Monday, 10 March 2008

UBC: Looking to shake their Nationals slump

Note: all statistics are for UBC's six playoff games only (26-5 overall vs. CIS, 6-0 in post-season). Despite losing All-Canadian wing 6'4" Casey Archibald and several other mainstays from their CIS quarter-finalist group from last season, the Thunderbirds came on very strong down the stretch, really taking off once 6'3" Chris Dyck got healthier, to return to the Nationals for the fifth time in the last six seasons. But the monkey on UBC's back is that in their last 4 appearances at the Nationals, they have not been able to get past the first round and Coach Kevin Hanson and program are looking to shake their Nationals slump. Dyck (18.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg/3.5 apg, 33 mpg, 44% 3's, 76% ft), who suffered through injuries in the second half of the season which likely is the reason why he was only a 2nd team all-star, when healthy can easily make a case for the best scorer in CW. Equally adept at getting to the rim or pulling up on a dime on the break beyond the arc, Dyck is critical to UBC's success - when he was out earlier in the new year, the T-Birds went through their slump. Like Alberta's Alex Steele, Dyck can be a difference maker on his own. But the Birds supporting cast could be their deepest of their recent Nationals-participant teams as at least 9 players are in the rotation. Up front, 6'7" Matt Rachar (12.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 56% ft) has been a consistent scorer inside all season while 6'8" Bryson Kool (10.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 67% ft), who battled injury all season after having trouble rehabbing from an injury late last spring, has played his best basketball in the post season and has returned to the starting lineup, starting all 6 post-season games after coming off the bench during the regular season. Slick sophomore 6'6" Brent Malish (10.2 ppg/8.2 rpg) is an explosive athlete inside who scores and rebounds in the paint but can knock down 3's, hitting several tough shots in UBC's nationals-clinching win at Calgary two weeks ago. 6'6" Kyle Watson and 6'5" freshman Graham Bath also usually see some time up front for the T-Birds. At the point, UBC has a pair of gifted, intelligent floor leaders in 6'0" Brett Leversage (3.7 ppg/4.0 apg), who has started all 6 playoff games at the point and 6'0" Alex Murphy (8.2 ppg/50% 3's), a late cut of Canada's U19 team last summer, who's confidence, especially scoring the ball, has shot up during UBC's stretch run. 6'4" supersub Blain LaBranche is instant offense off the bench for UBC, especially from downtown where he is shooting 47% in the post-season. Bottom Line: With each of their three main big guys playing very well, their point guard play very strong especially with the emergence of Murphy off the bench and LaBranche adding energy and stretching defenses, UBC has depth and talent across the board. But Dyck remains the key (26.5 ppg in the two critical Canada West Final Four games) and when he is healthy he is one of the purest scorers in the country who, as for the most part the season showed, the T-Birds need to perform well to succeed and end their nationals slump.

(This is the second in a series of articles this week previewing each of the eight CIS Nationals participants). Tomorrow: Brock and Western.

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