It took every bit of 40 minutes, but the UNBC Timberwolves dug deep, edging the UBC Thunderbirds 81-77 in a Canada West thriller on Friday, November 26th, 2021 in Prince George, BC.
If you enjoy back-and-forth offensive attacks, the first quarter was one for you. The Timberwolves and Thunderbirds traded buckets for ten straight minutes, taking turns holding the scoring advantage. There were eight lead changes in total, and the frame ended fittingly tied at 25-25. Alina Shakirova was the leading scorer for UNBC in the quarter with seven points, while Anastasia Soltes and Sveta Boykova chipped in with six apiece. Ryann Kristmanson paced the T-Birds with six points.
In the second quarter, it was more of the same. The visiting Thunderbirds used their size advantage to get second-chance baskets at the rim, opening up good looks from long range. Kate Johnson did well to break down the UNBC defense, finding Hailey Counsell and …. For treys. Soltes was an incredible sparkplug for the TWolves, using her speed to cause fits for UBC, as well as draining a pair of late jumpers in the frame.
After 20 minutes, UBC had used a late surge to take a 51-46 lead into the break. However, the scrappy TWolves showed great heart, led by second-year Soltes. The Calgary product had 19 points in 14 minutes, surpassing her career-high of 12 points. Shakirova added 12 points, while Boykova had seven points and nine rebounds. For UBC, Counsell led the way with 12 points, including three-for-five shooting from three-point territory. Johnson continued to stir the drink for the Thunderbirds, with 10 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really thinking about it,” said Soltes, postgame. “In the first half, we had such a good team dynamic going. Everyone was playing so well. Everyon was making good passes and good decisions. It was really a good team effort.”
The Timberwolves came out the hungrier side in the third quarter, using their length as the game got more and more physical under the hoop. Johnson was the benefactor, making a trio of baskets in the early going, while Kristmanson buried a three to stretch the lead to eleven points. However, UNBC wouldn’t go away. Boykova made a big trey of her own, and freshman guard Sarah Kuklisin brought her signature speed and pressure to create turnovers, as the TWolves cut the deficit back to a single point at the end of the quarter.
“It is more responsibility this year,” said Johnson, of her role with the T-Birds. “I have a lot of great leaders to look up to in the past, like Keylyn (Filewich) and Jess (Hanson), so I have learned a lot from them. I hope I am half the leader they are. It is a different role, but I am trying to come into my own and provide as much as I can to the team.”
In the fourth, the result hung in the balance for much of the ten minutes. As both teams jockeyed for some advantage, it was Rebecca Landry stepping up for UNBC, making three consecutive buckets to give the TWolves a tiny margin with three minutes to go. However, it was Johnson, again, driving the bus for UBC, and her back-to-back layups on fast breaks looked to put the Thunderbirds in the driver’s seat late in the game. However, cue the broken record; the TWolves wouldn’t go away.
With the T-Birds up 77-76 with less than a minute remaining, veteran point guard Lucy Guan drove and got a tough and-1 jumper to go, thrilling the UNBC crowd. The Vancouver native would convert the free-throw to extend the lead for the Timberwolves. After UBC failed to score on their next possession, a pair of Shakirova makes from the charity stripe sealed the deal, as the Timberwolves held on for a thrilling 81-77 win over the T-Birds.
“Lucy is a quiet player, but she makes such a difference on the court,” said Soltes. “Her assists, and her effort when it is needed most. That shot, and then getting a steal right after, it was amazing. I am very proud.”
Soltes finished the game with 23 points, six rebounds, and six assists, while Shakirova added 18 points and seven rebounds, to go along with five helpers. Boykova added 14 points and 16 rebounds, while Laura Garmendia Garcia chipped in with 10 points.
The Thunderbirds were led by Johnson, who had 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, and four steals. Counsell added 14 points, while Emily Martindale and Ryann Kristmanson had 10 points apiece.
With the victory, the Timberwolves improve to 4-1, while the Thunderbirds slide to 2-5 on the season. The teams will clash again, Saturday night in Prince George.
“They wanted it more tonight. We take this as a learning experience, and we have a lot to prove tomorrow,” said UBC’s Johnson. “We will be ready to come out and prove that we can run with them and beat them. Hopefully, tomorrow is a different story.”