Win over Victoria puts wind in T-wolves' sails

Last weekend at the Northern Sport Centre the UNBC Timberwolves fed off the energy of a near-capacity crowd on opening night to throw a net over one of the tallest men's basketball teams in the Canada West Conference.
They topped the Victoria Vikes 88-81 in the U Sports season-opener for both teams, knocking off a charter member of the U Sports establishment. The Vikes got their revenge the following night in the rematch with an 83-60 triumph but that first win was just the tonic for a T-wolves team that struggled to win in the preseason.
"UVic is a pretty solid squad with a lot of size and they're quite a bit bigger than us and one of our big kids (Simon Loki) was out with an ankle injury and I thought our guys rose to the occasion on opening night," said T-wolves head coach Todd Jordan.
"Against one of the old dogs in the league it's always good to beat one of those bigger traditional Canada West schools, so getting the split was a positive weekend for us. It's nice to be going into this weekend .500."
The T-wolves (1-1) head to Langley to face the Trinity Western Spartans (0-2) Friday and Saturday.
The NSC bleachers were packed with a pro-UNBC crowd of about 800 for Friday's game and T-wolves shooters Vova Pluzhnikov and Tyrell Laing gave their fans plenty of reasons to show their appreciation with bellowing voices and stomping feet, creating a hostile environment for the Vikes.
Pluzhnikov, the fourth-year guard from the Ukraine, went on to record the first triple double in UNBC's eight-year Canada West history, collecting 25 points 11 rebounds and 10 assists while Laing, the former Prince George Polar in his third season with the T-wolves, shot a game-high 27 points and went 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.
Points were much more difficult to come by for the T-wolves in the second game and the Vikes limited Laing to 16 points and Pluzhnikov to just 12, which led the visitors to their 23-point victory.
"They clogged the lane on a couple things we were trying to do and kept us from getting to back as much," said Jordan. "The first night, Vova and Ty kind of lived in the free-throw lane and lived at the rim and on the second night they weren't able to get there as much and we didn't execute to reach the next phase of what we wanted to do to take care of that.
"We drained the gas tank on Friday night and I thought as the game went on Saturday our energy levels were hard to maintain. We've had a lot of change this season and we're playing differently that we have in the past with a very different lineup and things are moving in the right direction. Even the second night, we got down late but we were competitive in that game for most of the way through it."
Trinity Western, under first-year head coach Trevor Pridie, lost its opening games last weekend to Thompson Rivers in Kamloops, falling to the WolfPack 102-80 on Friday and 85-70 on Saturday.
Unlike the Vikes and similar to the T-wolves, the Spartans are not blessed with an abundance of height and Jordan expects more of a back-and-forth sprint race on the court on Friday.
"They're pretty much a 180 from what we got from Victoria," said Jordan. "Victoria is very deliberate, almost robotic in how they play offensively, and they're big. Trinity is the opposite, not overly big  and they try to play an untraditional style to kind of speed you up and play at a really high pace and play with lots of possession and get early shots up and run the floor.
"We're going to have to do a really good job in transition and keeping the ball in front of us, guarding dribble penetration. They haven't been strong the last couple years but they have a new coach and there's a new energy there. They're a totally different team from what they've been."
Friday's game starts at 8 p.m. and will be webcast on Canada West TV.

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