MBB: Alberta team effort wards off late T-bird push to even series

MBB: Alberta team effort wards off late T-bird push to even series

Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics

EDMONTON — With their backs against the wall, the No.5 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears put together a total team effort to even their Canada West semifinal series against the No.6 ranked University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

Alberta led by as many as 26 points, but was forced to hold on to a big fourth-quarter charge by the T-Birds to pull through with a 92-86 victory, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.

Fourth-year power forward Brody Clarke led Alberta with 22 points and nine rebounds, but Alberta got contributions from many sources as five players reached double-digit point totals, including third-year point guard Tyus Jefferson who had 15 points, six rebounds, four assists, and one steal in the victory.

Fourth-year point guard Jadon Cohee led UBC with 22 points, six rebounds, and seven assists in the loss.

"The guys stepped up tonight in a do-or-die situation and we got contributions all across the board. Everyone who got subbed in found ways to make plays," said Bears head coach Barnaby Craddock. "Defensively, we did a fantastic job in the first half and I was really happy with our effort in that regard."

Alberta led 20-12 after the opening quarter and was cruising at halftime, leading UBC 46-26. They continued to pour it on in the second half, and the game looked like it had the makings to be a big blowout, but UBC got Alberta into foul trouble late in the fourth and took advantage by outscoring the Bears 35-17 in the final quarter.

"We didn't come out with enough energy today. We won Game 1 and we looked complacent," said Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Hanson.

"We went one-on-one a lot offensively and got away from our team game and that's not what you want and we got behind.

"We finally got aggressive at the end of the game, and I'm proud of the way we fought back, but we have to get aggressive early on."

Fourth-year guard Dwan Williams made his return to the Bears lineup for Game 2, and he made a huge impact at both ends of the floor. He scored 12 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Defensively, he caused all kinds of havoc towards the T-Birds. With UBC pressing, and the Bears in big-time foul trouble, Williams came up with a huge steal in the late stages of the game and, in the final moments, grabbed a rebound that sealed the win and forced the series to go the distance.

"Dwan Williams is a difference-maker for us," said Craddock. "We have a lot of first-year players and he's a veteran guy that is a leader for us defensively and he can knock down timely shots."

It certainly ended a lot closer than what the Golden Bears would've liked, but Alberta can be pleased with their response from a young squad, trying to secure the program's fourth-straight U SPORTS Final 8 national championship berth.

Veterans and freshmEn found ways to make a difference in a game that was filled with playoff intensity.

Freshman guard Lars Ishimwe only played 11 minutes, but he scored seven points, and he sent Saville Centre into a frenzy when he turned on the jets and went coast-to-coast and hit a floater off glass at the buzzer to close out the third quarter.

Third-year power forward Cole Knudsen was a menace on the offensive glass, chipping in with 10 points and six rebounds.

Freshman guard Adam Paige scored eight points and six rebounds and dialed up two big three-pointers in another strong performance.

"Our first year guys have to go out and give us minutes and they've been doing it all year long and in the playoffs it's no different," said Craddock. "They're a big part of our rotation and credit to those guys for making a key shot or a big defensive rebound."

This series has been a clash between two of the best programs in the conference, and with the series going the distance, Game 3 will be another intense battle.

"UBC is so talented and well coached and they make adjustments every quarter. They're constantly keeping us on our toes," said Craddock.

"These best of threes… we played them two weeks ago and both teams know each other inside and out. Tomorrow it's going to come down to who comes out with the most intensity and we need to be ready."

Game 3 of the series wraps up on Sunday at 5 p.m. Mountain Time.