Stu Walters / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds relied on a balanced attack and determined defence to get past the defending Canada West champion Saskatchewan Huskies 71-64 in their Courtside festival season opener Friday night at War Memorial Gym.
It was a battle from start to finish as the Birds welcomed the Huskies who were ranked No. 1 in the Canada West preseason coaches' poll but it was the 'Birds who were ranked No.4 coming in who would enjoy seeing three players step up to produce double digits in scoring on the night.
Third-year forward Keylyn Filewich led the T-Birds attack with 20 points and 9 rebounds while fourth-year guard Jessica Hanson added 19 points, five rebounds and a team high five assists. Meanwhile second-year guard and off-season transfer Kate Johnson chipped in with 13 points and five rebounds while fourth-year guard Maddison Penn aided the cause with six points and nine rebounds.
For the visitors, it was sweet shooting fourth-year guard Sabine Dukate matching a game high 20 points while making good on four of nine three-point attempts while fellow fourth-year guard Megan Ahlstrom added 13 points and six rebounds.
The Thunderbirds started with good energy as spark plug Kate Johnson caused a turnover at midcourt, she then headed the other way pushing the ball to Penn on the give and go fast break with Penn giving it back to Johnson for the layup and the opening points of the game. After trading points and the hosts finding themselves down 9-8 it was Hanson pulling up to hit her lone three-point attempt of the frame, part of her team high seven points in the quarter and a 11-9 UBC lead. Hanson would be heard from again on the next possession, battling down low to come down with a rebound in traffic before putting back the jumper for a 13-9 lead and causing Huskies coach Lisa Thomaidis to call her first time out of the contest. To close out the quarter it was Dukate connecting on her lone attempt from beyond the arc, part of her team high five points to close the gap as the T-Birds led 15-14.
The second quarter saw the hosts stay sharp in outscoring Saskatchewan 19-15 thanks to hitting nine of 15 field goals, shooting 53 percent. It started with Penn setting the tone down low battling for position and earning the hoop and the harm, she'd hit her free throw giving the T-Birds a 26-22 lead. A Hailey Counsell drive and basket would increase the lead to 28-22 before Dukate would respond with a jump shot pulling within 28-24. Johnson would then step up for two straight baskets the latter of which was an easy layup after a sweet dish from Hanson to find her alone under the basket for a 32-24 lead which forced the Huskies to call a time out. The visitors responded out of the break with a three-pointer from Maya Olynyk to close the gap to 32-27 but another Hanson jump shot as time expired increased the 'Birds lead to 34-29 heading into halftime.
Johnson would open the second half in similar fashion to how she started the game, driving the lane for a layup, the Kelowna B.C. native would follow up moments later with another slashing move to the basket to score her four points early in the frame and help the hosts to a 40-32 advantage. A little later with UBC leading 42-35 the Huskies would suddenly turn it on to score 11 straight points en route to taking a 48-45 lead. Dukate would start the run with a jump shot followed by three straight baskets from beyond the arc courtesy of Brianna Fehr, Libby Epoch and Ducate once again. The T-Birds found themselves trailing for the first time since early in the first quarter but quickly responded late in the quarter with two straight baskets from Filewich and Hailey Counsell dropping a runner in the lane to regain a one-point edge 49-48 after three quarters.
To start the fourth quarter Hanson would make her presence felt once again in scoring four of her quarter high 8 points in the early going and adding a key steal to take a 55-48 lead. Filewich would then spark the crowd with a looping acrobatic shot from under the hoop and a 57-48 advantage. The game would then once again turn into a distance shooting competition with four straight converted three-pointers, two for each team. Dukate got it started with her third three-pointer of the game followed by deep responses from Penn and Hanson before Dukate would strike again from long range to pull the Huskies within four at 63-59 causing UBC head coach Deb Huband to call a timeout. Following the break UBC would pick up the pace with more points from Filewich and Hanson to secure a 71-64 opening night victory.
"I'm really pleased with how we came out starting league play against a highly ranked Huskies squad," said UBC head coach Deb Huband. "We were fired up and ready to go I thought the team brought great energy and mental focus and we were consistent in holding it for forty minutes."
Huband was also pleased with the spread-out scoring.
"I think that's important for us," added Huband. "We've been working really hard on our team game and executing and making smart decisions and I think we have more depth in our roster this year and it showed tonight."
The teams meet again Saturday night with tip off scheduled for 5:00 p.m. at War Memorial Gym.
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds