One tough test Morgan, Thunderbirds offer elite opposition for UNBC men
If basketball fans need any added incentive to come out and watch the UNBC Timberwolves men’s team playing on home court, the UBC Thunderbirds provide that big-name attraction. It starts with Conor Morgan, a six-foot-nine, 220-pound dynamo from Victoria who once again is showing why he’s considered one of the best university players in Canada and why he generated interest from professional teams in Europe wanting to sign him this past summer.
Morgan, still haunted by his team getting swept by Manitoba in the Canada West quarterfinals last season, turned down those pro offers to finish out his career at UBC and try to win a national championship.
Through four games he’s averaged 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds, almost the same as his season averages last year when he led the Canada West conference in scoring. The veteran forward’s return to an already-deep T-birds lineup just adds to the challenge UNBC faces in the two-game set at the Northern Sport Centre this weekend.
“Conor Morgan has a real good shot at being the player of the year in the country – he’s a really highend player who was in the mix for it last year,” said T-wolves head coach Todd Jordan.
“It’s a really strong team and at the same time I’m excited to go out and battle against them. My guys have been working hard and growing as a team and if we play hard we will give ourselves a chance.”
While Morgan will no doubt draw plenty of attention from UNBC’s top checkers, the T-birds have several other offensive threats. Veteran guards Taylor Browne and Phil Jalalpoor have each averaged 10.8 points and Grant Shephard, a six-foot-10 Canada West rookie from Kelowna, has been good for 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Fourth-year Patrick Simon, a sixfoot-eight forward, leads the team with a 7.3 rebound average.
“I’ve seen lots of film on them and as usual they’ve got eyepopping talent,” said Jordan. “They’ve got lots of size and they’re probably one of the most potent offensive teams; they play at a high pace. They generally are able to pick up a really high-end recruiting class every year so they’re going to be a top-end team in U Sports.
“They run and can get in the half-court and pound it inside. They definitely want to get up and down and score a lot of points and play with a lot of possession so they can make the best use of their depth and talent. It will be another good test for us for sure.”
UBC (2-2) hit triple figures in a pair of wins over Fraser Valley to start the season, then went to Calgary and dropped both games to the Dinos. The T-wolves also faced the wrath of the Dinos in their home-opening weekend but evened their record at 2-2, defeating Trinity Western in both games last weekend in Langley.
On the T-wolves’ side of the court, Volodymyr (Volo) Pluzhnikov, a second-year guard from Ukraine, had a breakout game offensively last Saturday against TWU. Built like a tall fire hydrant, the six-foot-one Pluzhnikov has averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds.
“He’s played some pretty highlevel ball and he red-shirted with us last year and he’s definitely a good player and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t have a number of games like that this year,” said Jordan. “He’s very fundamentally sound and physically very strong. He spends a lot of time in the weight room. He can shoot the ball and he can get to the rim and finishes pretty well and he passes very well – there aren’t a lot of inefficiencies to his game.”
James Agyeman (14.3 points per game), Marcus MacKay (13.3 points) and Anthony Hokanson (8.3 points) continue to spice the T-wolves’ offence with their shooting accuracy, while Vaggelis Loukas (6.5 rebounding average) and Agyeman (5.3 rebounds) have been especially hungry around the hoop.
Jordan says his team no longer has to lean as heavily on its outside shooting as it did last year, when it lacked an inside presence and missed the Canada West playoffs for a second-straight season.
“The nice thing about our team right now is we’ve been sharing the ball pretty well with contributions from multiple people,” said Jordan. “Vaggelis has improved as a player this year and we’ve added Dan (Stark), Jesse (Mushiana) and Adam (Pahl) and as a group we’re getting a lot more inside stuff and we’re making better use of interior play. We made some changes this year with the new guys coming in and we’re seeing positive signs.”
Game time tonight is 8 p.m.
UNBC Timberwolves guard Volodymyr Pluzhnikov considers his options against University of Calgary Dinos defender Mason Foreman during an Oct. 28 game at the Northern Sport Centre. The T-wolves are back on home court tonight against the UBC Thunderbirds.