Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - Despite a late surge by the Manitoba Bisons, the UBC Thunderbirds held on to win 96-89 in front of a raucous home opening crowd at War Memorial Gym.
The 'Birds led by as many as 26 points halfway through the third quarter before the Bisons clawed back to within 4 with just over three minutes remaining.
Jordan Jensen-Whyte got the ball rolling early for UBC with a steal that Conor Morgan converted for two. With the game tied 8-8, Morgan snatched a steal of his own that he hammered home with a thunderous dunk.
Will Ondrik's only three-pointer of the game gave the 'Birds a five point lead that they extended to a 16 point margin, up 46-30 at the break.
Morgan dropped 20 in the first half and opened the third quarter with an and-one, but Manitoba started to close the gap as the third quarter drew to a close. The Bisons' dynamic guard Ilarion Bonhomme caught fire and hit back-to-back threes to make it a 72-56 UBC advantage going into the final frame.
A few costly Thunderbird turnovers allowed Manitoba to regain confidence in the fourth, as they finished the game shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc.
With the 'Birds hanging on 80-76 with 3:40 left on the clock, Ondrik came up with a massive block to preserve the lead. Shortly after, Taylor Browne hit a dagger three from the corner to put UBC up seven – and they never looked back.
"I think we complement each other really well," said Browne. "When one guy sacrifices and makes a play…that opens up a play for another person. It's tough to come out with energy in the second half when you're up, so I think we can do better and keep our composure."
Morgan agreed, and was frustrated with how his team let the lead slip away.
"We've got to be better down the stretch. We had a pretty good first half, but the second half is nowhere near where we've got to be."
The rematch is slated for 7 p.m. PT Saturday evening, and Morgan knows his team needs to be firing on all cylinders.
"Manitoba's a really good team so we're not going to take them lightly at all. They should be ranked top 10 in the country. We've got to come out firing and we've got to play way better than we did tonight."
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds