Lucas Meyer; Dinos Communications
CALGARY – In the best game of the year at the Jack Simpson Gym this season, the No. 5 University of Calgary Dinos fought tooth and nail against one of their biggest rivals, beating the UBC Thunderbirds 87-84 to win their best-of-three Canada West semifinal 2-0.
With the victory, the Dinos clinch a spot in next weekend's Canada West championship game, as well as the U SPORTS Final 8 Tournament the week after in Halifax for the third consecutive season.
After the Dinos blew out UBC in Game 1, reigning MVP Conor Morgan led the Thunderbirds in Game 2, refusing to let the same happen for the second night.
Unlike the first quarter the night before when it was UBC in the lead, Calgary was up 17-10 going into the second and in the next quarter jumped out to a 31-12 advantage. UBC was in danger of getting blown out for the second straight night, but the No. 4-ranked Thunderbirds didn't crumble under the pressure. With a total team effort, UBC outscored Calgary 25-11 and were only down 42-37 at halftime.
The close play continued in the second half, but the Dinos constantly held a two-to-three possession lead, and led going into the fourth 70-64.
Calgary got off to a great start, first a three by freshman point guard Andrew Milner and then a layup by senior forward Lars Schlueter, who shared a team-high 24 points. But UBC stayed aggressive, cutting the lead to five after four straight free throws. The aggressive play late was paying off as multiple Dinos felt with foul trouble, including first-team all-star Mambi Diawara who fouled out late after scoring 24 points, to along with 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Calgary pushed the lead to nine again, but UBC kept pushing, making six straight free throws, followed by a layup by second-team all-star Phil Jalalpoor and it was just 83-83 with 26 seconds remaining.
Then it was Calgary's turn to hit big free throws, as David Kapinga who struggled throughout the game, hit two massive shots from the line to push it back to a three-point lead.
Morgan made a layup with 12 seconds left and it was Schlueter's turn to sink two, which he did and after a missed three by Jalalpoor late, Calgary won the game 87-84.
Free throws would be critical for both teams, as Calgary would have its best night from the line all year, going 25-28 for 89 per cent, while UBC went 27-32.
Both teams turned the ball over 21 times, in a game that had 50 total fouls.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the T-Birds who went 17-3 in the regular season, and potentially caps off an illustrious career for Morgan, who finished 27 points and 11 rebounds in his last game, while fellow all-star Jalalpoor ended with 15. The Thunderbirds' last hope will be the national at-large bid to the Final 8, which will be decided next Sunday.
After scoring just two points in Game 1, Schlueter came up huge for the Dinos with 24 points on 5-6 from three-point territory and eight rebounds.
Kapinga finished with 12 points and seven assists, as Calgary will now play the winner of the Alberta-Lethbridge series in Edmonton in a one-game conference final next week.
Photo by David Moll