Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - It was Courtside game for the ages on Friday night as the UBC Thunderbirds (1-0) opened their season with a thrilling 92-87 victory over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies (0-1).
"I'm glad we got to entertain," said UBC Head Coach Kevin Hanson. "For the first game of the year that was some pretty exciting basketball. For anyone who came out here, they certainly got their money's worth tonight. That was a rollercoaster of a game for sure."
Two standout NCAA Division 1 recruits made their presence felt in a return to B.C. for their first Canada West conference play. Langley's Jadon Cohee led the 'Birds with 29 points after transferring from Southern Utah University, while Surrey native - and former Seattle University Redhawk - Manroop Clair came off the bench for 17 points.
"It felt really good to pull through," said Cohee. "We went through a lot of adversity and didn't play well for two and half quarters...but we pulled through in the end when it mattered. The big thing is that we're so young. Defensively and offensively it's going to take some time to learn to play together, but I think we'll be alright if we keep figuring it out - especially defensively."
Second-year Thunderbird Grant Shephard was one point shy of a double-double with 12 rebounds and 9 points, while shooting a perfect 4 for 4 from the field. Mason Bourcier added 14 points with 7 assists and 5 rebounds in the win.
Lawrence Moore and Emmanuel Akintunde were a constant threat for the Huskies before getting into foul trouble down the stretch. Moore finished with 33 points and 4 steals with 5 assists, whereas Akintunde had 12 points and 11 rebounds with 6 steals. Huskies head coach Barry Rawlyk liked his team's effort but said getting into foul trouble was costly.
"There were two or three spots in the game where we didn't help ourselves, and as a result six points swings took place," added Rawlyk. "At the end of the day we got into a situation where we were having to play deep into our bench with the foul situation...that certainly didn't help our cause. I give them credit - they hit some shots and made some plays when they needed to. Their depth certainly showed."
The Huskies jumped out to an early 5-0 lead before Shephard got the 'Birds on the board with a thunderous two-handed dunk to incite the Courtside crowd. Cohee scored his first Thunderbird bucket on a pull-up three before Bourcier followed it up with an and-one to make it 10-8 Saskatchewan. Cohee tied it up at 10-10 on a spinning drive to the rack, and Bourcier went up and under to close out the quarter with a 19-15 deficit.
In the second quarter, Cohee connected on a wide open three to bring the 'Birds back within one at 19-18, but the visiting squad's quick-strike offense boosted them to a 37-26 advantage on an Akintunde slice to the rim. Cohee cut the lead to 10 on his third three and Saskatchewan entered the half up 45-37.
The two teams traded blows to start the second half until Audu brought UBC to within four points at 67-63. Cohee's fourth three to end the third not only made it a one point game - but also gave War Memorial Gym free Dominos pizza with UBC's 8th three of the game.
Prior to the fourth quarter, the home crowd reached a new level of excitement when a fan hit his half-court shot to win a free snowboard - and a spot in Courside lore. Clair tied it up in the fourth quarter with a long two at 70-70 and gave the T-Birds a 79-77 edge that they carried through to victory.
"We talked about the highs and lows that were going to happen," admitted Coach Hanson. "They had a good game plan in place and did a lot of different things to slow us down and take us out of our rhythm. I thought in the first half we didn't share the basketball very well, second half we played a little bit more of a team game and that was the difference in the end."
The two teams will square off in a rematch in War Memorial Gym on Saturday evening at 7 p.m., and Coach Hanson knows his team will have to prepare for a battle.
"It's tough playing back-to-back nights, so tomorrow is just going to be another war."
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds