EDMONTON — The No.5 ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears got off to an ice-cold start against the No.6 ranked University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and it sunk them. Fourth-year guard Jadon Cohee led UBC with 20 points and seven rebounds, while senior power forward Patrick Simon was a force in the paint with 18 points and 11 rebounds in the 74-62 victory Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three Canada West semifinal series.
Fourth-year power forward Brody Clarke led Alberta with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore guard Adam Paige chipped in with 12 points in the loss.
“Tonight they come out ready to go and put us in a hole early,” said Golden Bears head coach Barnaby Craddock.
UBC came out red-hot in the opening quarter, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and continued to pour it on.
The Golden Bears missed their first eight shots of the game and didn’t hit their first bucket until more than midway through the quarter. They missed six more until sophomore guard Brandon Meiklejohn hit from long range to make it 18-6.
Alberta would go on an 11-0 run to finish the opening quarter, and trimmed the T-Birds lead to just six heading into the half.
They got a spark from Meiklejohn and fellow sophomore guard Shol Ayach, who chipped in with four points and five rebounds, primarily in the first half.
“I’m proud of our guys for fighting their way back and giving us a chance in the second and third quarters, but we weren’t great in the fourth quarter down the stretch.”
Alberta was without the services of fourth-year guard Dwan Williams for Game 1 and he was dearly missed on the defensive side of the ball.
UBC took advantage of the absence of Williams, particularly in the second half.
Cohee was a steady presence all over the court for UBC, and sophomore guard Mason Bourcier had a big fourth quarter, where he scored nine points in the final five minutes to help put the game away.
Alberta was down by six entering the fourth quarter, and third-year point-guard Tyus Jefferson provided a big spark for the Bears early, scoring nine of his 11 points in the final frame, to cut UBC’s lead down to two points, but the T-Birds held their ground.
“The penetration from Cohee and Bourcier made their offence flow and we struggled to defend the ball off the bounce,” said Craddock. “Credit to them for being aggressive and attacking us as well as they did.”
Not only did UBC get a boost from Bourcier, but Simon was a force at both ends of the floor. He was UBC’s top scorer and he held Clarke, recently named Canada West First Team All-Star, in check for most of the night.
The Thunderbirds had Clarke double-teamed on almost every possession.
“Pat’s a senior guy and he played like a senior guy should. Not only did he hit some big shots, but he also played great defence on Brody (Clarke) as well,” said Thunderbirds head coach Kevin Hanson.
“Brody took it to us last time. He was hitting everything and he made us pay, but you have to defend him as a team. You can’t defend him one-on-one, because he’s such a load.”
The duo of Simon and Bourcier in the fourth quarter did the damage against Alberta. Simon made his presence felt in the paint, but he took a pass from Bourcier at the top of the three-point line and nailed his second trey of the game to make it 68-58 with just 2:28 remaining.
Down the stretch, the Thunderbirds had the answers offensively to secure the win.
“We played well, and I’m proud of the guys,” said Hanson. “Out of all the teams I’ve coached, I think is the most trust I’ve had in a team that can get it done on the floor in crunch time and weathering storms and I thought our guys really weathered the storms.”
Alberta and UBC will play Game 2 of their best-of-three series Saturday night at approximately 7 p.m. Mountain Time.