Aneesa Heatherington / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - The UBC Thunderbirds (12-3) overpowered the MacEwan Griffins (4-11) for a 96-72 victory in the first-ever meeting between the two teams at War Memorial Gym.
Fifth-year forward Luka Zaharijevic went off in the fourth quarter to seal the win, and finished with a monster 22 points and 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes of play.
"I was in the groove," said the Kitsilano Secondary product. "I was cutting...posting up...sealing doing all the things I do right and my teammates were finding me inside."
UBC Head Coach Kevin Hanson said the game plan was to pound the paint for the big man - and it certainly paid off. "We've been waiting for Luka to have this type of game, and finally the guys were actually looking for him and he was able to finish inside. Everybody loves Luka, everybody loves his parents and how emotional they are. Everybody feeds off of his energy - such a positive, great human. We're going to change some things defensively to see if we can keep him in the game longer."
Adonis Monfort-Palom gave the visiting Griffins a 6-5 edge early in the first with the T-Birds on their back foot. MacEwan's Jake Notice came up with a steal and converted his layup to take a 14-13 lead, while Lincoln Anderson went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc as the Griffins lead 20-19 after ten minutes of play.
Mason Bourcier hit his third triple of the game to start the second and Conor Morgan connected from three as the 'Birds gained a 25-23 advantage. UBC buckled down defensively and went on a 13-0 run in the quarter, finishing the half on Taylor Browne's third three at the buzzer for a 46-30 lead at the half.
"We made a couple of adjustments...but it's tough the first time you're playing these guys," said Coach Hanson. "The players don't know each other very well, you don't know the idiosyncrasies."
MacEwan narrowly outscored the Thunderbirds 25-22 in a tightly contested third quarter, but UBC maintained a 68-55 lead heading into the final frame. Deonte Doslov-Doctor hit his second three of the game to cut the deficit to 8, but thanks to a the home squad stayed comfortably in front thanks to 13 fourth-quarter points from Zaharijevic en route to the win.
Bourcier had a breakout performance himself with 13 points, 10 rebounds and zero turnovers in 40 minutes of action, and Coach Hanson was quick to praise the first-year guard.
"It was his best game. For a freshman to come in and do that against anybody is impressive. He needs to be assertive, I mean he's starting with three fifth-year guys...to see him looking for his own shot, I keep having flashbacks to how he played in the BC's in the finals last year. For him to do what he's doing in his first year bodes well for the future."
The Griffins shot 14 of 33 from three, good for 42%, and finished with 10 steals in the loss. Anderson led the way with five triples and 17 points, while Notice added 17 points and five rebounds for MacEwan.
UBC and MacEwan will meet again at War Memorial Gym on Saturday at 7:00 pm PST.
PHOTO: Wilson Wong / UBC Thunderbirds