After a 4-1 start to the Canada West women’s basketball season, the UNBC Timberwolves lost their swagger.
Five consecutive losses was a shock to their senses and left the T-wolves looking for answers.
Well they finally found what they were looking for Saturday on the court in Kelowna in a 76-67 win over the UBC-Okanagan Heat.
The damage was done for the T-wolves in a decisive fourth quarter in which they outscored the Heat 26-15. Down by two, a couple minutes into the quarter, Rebecca Landry got the T-wolves going with a layup and teammate Sarah Kuklisin came through with a steal and anther run to the hoop , which Landry followed by making a three for a 64-58 lead.
The UNBC defence came up with a series of key stops and Emma vanBruinessen and Sveta Boykova put the game out of reach with a pair of jump shots. Done deal.
After coming out on the short end of an 83-65 score Friday in Kelowna, Saturday’s outcome brought a sense of relief to a T-wolves squad that hadn’t won a game since Nov. 26.
“Having lost both our games since Christmas, this one was a big deal. We wanted to win both this weekend,” said vanBruinessen, who missed the first half of the season. “The rest of the semester will be tough, against some really good teams, so this win is something we hope to build on next weekend and the rest of the year.”
UNBC broke out to an 8-0 to start, but the Heat offence got untracked soon after and nobody ran away with it. UNBC led 20-16 after 10 minutes and 35-33 at the half.
UNBC’s Russian connection, Boykova and Alina Shakirova led the point parade with 16 and 15 respectively. Boykova, the top rebounder in Canada West, had nine off the boards, while Shakirova hauled in seven and made four tells. Landry finished with 13 points and four assists and vanBruinessen contributed 12 points and eight rebounds. Jaeli IIbbetson collected a team-high 17 points the other way, 12 of which came from free throws, and also had 16 rebounds. Aiko Williams finished with 15 points.
“They shot it well. Yesterday and today, that was difficult to contain,” said vanBruinessen. “A couple players really gave us trouble. We stuck to UNBC basketball and managed to do enough.”
The T-wolves (5-6) now rank fourth in the West Division, right behind the third-place Heat (6-7).
In the men’s game, UNBC cruised to a 98-83 win over UBC-O to compete the two-game sweep of the Heat. T-wolved forward Spencer Ledoux, whose last-second shot Friday gave the T-wolves a 79-77 victory, kept up his scoring antics and shot a game-high 28 points, his best single-game output of his U SPORTS career.
Everything seemed to be going the T-wolves’ way in the early going and they jumped out to a 26-14 lead in the first quarter, but that dwindled just a five-point edge late in the first half, when the T-wolves kept missing their shots and fell apart defensively. They got it back together and restored a nine-point bulge after three quarters and put it away in the final 10 minutes.
UNBC improved to 4-7 and moved back into fourth place in the West Division. The Heat remained seventh, owners of a 1-9 record.
Tyrell Laing was a force on the UNBC side with 21 points and six rebounds and his right-hand man, Vova Pluzhnikov was also deadly with 16 points and eight rebounds. Fareed Shittu contributed eight points, six rebounds and three steals, and with three blocks he eclipsed Austin Chandler as the all-time T-wolves’ leader.
“He is incredible. He is a huge part of our team,” said Laing. “I call him Baby Jokic. He gets shaking and he gets buckets. He can turn over either shoulder. So efficient. It helps us because it brings a different dynamic to our team. A post player that can go get us a bucket. He is unstoppable right now.”
Kevin Hamlet was the top UBC-O shooter with 18 points, while Gus Goerzen had 14.
Both UNBC teams are at home to face the Fraser Valley Cascades next Friday and Saturday at the Northern Sport Centre.