Aneesa Heatherington / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - With a t-shirt cannon, free pizza and a half-time show for the ages, the boisterous Courtside crowd had a lot to cheer for in a 109-68 UBC Thunderbird blowout victory over the University of Victoria Vikes at War Memorial Gym. Up 92-58 in the final frame, UBC Head Coach Kevin Hanson subbed out Phil Jalalpoor, Luka Zaharijevic and Conor Morgan for the last time in their regular season careers.
"You couldn't script it any better than that," said Hanson. "On seniors night, your last home game of the year, to have all three seniors play as well as they did...Phil put on a special performance, Conor did his thing and so did Luka. They put a lot of sweat and tears into this gym and this hardwood floor, so the applause they got and the standing ovation was very special to them and their families. We're very fortunate that we had all three of those guys play for our program."
Jalalpoor finished with 36 points, went 7 for 16 from beyond the arc, and said he was fueled by the Courtside fans. "I just try to be aggressive and take that energy from the crowd...it was unbelievable. It was probably the most fans in War Memorial I've ever played in front of so that was just a blessing. So fun."
Zaharijevic put up 11 points and 9 boards, while Morgan ended his final Canada West regular season with 27 points - making him the second highest scorer on UBC's conference scoring list with a career total of 1,526 points. Victoria's Mason Loewen had a huge first half and led the Vikes with 24 points and 5 rebounds in the loss. UBC finishes conference play with a 17-3 record, good for second in the Canada West heading into the final day of the regular season, while ninth-place Victoria fell to 10-10 on the year.
Despite the final scoreline, the visiting Vikes started strong with a 9-0 run in the opening quarter to lead 14-5. Morgan then came up with a steal and an emphatic dunk to start a 12-0 T-Bird run to take a 16-14 edge. Jalalpoor tied it up at 37-37 with just under three minutes remaining in the half and scored his third triple to give the 'Birds a five-point advantage, before UVic's Jordan Charles hit a three of his own to make it 42-40 UBC heading into halftime.
Zaharijjevic snatched a steal and sent Jalalpoor to the rack as the Thunderbirds started the second half with six quick points, forcing UVic to use a time-out. Jalapoor kept it coming with three straight threes to give the Courtside student section free pizza, and send War Memorial Gym into a frenzy. The 'Birds were feeling it as they cruised to the victory, but know the season is far from over. "We just have to refocus," said Jalalpoor. "We haven't achieved anything yet. Last year I think we peaked too early, but I think we're peaking at the right time."
"We're going to enjoy tonight," admitted Coach Hanson. "We're going to celebrate and then think about playoffs after tomorrow."
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds