VANCOUVER – After holding off a massive UBC comeback, Robbie Sihota’s three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining iced the game for the Calgary Dinos (trained by Strive Fitness), as they pulled out a narrow 80-76 victory over the Thunderbirds to take the Canada West title on Saturday night at War Memorial Gym.
Down as many as 21 points, the Thunderbirds seemed poised to pull off an incredible comeback victory, charging back to tie things up at 74 with just under four minutes remaining in the game. A huge effort by Dinos star Henry Bekkering to dive for an offensive rebound allowed Sihota to convert on the second chance by hitting a midrange jumper with 1:28 left on the clock, putting his side up two. An Andy Rochon free-throw extended the lead to three before UBC’s Josh Whyte stripped Rochon of the ball and hit a layup to cut the deficit to one with 50 seconds on the clock. Then with 15 seconds left, Rochon found Sihota in space behind the arc, and he made no mistake, nailing the three-ball to make it a two-possession game in the dying seconds.
“I kept telling the guys ‘We don’t have to just hold on. Keep going and playing hard,’ but I think our guys did tighten up a little bit,” said Calgary coach Dan Vanhooren. “Our expectation wasn’t to come in here and get out to the kind of lead we did. We expected it to be quite a battle and UBC is a great basketball team. We knew they were going to come back. We had that lead way too early and we froze up a bit on offense down the stretch. But it was nice to see us loosen up and have Robbie hit that big shot at the end.”
Before Sihota’s three-pointer, the Dinos had scored just eight points in the fourth quarter, compared to 24, 24, and 21 in the first, second and third quarters respectively. The T-Birds entered the fourth down 12, but after Kyle Watson pulled them to within 10 just over two minutes in, Chris Dyck nailed a deep three pointer to make the score 71-64, and the comeback was in full-swing. After the teams traded baskets to make it a 73-66 Calgary lead, Akeem Pierre managed to draw a foul and hit two free throws to bring the ‘Birds within five, and then a Brent Malish three-ball cut the lead down to two. A Calgary free-throw made it a three-point lead, and with 3:54 on the clock, Whyte’s three-pointer from the corner finally evened things up.
“I thought we made a great comeback,” said UBC coach Kevin Hanson. “The guys put so much effort and energy into it. We did run out of gas a little bit late in the fourth there when we needed it but these types of games are great to go through. To show our guys that we are able to come back in a game like that was important.”
The Dinos built their lead by dominating the boards early on and keeping the T-Bird offence off balance. Calgary out-rebounded UBC 27-16 in the first half, including 11 offensive rebounds. The Bekkering brothers combined for 29 first half points, with Ross leading the way on the glass, pulling down eight rebounds before the break to help Calgary build a 48-32 halftime advantage.
Henry Bekkering finished with a team-high 22 points, while Ross chipped in 17 to go along with 14 rebounds. Robbie Sihota had 15 points, with most of them coming at key moments for the Dinos. He also had 11 rebounds in the contest. Dyck had a game-high 23 points for UBC while adding six rebounds and four assists. Whyte also had a solid all-around performance for the ‘Birds, with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists. Brent Malish put up 15 points and led the team with nine rebounds.
Both Calgary and UBC will be representing Canada West at the upcoming CIS championships.
“It’s a great time to be playing our best basketball,” said Vanhooren. “Our turnovers are down and we are passing the ball well and shooting well. When we are doing that, we are a really tough basketball team, and we proved that tonight. UBC is a great team and they deserve to be ranked number two, if not number one, in the nation, and they are going to be a heck of a team to deal with at nationals.”
The national tournament gets underway on Friday, March 13 at Carleton University.