One tough test Mor­gan, Thun­der­birds of­fer elite op­po­si­tion for UNBC men

The Prince George Citizen - - SPORTS - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff tclarke@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

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.

CIT­I­ZEN FILE PHOTO

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.

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