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T-wolves make history, defeat Calgary Dinos for Canada West bronze

Underdog Timberwolves become story of the tournament as UNBC's first U SPORTS medal winners

The UNBC Timberwolves were the Cinderella story of the Canada West men’s basketball playoffs and Sunday night in Winnipeg they made sure that tale of guts and glory had a happy ending.

Just like they did earlier in the tournament when they defied the odds and eliminated the No. 5 UBC Thunderbirds and No. 4 Manitoba Bisons, the 12-seeded T-wolves saved their best for last, taking care of the second-ranked Calgary Dinos 94-80 in the bronze medal matchup.

In the last U SPORTS game of his career, Chris Ross was the difference-maker for UNBC. The fifth-year guard from North Vancouver was deadly from distance and hit eight triples on his way to a team-high 25 points.

“It feels fantastic, especially to get it with these guys, who work so hard,” said Ross. “Before the game I said leave it all out on the floor, especially for us three (graduating) guys, it might be put last one, and I think we did that today. It was really special.”

They didn’t have their big fanbase from Prince George with them in the gym in Winnipeg but Ross felt the love of the city from afar.

“P.G. is the best community out there and they’ve got nothing but support for us and it’s been awesome,” he said.

Their bronze finish finished marked the first-ever Canada West medal for UNBC in any sport since the school became a U SPORTS member in 2012.

“No one expected us to be here,” said graduating guard Darren Hunter. “We don’t even have an all-star. We did it as a team and I just love these guys so much, we have a great team, probably the best team off-court I’ve ever been on.”

The T-wolves had comfortable leads that slipped away several times.

Led by Dylan Lutes and Nate Petrone, the Dinos took off on a 13-5 run to start the second half that whittled the UNBC lead to five. The T-wolves slowed down the pace and that stopped the bleeding but it was still anybody’s game heading into the final 10 with UNBC ahead 71-68.

Both teams fumbled away chances in the early going in the fourth quarter until Petrone tied it for Calgary with his fourth trey of the night.

But like they’ve done all week, the T-wolves shook off the adversity and took back control. Ross delivered a crisp pass to point guard Justin Sunga and he drained the three, which Dinos shooter Gurshan Sran countered with another three to pull even again.

UNBC forward Spencer Ledoux, also playing his last game, fouled out after missing a layup, and the Dinos were unable to turn that into points, but Will Keyes certainly did that when he connected for another three to put the T-wolves up by six with five minutes left.

“We grinded it out and we made it happen,” said Ledoux. “These guys really came together over these last few weeks and I think we deserve to be here.”

The T-wolves’ defence forced Calgary to cough up the ball in the dying minutes and Hunter made them pay when he hit from three-point range, followed by another trey from Ross after a miss from Dinos’ Dylan Lutes. Evgeny Baukin sealed it with consecutive layups that extended the lead to 13 with 2:20 left. Calgary never threatened after that and Sunga and Ross capped it off with a couple more net plays.

After allowing the opening bucket, the T-wolves led practically from start to finish. They were up 28-24 after one quarter and 55-40 at the half.

“It was hard for  both teams coming in, we were on our fourth game in five days, and both teams were coming off a loss the day before and the emotional ups and downs with that,” said T-wolves head coach Todd Jordan. “You knew they were going to fight back and I’m glad the guys were able to hold the fort there down the stretch there.

“This was the one game this week where our young kids had to step up and some of our first-year guys got to play some minutes. Will Keyes had a really big night for us and did a really good job and it was nice to see that. It bodes well for the future. We have three guys leaving the program but it was really good for our young guys to be part of this. That’s going to help us a lot.”

UNBC withstood a second-quarter surge led by Sran, whose accuracy from all over the court negated a 12-point lead. Tied at 38, the T-wolves used their timeout to refocus and Baukin got them back on track with a thundering dunk. The Russian-born forward kept pushing the pace and completed a three-point play after getting fouled as he drove one in off the glass.

At the other end of the court, Keyes came off the bench and delivered a key block that led to a turnover and Hunter used that to get free for the first of back-to back threes that put UNBC ahead 49-38.

Petrone sunk a couple of foul shots to end an 11-0 UNBC run. The T-wolves defence came up big again, deflecting a pass that sent Baukin in again on another successful drive. They retained possession after Baukin missed his foul shot try for three and got the ball out to the baseline for Mathews, who made good from three-point range for a 55-40 lead they took into the locker room.

Baukin finished with 19 points, Sunga picked up 11 points and nine rebounds, Dylon Matthews had eight points and Josh Gillespie led the T-wolves with eight rebounds.

Dinos’ hotshot Petrone shot a game-high 26 points and had seven assists, while Sran finished with 24 points.

The T-wolves had to wait for their medals until after the Victoria Vikings defeated the Winnipeg Wesmen 96-91 for gold in the late game.

The only loss of the tournament for UNBC was their 80-68 defeat at the hands of the top-ranked Vikings in Saturday’s semifinal.

“Obviously the guys played at a really high level and we felt the support from back home and got on a roll,” said Jordan, now in his 14th year as the T-wolves bench boss

“It’s a big moment for our program and hopefully it’s the start, not the end.”