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UNBC T-wolves relishing underdog role in Canada West hoops playoff

Former T-wolves Shittu, Jessie suited up as starters this season for heaviy-favoured UBC Thunderbirds

The UNBC Timberwolves face a tough test Wednesday night in Winnipeg.

Seeded 12th out of 12 teams in the U SPORTS Canada West men’s basketball playoffs, they’ll face the high and mighty UBC Thunderbirds, a team that boasts first-team all-star forward Brian Wallack, third-team guard James Woods and all-rookie team  guard/forward Adam Olsen.

The Thunderbirds are ranked fourth in Canada, even though they ended up fifth in the conference with a 12-4 record – five wins better than the T-wolves, who finished at 9-11.

The top four in Canada West – Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg and Manitoba – each get a bye into the quarterfinals and that means UNBC has to take on the top-ranked team in the play-in round to earn the right to play the Manitoba Bisons in the quarterfinals Thursday night.

Of all the teams they could have been matched with in the playoffs, the T-wolves know they’re playing with fire against UBC, but they are relishing their chance for another shot at the T-birds.

Until last season, when they beat them 100-87 in Vancouver, the T-wolves had never come out on top of the T-birds, dating back to the year UNBC joined Canada West in 2012.

But they did it again Jan. 19 at the Northern Sport Centre, winning 88-69. Although UBC won by 12 in the rematch the following night, that weekend proved to the guys in green and gold the T-birds are not invincible.

“It’s obviously a bit of a loaded matchup, just with their history - they’re number four in the country and they’re a really good team  - so there’s obviously a challenge there,” said T-wolves head coach Todd Jordan.

“They’ve been a powerhouse forever, UBC’s always got more resources and depth that’s always hard to deal with. But we’ve also had some success against them the last couple years. I think the guys have really showed up and concentrated on the gameplan and been able to get a win last year in their home-opener and we got a big win this year in our place.”

Jordan said his team’s big men – Spencer Ledoux, Evgeny Baukin and Josh Gillespie – proved troublesome to the T-birds in that Jan. 19 win and while UBC made adjustments that kept them contained the following night, they’re capable of giving the T-wolves what they need to pull off another upset.

“We’re excited about the possibilities (Wednesday),” said Jordan. “The guys are ready to go and well-prepped and they just have to go out there and do it.

“The big thing with them is they have so much depth if they get out and start running on you, you’ve got to make sure you get back and stop their transition. If you can take care of the ball against them and get back in transit defence it gives you a really good chance.”

For added incentive for the T-wolves, there’s the Fared Shittu/Micah Jessie factor.

Shittu was a raw rookie when he joined the T-wolves in 2019, coming out of high school ball in Edmonton, and coach Jordan taught him how to translate his abundant raw athletic talent into becoming an impact forward at the university level. Shittu went on to make the Canada West all-rookie team and last year was a third-team all-star.

Jessie, a product of Garfield High School in Seattle, joined the T-wolves as a third-year guard in 2022-23 and finished as UNBC’s leading scorer in his only season in Prince George.

Shittu and Jessie both quit the T-wolves after the last season, alleging racism among the team, and were allowed to transfer to UBC without having to sit out for a full year dating back to their last game with UNBC. That was a bitter pill for the T-wolves to swallow and they both were starters this season at UBC.

“Obviously it adds a bit of juice to the matchup having those two guys playing there,” said Jordan. “To be honest, I think the guys have put the past to the past and are just concentrating on trying to be the best basketball team we can be, but it definitely makes it more interesting, that’s for sure.

“It’s always disappointing when you have players leave the program, we thought we treated those guys well here at UNBC and were upset they made the decision to go, but they made that decision and we moved forward.”

This could be the last game for graduating T-wolves Ledoux, Chris Ross and Darren Hunter.

The game will be streamed live on Canada West TV starting at 6 p.m. PT.


U SPORTS Canada West men's basketball playoffs

UNBC Timberwolves vs. UBC Thunderbirds,

Wednesday, Feb. 21, 6 p.m.

In Winnipeg (Canada West TV)

Game preview notes by Dan O’Connor, UNBC athletics

UNBC Timberwolves (9-11)
10th in CW Standings
78.2 Points Scored Per Game (10th)
77.4 Points Allowed Per Game (7th)
Scoring Leader:Spencer Ledoux (15.7 Per Game)
Rebounding Leader: Josh Gillespie (9.3 Per Game)
Assists Leader: Justin Sunga (5.3 Per Game)
Steals Leader: Sunga  (2.0 Per Game)
Blocks Leader: Gillespie (1.5 Per Game)

Player To Watch: Spencer Ledoux

15.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG

When all is said and done, Ledoux wraps up his five-year Canada West career as the T-wolves’ fourth all-time leading scorer. The Kamloops product finished the 2023-24 season as UNBC’s offensive leader, averaging 15.7 points-per-game. His 141 field goals were the third most in all of Canada West. In the two previous meetings this season against UBC, Ledoux reached double-figures offensively (11 and 12) on both occasions.
UBC Thunderbirds (14-6)
4th in CW Standings

84.8 Points Scored Per Game (3rd)
77.6 Points Allowed Per Game (8th)
Scoring Leader: Brian Wallack (18.8 Per Game)
Rebounding Leader: Wallack (9.4) 
Assists Leader: Micah Jessie (3.2)
Steals Leader: Wallack, Micah Jessie, Fareed Shittu (1.1)
Blocks Leader: Nikola Guzina (1.5)

Player To Watch: Brian Wallack
18.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG
The fifth-year forward is the heartbeat of the UBC Thunderbirds. Offensively he led the charge with 18.8 points-per-game and also led his squad on the defensive glass with an average of 9.4 rebounds. Wallack did not make the trek North to Prince George in January, so the T-wolves will need to adjust their game plan accordingly. His 18.8 points-per-game ranked him fifth in the conference.