Rich Abney, UNBC Athletics
LANGLEY, B.C. - A 12-2 run to end the game propelled the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolvesto a thrilling 80-78 victory over the Trinity Western University Spartans, earning the TWolves the first Canada West playoff victory in program history.
Down 76-68 with less than four minutes remaining, Sergey Shchepotkin's squad found itself playing catch-up against a highly-skilled Spartans team that found itself inspired by a loud crowd in the Langley Events Centre. But timely baskets from Alina Shakirova, Maria Mongomo, and Vasiliki Louka caught the TWolves up, capped by a Mongomo floater in the lane. When Sarah Buckingham's jumper from 15 feet rattled out as time expired, the Timberwolves knew they would be moving on to the second round for the first time.
"That is a very, very good team," UNBC coach Sergey Shchepotkin said of the Spartans. "They shot the ball really well in the second half. It felt like they didn't miss. All five players on the court can shoot for them, but we did what we could. We didn't give up, and it was big."
In the opening quarter, the two teams traded offensive opportunities in a fast-paced first ten minutes. Maria Mongomo was able to power her way into the paint for eight points, while the Spartans repeatedly found cutters in the lane for easy baskets. Tessa Ratzlaff was able to finish off a number of those possessions, and had six points in the first frame. At the end of one, it was 22-19 in favour of the visitors.
The Spartans came out in the second quarter, playing inspired basketball and not allowing anything easy around their own hoop. The TWolves missed some good looks, while Trinity Western made good on theirs, causing a Sergey Shchepotkin four minutes into the quarter with the Spartans up seven. Out of the timeout, UNBC responded as Abby Gibb and Maria Mongomo made back-to-back three's to close the gap. When the clock sounded for halftime, the Timberwolves had gone on a 13-4 run and led 39-34.
In the third stanza, it was a game of lead changes. The two teams took turns holding the momentum and the lead on the scoreboard. Spartans freshman Jolene Vlieg came off the bench and made a pair of big jumpshots, helping Trinity Western to a 58-54 advantage after 30 minutes.
The Spartans came out firing in the fourth, leading to the eight point lead late in the game. However, the Timberwolves wouldn't bend, eventually pulling off the stunning comeback and clinching the victory.
"The game is forty minutes, and whatever happened, we promised each other we would all keep doing our jobs," said Shchepotkin postgame. "There were three or four times this game that we were down eight points. We asked each other not to give up. To play as a team. It worked today."
The Timberwolves were led by Maria Mongomo, who poured in 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Madison Landry added 17 points in 39 minutes played, while Louka had 12 points and 13 rebounds. Alina Shakirova had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench, while veteran guard Abby Gibb wnet three-for-four from long range.
Tessa Retzlaff had 20 points and eight rebounds to pace the Spartans, while Jessie Brown had 13 points. Buckingham had 12 points and four rebounds, while freshman Nicole Fransson chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
With the victory, the Timberwolves advance to the Canada West quarterfinal, to be played next weekend, against either the Saskatchewan Huskies or Calgary Dinos.
"This feels awesome. It took six years to get this far," said Shchepotkin. "I am very happy it has happened with this group. I totally believe in all of them, and tonight, I felt like they all believed. I am proud of them."