Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Last updated: 1 year ago

Championship loss not indicative of the success UBC’s women’s basketball team had this season

Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey

Memory is often selective at sporting events. We remember a single game, a tournament or even an entire season as a collage of moments. They are the buzzer beating shots, the incredible plays, the trophy presentations and the losers segregated to a sideline, forced to watch the jubilation of a team celebrating everything they came so close to achieving.

In Calgary this past weekend, at the CIS women’s basketball national championship, The Ubyssey’s art director, Geoff Lister captured one of these moments. In the picture above, UBC’s fifth-year forwards Zara Huntley and Alex Vieweg embrace shortly after losing the CIS final to the University of Windsor.

As UBC’s only two fifth-year players, the photo perfectly captures the finality of the scene. It was their last game as Thunderbirds and their last chance to win a CIS title. On the bench behind them sits their teammates. Dejection is etched into their faces. Their shoulders are hunched and their heads hung low as the realization sinks in that they came just short of claiming a national championship.

Yet for all the photo captures, it fails to provide true definition of what had just occurred. It doesn’t encapsulate the 12 months that led to the moment—the training, the practices, the adversity, the big wins, the travel and everything each member of UBC’s silver medal team went through.

It began last February in Edmonton. In back-to-back games, the ‘Birds were defeated by the University of Alberta in the 2011 Canada West quarterfinals. The disappointing playoff exit was motivation to train harder and practice longer over the offseason.

With a chip on their shoulder, UBC began the season with something to prove. In their first game they demolished the University of Brandon 88-21—and it was second-year guard Kris Young who blasted out of the gate, announcing her arrival to the rest of the Canada West with a game high 18 points and a game high 7 assists. She emerged as UBC’s most potent offensive threat this season and finished the CIS finals as a tournament all-star.

The ‘Birds would lose their following game to the University of Regina 77-66, a team that finished the regular season undefeated. For the rest of the season UBC would storm through the conference, finishing 15-3 with a No. 3 ranking in the country. The ‘Birds did all this with a depleted bench, having lost three players to season-ending injuries.

Entering the Canada West final four, Regina was the unquestioned favourite. After easily dispatching the University of Saskatchewan 72-55 in the Canada West semifinals, UBC met Regina in the finals. They weren’t expected to win. Regina had been ranked No. 1 in the country for 14 straight weeks and had the nation’s top ranked offence, but the T-Birds weren’t fazed. In a 78-59 thrashing, UBC handed Regina their first loss of the season and proved they were no longer the quarterfinal bust from the year before.

Despite this, the T-Birds still entered the CIS tournament as the number two seed. Regina retained their No. 1 ranking. Their loss to UBC was considered an aberration, and not indicative of how good they had been all season.
In the first round, the ‘Birds cruised past the University of McGill, defeating them 65-43. In the semifinals, UBC battled back against an Ottawa team that had controlled the game for the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter, UBC dug deep and showed the resilience of a championship-calibre team. Their defence was suffocating and their offence red hot. They beat up on Ottawa in the fourth, outscoring them 19-7 and winning the game 59-51.

The game epitomized the identity UBC had created over the course of the year. Young led the offence with a game high 17 points. Fourth-year Kristen Hughes ran the offence and was dynamite from downtown when she needed to be. Huntley finished with a double double (10 rebounds and 14 points). Vieweg chipped in nine points, including a clutch three pointer, and hauled in eight boards. And fourth-year Leigh Stansfield dominated in the low post on offence while being an intimidating force in the paint on defence.

Then came Windsor in the finals. The ‘Birds were not the team they had been all year. They were outmuscled and Windsor’s physical presence got them off their game. They stopped attacking the rim with authority and were taking low percentage shots. At no point in the game did they ever lead.

“Offensively we struggled as a whole,” said UBC head coach Deb Huband after the game. “We were cold from the three point line and our shooting percentage was lower than I’ve seen it in a long time. I think it was a credit to their [defensive] pressure, but we didn’t have the composure and poise to play how we wanted. We allowed them to dictate the game.”

But UBC showed life in the third quarter. They rallied and came together as a team. They minimized Windsor’s chances and kept them from shooting successful three balls. With four minutes left in the quarter Young made it to the charity stripe after getting fouled driving the lane. She drained both of her free throws to bring the ‘Birds within one, 43-42.

It was the closest they would come.

Like Ottawa had done the previous night, UBC collapsed in the fourth. They lost their composure and played panicky basketball. They only scored six points. It was tough to watch. Not because they were struggling, but because they weren’t playing as the team they had been all year.

They weren’t that team that dominated opponent after opponent. They weren’t that team that overcame injuries and adversity all season. They weren’t that team that had spent an entire year working to get to this point. In the final ten minutes of the CIS final, what had made UBC special eluded them.

When the final whistle blew, and the team gathered on the bench in defeat, the camera lens did not capture a moment definitive of an entire season, an entire tournament or an entire game. It captured a team that had come so far only to fall minutes short of a different history, a different story and a different photo.

Yet it is that moment the team will remember. It will be that moment that drives them this offseason, and that moment will always define this season. It shouldn’t, but in the world of sports, where selective memories create histories and a collage of moments are the only way teams are remembered, it is too bad the T-Birds will be remembered as a second place team.

They were much more than that.