For two quarters, the UNBC Timberwolves stemmed the flow of the Fraser Valley Cascades on the U Sports Canada West men's basketball court Thursday in Abbotsford.
Leading by 12, the T-wolves were in position to pull off the first upset of the Canada West playoffs. But their work in the sudden-death game was only half-complete and unfortunately for the T-wolves, the second half was a killer.
The Cascades outscored them 23-10 in the third quarter and 18-11 in the final frame on the way to a 67-59 victory which ended the T-wolves' season.
Trailing 40-29 to start the second half, the Cascades defence came up with a series of timely stops which triggered a 16-0 run that whittled the lead down to just one point late in the third quarter. A layup and a foul shot completed a three-point play for Vick Toor which gave the Cascades a 44-43 lead with 1:28 left in the quarter and they continued to strike. Sukhman Sandhu, with a three, and Parm Bains hit key shots down the stretch and Fraser Valley led 49-48 after three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, UNBC shooters continued to struggle, missing field goals and layup attempts and going cold at the foul line. Sandhu was a physical force underneath the basket and his relentless presence disrupted the T-wolves' attack, forcing them to miss passes or cough up the ball. Sandhu sunk two clutch threes in the dying minutes to extend the Cascades' lead.
"We played pretty well in the first half and executed the game plan and got ourselves into a good position and in the second half Fraser Valley amped up their defensive intensity for sure," said UNBC head coach Todd Jordan. "We had a number of offensive possessions but we just struggled and kind of got undisciplined for a stretch and lost momentum. Their length and size in the second half gave us some problems and they funneled us into their bigs down low and got into some tough areas where it was tough to finish and we ended up taking a lot of tough, low-percentage shots and that's what stuck the knife in our chests."
Sandhu finished with a game-high 18 points. Parm Bains collected 16 points and Andrew Morris picked up 10. Navjot Bains, a former T-wolf, scored six points and had nine rebounds for Fraser Valley.
Backed by some deadly shooting from Tyrell Laing, who went 3-for-3 from three-point range, the first half the T-wolves shot 48.4 per cent from the field (15-for-31) and led 38-26 heading into the intermission. UNBC guard Jovan Leamy had 11 points in the first half, while Laing put up nine, and James Agyeman and Vova Pluzhnikov each hit for six points in the opening half.
UNBC led 17-10 after the first quarter.
In his final U Sports game as a senior guard, Leamy finished with 15 points and had eight rebounds. The Canada West steals leader added four more to his total in Thursday's playoff game.
Laing collected 13 points, hitting four triples, and Pluzhnikov shot for 12 points. UNBC forward Vaggelis Loukas, in his final university game, totaled 12 rebounds and four points.
The T-wolves (9-11) finished 11th in Canada West, while the Cascades (13-7) were the fifth seed in the conference. The T-wolves were trying to replicate their showing in the 2018 playoffs and advance to the second round for the second time in the team's seven-year Canada West history.
Fraser Valley now advances to a best-of-three quarterfinal against the third-ranked UBC Thunderbirds (17-3), which starts next Thursday in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, in Canada West women's basketball action tonight in Langley, the ninth-ranked Timberwolves (11-9) will take on the eighth-ranked Trinity Western University Spartans in a sudden-death playoff. The T-wolves women were in the stands in Abbotford cheering on the UNBC men Thursday night.