The WolfPack were in Calgary this past weekend to take part in their first-ever Canada West final four tournament. The ‘Pack won their semi-final matchup against the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds before dropping the championship game to the host University of Calgary Dinos.
The second place finish was good enough to extend TRU’s season however, as they booked themselves a ticket to the CIS final eight tournament.
“The goal was to make it to the national tournament so obviously you can check that box. By the same token one of the other goals was to be a Canada West champion and we came up just a bit short in regards to that goal,” said head coach Scott Clark.
TRU dropped the championship game to the Dinos by a score of 94–81.
The WolfPack came out firing on all cylinders to start the game, making four straight shots from beyond the three-point arc to take an early 12–2 lead. The number-one-seeded Dinos hung around however, and led 25–21 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter some fatigue started to show for TRU. With the ‘Pack coming off a very close win the night before in which Reese Pribilsky, Josh Wolfram and Volodymyr Iegorov hardly left the floor, TRU was just a little bit off. The Dinos capitalized on every mistake TRU made to stretch their lead to 53–40 at the halftime buzzer.
A great third quarter from TRU allowed them to close the gap to just four points heading into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately that would be as close as TRU could get as they ended up losing the game by seven points, 94–81.
Leading the way for the ‘Pack was fifth-year forward Gerard Gore, who scored 22 points and added 10 rebounds.
The ‘Pack came into the game with a whole lot of momentum behind them. On Friday night in the Canada West semi-finals, TRU defeated the UBC Thunderbirds in a down-to-the-wire game by a score of 72–69.
Despite falling behind by ten points early TRU was able to stick with UBC thanks in large part to point guard Reese Pribilsky, who had seven of TRU’s 12 first quarter points.
In the second quarter it was a combination of experience and youth that led the way for the ‘Pack as Wolfram and Luke Morris combined for 14 of the 19 points that TRU put up in the quarter.
The resilience of TRU saw them enter the third quarter down just four points to a UBC team that looked unbeatable early on in the game. With six players scoring in the quarter, TRU poured in 23 points, taking their first lead of the game 54–52 with just seconds left to go in the third.
In the fourth quarter of what was at the time the most important game in the program’s history, TRU turned to one of the most talented players to ever wear the ‘Pack jersey, fifth-year forward Josh Wolfram. Wolfram scored nine of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a huge three-pointer that put TRU up by four points with only 36 seconds left in the game. From there a combination of tough defence and clutch free-throw shooting saw TRU through to the victory.
Pribilsky and Wolfram combined for 40 of TRU’s 72 points on the night.
“They’re fifth-year players and I think at every level your best players need to play their best for you to have a chance to perform well down the stretch. Both of them obviously did that. I was happy for both of them and am proud of them,” Clark said.
With a second place finish in the conference and a berth to nationals secured, this was undoubtedly one of the biggest weekends in the history of the TRU men’s basketball program.
This is TRU’s first-ever appearance at nationals and the tournament will get underway Thursday March 17. The ‘Pack will face a tough first-round matchup in the form of the Carleton Ravens, a team that has won 11 of the past 13 national championships and has taken home the title the last five years in a row.
Clark is relishing the opportunity to test his team against the very best that Canadian university basketball has to offer.
“They’ve been the standard-bearer for university basketball over the last ten years. Everybody is trying to catch them and everybody measures themselves up against them, so to get to play them in the first game is exactly what you would want.”