Every time the Trinity Western Spartans and UNBC Timberwolves Men’s Basketball teams meet on a Canada West court, the fans are in for a show. Their first meeting was a TWU overtime victory. Then UNBC won 82-78 in the second meeting. Tonight, the TWolves needed 40 minutes to top the Spartans, earning a 96-88 victory on Saturday, February 19th, 2022 in Prince George, BC.
“It was great. Buzzer to buzzer, we had a great game today,” said UNBC forward Chris Ross, postgame. “We had a good first half and a good second half, so that was great to see. Usually, we have more ups and downs, but I thought our consistency was good today.”
In the first quarter, it was Ross who came out firing. An unsung hero for the Timberwolves, the North Vancouver product hit all three of his shots in the frame, while playing his signature high-effort style. However, slowing the Spartans is no easy task, as they play quicker and more intentional than any team in the conference. Both teams grabbed a hold of the momentum for short spurts, but the quarter ended in a 20-20 deadlock.
“It’s really tough. They are so good going downhill, and they’re smart and experienced players,” said UNBC’s Fareed Shittu, of TWU’s Mason Bourcier and Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath. “Our guards did a good job today, and it took some pressure off the defense.”
The TWolves were the stronger team early in the second quarter, as leading scorer Tyrell Laing made a long three, and the inside due of Fareed Shittu and Spencer Ledoux got to work in the paint, as UNBC opened an eight-point lead. But it is a track meet with the Spartans, and the Trinity backcourt of Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath and Mason Bourcier welcomed the prospect of a high-scoring battle with the Timberwolves.
Gilbreath, who leads the conference in scoring, had 11 in the quarter, and Bourcier got TWU into their offense enough to keep the game game close. When the buzzer sounded, UNBC held a 47-39 lead. Ledoux led UNBC with 11 points, while Gilbreath had 15 for Trinity Western.
“They play a really fast style of basketball. It is relentless. If you’re up and you take your foot off the gas, they will come right back on you,” said Ross. “It keeps these games so close. It always ends up coming right down to the wire.”
In the third frame, the fans in attendance at the Northern Sport Centre were treated to more back-and-forth basketball, as the two teams traded baskets, often of the spectacular variety.
Bourcier and Gilbreath continued to slash for points and dishes to big man Andrew Goertzen, while the TWolves used a balanced attack to match the Spartans point for point. The highlight of the quarter came in the final seconds, when Shittu gathered a loose ball, elevated, and hammered a two-handed poster dunk over Goertzen. The incredible slam put the NSC crowd into a frenzy, and gave UNBC the momentum heading into the fourth.
“I was thinking I wanted to hype my guys up on the bench. I had a poster a few weeks ago in Trinity Western, and I saw them on the bench going crazy, but I didn’t see it until afterwards,” said Shittu, of his monster dunk. “I wanted to make sure I got to my bench and got hyped with my guys.”
UNBC seemed to be in control in the fourth quarter, maintaining a moderate double-digit advantage through the opening minutes. But the Spartans have too much firepower to feel comfortable with any lead, and Trinity made it a game. Bourcier began pushing the ball with even more tenacity, and Gilbreath couldn’t miss, cutting the lead to just four points.
However, the Timberwolves stayed poised long enough and made enough shots to maintain control, and held on for the 96-88 victory.
“They have some great players. Fareed, Vova, Ty. They have a good backcourt, plus Fareed and other guys,” said Gilbreath, postgame. “We have great players as well. The back-and-forth battle is what we came into the game expecting. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle, but we came up short.”
Ross scored a career-high 19 points, to go along with eight rebounds to lead UNBC, while Laing added 18 points and six dimes. Ledoux had 17 points, and Shittu had 14 points and career-high 17 rebounds. Pluzhnikov also scored in double digits, going for 12 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
Gilbreath had 36 points in the final regular season Canada West game of his career, while Bourcier made some Canada West history; the Kelowna product tied Winnipeg’s Erfan Nasajpour’s conference record for triple doubles in a career with his fourth. Bourcier, impressively, accomplished the feat in just one season.
The Spartans conclude their season with an 8-10 record, while the TWolves improve to 6-11, with the Victoria Vikes on the schedule to round of their Canada West regular season slate.
“Our effort was somewhat there, but not all the way there. I feel like we could have fought harder,” said Gilbreath. “We can use this to get better. Take this loss and run with it. Learn from it and get better.”