have led a fiery halftime speech, as the Thunderbirds came out in the second half looking like a different team. The Thunderbirds would outscore the Vikes 37-12 in the quarter opening up a 79-52 lead entering the final frame. Phil Jalalpoor was again the star of the quarter, knocking down four “3’s” in the quarter. Three of them coming on back-to-back-to-back plays early in the quarter which opened up a 13 point lead. More importantly, for the fans, the four “3’s” he hit would bring the UBC total to eight “3’s” and counting, which meant free pizza for the entire student section!
The fourth quarter began and the Thunderbirds continued to roll but were shifting from the scoreboard to the three seniors in their final minutes playing on their homecourt. With six minutes left, Phil Jalalpoor was the first to come out, of course to a standing ovation. He ended his regular season with a bang, going for 36 points, including seven “3’s”. A minute later came the sub for Luka Zaharijevic who finished just short of a double-double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. He would make his way down the bench embracing with coaches and teammates along the way. Last, came Conor Morgan, who was subbed out with 4:06 seconds remaining. Perhaps one of the most storied UBC players ever, his 27 points on the night made his regular season grand total 1,526 points - good for second highest on UBC’s conference scoring list. Conor would wave to the crowd before getting down on all fours and kissing the Thunderbird Logo, for, as much as Conor meant to the Thunderbirds, the Thunderbirds meant to Conor.
When the final buzzer sounded, the score was 109-68 for the Thunderbirds. It’s fitting, that on their Senior Night’s, Conor, Luka, and Phil led the team in scoring - just one way to measure their impact and leadership to the team.
The Thunderbirds finish the season on a six game win streak with a 17-3 record, good enough for second in the Canada West and a bye in the first round of playoffs. UBC will enjoy next weekend off before taking the court again from February 16-18 for the Canada West Quarter Finals.