By David Song, March 7 2019 —
Depth, mental resilience and strong two-way play were huge for the University of Calgary Dinos as they knocked off the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 90–75 last Saturday to claim their third Canada West title in four years. The Dinos tallied 14 steals, 25 bench points and 35 points from turnovers, snuffing out a late comeback attempt en route to a well-rounded victory.
“Our game plan was working,” said head coach Dan Vanhooren, who received the 2019 Canada West Coach of the Year award after the game. “The guys rebounded the way we needed to rebound against a very good rebounding team in UBC. We did a lot of things well until the end of the third quarter, when we had a little lapse there. [If] you do that against great teams, you’re going to go down fast.”
The Dinos jumped out to an early lead, outscoring the Thunderbirds 23–11 in the first quarter. Fifteen of those points came from third-year centre Brett Layton, who dominated the paint, shooting seven-for-seven from the field. The second-team Canada West All-Star would finish the game with 20 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
“I think UBC was lucky that this guy got in foul trouble,” said first-team All-Star David Kapinga, referring to Layton. “He was going to work, catching every basket, finishing every time he touched [the ball]. It was amazing watching him play, and honestly, I’m so happy for him.”
With Layton used sparingly later on due to foul trouble, the Dinos picked up the slack and demonstrated their depth as a team. Four other players — Kapinga, Mambi Diawara, Lars Schlueter and Mason Foreman — reached double-digit point totals. The Thunderbirds struggled with Calgary’s pace and rotation, committing fouls and turnovers throughout the contest.
“We play with a really high pace,” remarked Schlueter, who filled in admirably for Layton with 11 points and four rebounds. “UBC was playing with a six, seven-man rotation, and when we have our 10th man in there who’s just as good as the first one, it’s tough for teams to keep up.”
Thunderbirds guard Manroop Clair kept his team in the game, notching 25 points and shooting seven-of-14 from three-point range. Forward Grant Shepard pitched in as well, contributing nine points and 11 rebounds. Thanks in part to their efforts, UBC ended the third quarter on an 11–0 run, slicing Calgary’s lead from 30 points down to 18.
“You can’t defend a win,” Vanhooren said, recalling his advice to his squad at the end of the third frame. “Once you’re up, you can’t just defend it. You have to go and earn it. We can’t play on our heels hoping that the end result is going to be what it is.”
The Dinos heeded Vanhooren’s words in the fourth quarter, shutting down UBC’s comeback attempt with the same two-way play that had served them well all game. Kapinga suffered an apparent knee injury with 6:30 left to play, but returned to the court minutes later. Despite shooting nearly 42 per cent from beyond the arc, the Thunderbirds were never able to take a lead as Calgary closed the show in dominant fashion.
“I think it just comes from experience,” Kapinga said about the Dinos’ mental toughness late in the game. “We’ve been in this situation before where people come and punch at you. Championship teams are resilient. They understand that, you know what, you’ve got your 11–0 run. Now it’s our turn to punch you. At the end of the day, the score speaks for itself.”
Both Calgary and UBC will fly to Halifax this week for the U Sports Final 8 championship. As reigning champions, the Dinos are looking to defend their national title, and Vanhooren believes they are in an excellent position to do so.
“We just have to make sure that we’re healthy and ready to go,” he said. “At this time of the year, honestly, it’s a lot less in the way of coaching and a lot more in the way of making sure that we’re peaking at the right moment.”
The Dinos will open the Final 8 against the Saint Mary’s University Huskies in the national quarterfinal. Tip-off will be on Friday, March 8 at 9 a.m. MST.