KAMLOOPS — For the first time in their history, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack will be going to the Canada West Final Four in men’s basketball.
The WolfPack earned the right to go to the event after winning their best of three quarter final with the University of Regina Cougars in three games. The score in game three on the Warner Rentals court at the Tournament Capital Centre on Saturday (Mar 5) was 86-73.
The WolfPack rallied from being down a game to take the series.
The result means that TRU will go to the final four next week (Mar 11-12) hosted by the University of Calgary. Their opponents in the semi-final will be the hosts of this year’s CIS championships: the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.
In this game, the WolfPack scored the first six points of the contest. Powered by three straight three point baskets by Reese Pribilsky (5th year, guard, Victoria, BC), they led by 10 (24-14) after the first quarter.
Pribilsky wound up with a game high 27 points in the contest and was named the TRU Bookstore/McDonalds “Leader of the Pack” player of the game for the second time in three contests.
Like the previous two games, Regina chipped away at the first quarter deficit and cut the ‘Pack lead to 12 by the half (45-33), although at points the TRU advantage was down to four.
In the second half, Regina came out in whittled the deficit from 14 points to 1. The game got away from the Cougars late in the contest. With 50.2 second s left guard Alex Igual (3rd year, Barcelona, Spain) was charged with a flagrant foul. This followed him ‘staring down’ officials for most of the third and fourth quarter. That was followed up by a technical being charged to Regina coach Steve Burrows. The result was Pribilsky went to the line for seven straight foul shots and put the game out of reach.
“This was playoff basketball all the way,” said WolfPack head coach Scott Clark. “You have to know that they were going to make a run in the third and fourth quarter. They weren’t going to roll over. They are competitors and hats off to them. They didn’t roll over.”
The WolfPack got into foul trouble in the third quarter when both their starting guards—Pribilsky and rookie Jeff Tubbs (West Kelowna, BC) were sitting with four fouls. “That was a big concern, “Clark stated. “You can’t guard them from the stripe. It stops the clock. We weren’t playing intelligent at that point. But we managed to keep our heads about us and did what we had to do down the stretch.”
Volodymyr Iegorov (4th year, forward, Donetsk, Ukraine) had 21 points and 14 rebounds (12 on defense) for TRU.
Josh Wolfram (5th year, forward, Kamloops, BC) added 15 points and 15 rebounds (12 on the defensive glass). Fellow fifth year player Gerard Gore (forward, St. John’s, Antigua) had 15 as well.
“This is an incredible feeling,” Wolfram explained afterwards. “When you look at where we were three years ago. This is a dream come true—to win a playoff series on our home court and head to the CanWest final four. I can’t even describe the feeling.”
While the score ebbed and flowed during the contest, Wolfram felt they didn’t lose composure. “Our coaches did a great job of keeping us calm. We just went on to the next play and looked at it that the rest of the game like that. It paid off.”
He felt the team battling back from 1-0 series deficit showed how much fight the WolfPack had. “One through 12, every single guy believed that we could come back and win two straight. It showed on the court.”
Regina was led by Jonathan Tull (3rd year, guard, Ajax, ON) with 17 points. Brandon Tull (3rd year, guard, Ajax, ON) chipped in with 14 points while Aaron McGowan (4th year, guard, Toronto, ON) contributed 12 points. Brian Ofori (3rd year, forward, Montreal, QC) had 12 rebounds.
“I was proud of the way our team played in this series,” said Burrows. “At no point this season and especially this weekend would I question my guys effort. They showed great character. This was their sixth game in nine days. They battled hard. They have nothing to be ashamed of”.
Burrows thought this game was like the first two with not much separating the two teams. “This one came down to the fourth quarter again with a couple of plays here and there. Thursday, we got those shots, Friday they did. Tonight, they made a couple of plays down the stretch. They are a great team and full credit to them.”
DOUBLE DRIBBLES: After the victory, the WolfPack were congratulated in the dressing room by TRU President and Vice Chancellor Allan Shaver and Athletic Director Ken Olynyk.
Clark says appearing in the final four is big for his players. “You set a goal at the beginning of the year and when you achieve that there is some satisfaction. The biggest thing about this group is that they like going to practice, they like playing on the road and being with each other. As long as that can last they are pretty excited about it and easy to coach.”
The UBC tilt will see Wolfram meeting his old high school teammate David Wagner. Both players were members of the South Kamloops Titans team which included Boston Celtics player Kelly Olynyk . “It is an exciting time. I can’t wait to get the Canada West final four. David is a good friend of mine but I hope to beat him.”
This game was Pribilsky’s third ‘game three’ of his five year CIS career. “They were highly pressured situations. The one in Victoria, we won on a tip in at the buzzer. Last year against Saskatchewan, we were up by 10 or 12 at the half and wound up losing. The same thing was happening in this game but I think we learned from last years’ experience and kept the ‘peddle to the metal and keep playing the full 40.”
He added that with a chance to move to the CIS national championships with a win at the Final Four (three of the four Canada West teams will go) is a wonderful statement for the TRU program. “ It is fantastic to be a part of that. It is obviously great for the school and great for our team. It says a lot about the people who put on the white and orange before us. For the past five years this program has consistently gotten better. The people who really deserve this and should share in this win are the guys who played before us and set the culture and the tone of what is demanded to play for TRU. We owe them a ton. It means a lot that we can give some of that back to them.”
Among those watching the contest was Wolfram’s younger sister Emma who plays NCAA Division I basketball at Gonzaga University in Washington State.
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