Jason Hills, Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics
EDMONTON — When two of the best programs in the country meet in the Canada West playoffs, it has all the makings of being a classic series and the clash between the No.5 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears and No.6 ranked University of British Columbia Thunderbirds certainly didn't disappoint.
Fourth-year point guard Jadon Cohee hit a floater with 35 seconds left to give UBC the lead and the Thunderbirds held on to beat Alberta 84-78 in Game 3 of their best-of-three Canada West semifinal series, Sunday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
The 2-1 series win gives UBC a berth in the 2019 U SPORTS Final 8 tournament in Halifax, while Alberta will have to wait to find out their national championship berth chances with an at-large berth possibility.
Cohee and fellow fourth-year guard Manroop Clair led UBC with 21 points, while freshman Adam Paige led the Golden Bears with 18 points, fourth-year guard Dwan Williams netting 14 points and six rebounds in the loss.
"They were a few notches better on the evening and they earned the win," said Bears head coach Barnaby Craddock. "It was obviously a close game right down to the wire. A couple bounces differently in the final minute and a half and it's a different outcome.
"Trying to beat a solid team like UBC four out of five times in two weeks is a tall task. They're obviously no slouches and credit to them, they earned it down the stretch."
The Bears were battle-tested in this series and they went toe-to-toe with UBC. After UBC took a 75-71 lead with under two minutes to play, Williams dialed up from long range and nailed one of his three treys in the game to make it a one-point game.
Clarke, battling an injury earned early in Game 3, hit two free throws to tie it at 78-78 with 1:33 left.
After Cohee's go-ahead basket and a miss from Golden Bears third-year guard Tyus Jefferson, Alberta still had a chance to tie the game, but Williams was called for a questionable flagrant foul that sealed the win for UBC.
It was a tough call on Williams, who provides so much energy for the Golden Bears on both sides of the ball.
"Dwan's a warrior and a winner," said Craddock. "He makes his teammates better and he defends every possession with passion. We're all fortunate to see someone play basketball with that much passion every possession."
UBC will make their first national championship appearance since they hosted the tournament in 2016.
"We talked about it before the game began. We wrote 'Team' on the board and circled it. That was our game plan to play as a team on both sides of the court," said Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Hanson.
"I thought we did a really good job of being a team and, in the end, your best players have to be your best players and I thought they were.
"I love the opportunity to coach against (Craddock). I think he's a great outstanding coach. I love the game within the game of the coaches making adjustments and the players doing it. He did a really outstanding job with his team."
Alberta was forced to play large chunks without Clarke, their leading scorer and captain. The Bears rallied and played inspiring basketball without their leader on the floor as Clarke was forced to leave the game twice.
UBC limited Clarke to 10 points and seven rebounds and were really physical with Clarke in the paint.
"We said from the get-go that one guy can't guard Brody Clarke. He's that tough of a player. He can shoot the ball, he's got post moves and he's so strong and it took a team effort to do it," said Hanson.
"We had to double-team him and often triple-team him every time he got the ball. He's a physical presence and so are our post guys and we had some veteran guys playing hard. It was a really high-calibre series."
UBC moves on to face the defending national champion Calgary Dinos on March 2 in the Canada West championship, while Alberta awaits for their national championship fate.
"We were sort of looking at it as a bit of a rebuild after back-to-back trips to nationals and graduating Austin (Waddoups), Mamadou (Gueye), and Geoff Pippus," said Craddock.
"To be here in this game is nothing but a success for the program this year."
UBC moves on to the one-game championship next Saturday against the conference's best, the Calgary Dinos, who have yet to lose a single game this season through 20 conference matches, followed by four consecutive post-season victories.