A historic year has come to an end for WolfPack men’s basketball. A division title, second place in the conference and a trip to nationals were all firsts for the ‘Pack. Unfortunately they weren’t able to add a CIS nationals win to that impressive list after a pair of losses to two of the best teams in Canada saw the ‘Pack leave the national tournament winless and tied for seventh overall in the country.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I mean we’re a little bit disappointed to go out in two here at nationals, but it’s a really big step for our program just to make it here. We played two fantastic teams, in Ottawa and Carleton,” said fifth-year forward Josh Wolfram.
The tournament got underway Thursday, March 17 at the Doug Mitchell Stadium on University of British Columbia campus. TRU played in the opening game of the tournament and as the number 7 seed they received a tough matchup, the number 2 seed Carleton Ravens.
For three quarters it looked like the impossible was becoming more and more likely. TRU was matching the five-time defending champions Carleton shot for shot. Despite the 200-plus ‘Pack fans in attendance turning the game in Vancouver into a home-court atmosphere for TRU, an upset was not in the cards. Carleton was able to pull away in the fourth quarter, eventually winning the game 91–75.
“I am proud of our effort. I’m just really proud of my club. We don’t have anything to hang our head about, they wore us down and that’s credit to them,” said TRU head coach Scott Clark.
The ‘Pack hung right with Carleton during the entire first half, trailing by just five points: 38–33 at the halftime break.
Throughout the second half you could see some shocked faces on the Carleton bench, as the winners of 11 of the past 13 national championships found itself trailing the ‘Pack deep into the third quarter.
It was in the fourth quarter that the quality and depth of Carleton began to shine. TRU struggled to keep up with the pace of the game and missed some key shots down the stretch. Carleton, a team that has won the most national championships of any school in Canada outscored TRU 26–15 in the fourth.
“They’re a really good team, I would say they’re the best team in the country, but anyone can lose to anyone. Back down from no opponent but respect everyone, that’s what we did today and they came out with the win but I know for sure that we’ve got their respect,” said fifth-year forward Gerard Gore.
Gore was the leading scorer for the ‘Pack with 22 points, and was named player of the game for TRU. This continued a string of games in which Gore was able to play his best when it mattered most. He also led TRU with 22 points in the Canada West championship game last week.
“We really wanted to go for the gold today, so I just came out, gave my best and did everything I could for the team. These guys really mean a lot to me, they’re family,” Gore said.
With the loss TRU was bumped to the consolation side of the tournament. Awaiting them there was the third best team in Canada, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The game was extremely close: neither team ever led by more than 5 points in the game, and as only fitting for two teams that were so even it came down to the very last play.
After a clutch shot by Luke Morris got the ‘Pack to within one point of the Gee-Gees with 46 seconds left, some great defence by both Wolfram and Pribilsky allowed the ‘Pack to have a shot at the win. Pribilsky got some separation from the defenders and let go a shot with just seconds left. The entire stadium held its breath as the ball floated through the air, hanging there for what seemed like an eternity before the clang of the ball hitting the rim and bouncing away from the net echoed throughout the building.
The shot falling just inches short sealed the game. The final score was Ottawa 78, TRU 77.
The tournament also marked the end of the road for three of TRU’s most decorated players in school history: Josh Wolfram, Reese Pribilsky and Gerard Gore.
“When we recruited them we asked them if they wanted to come someplace to build something. That’s what they’ve done. I think they leave a pretty big legacy and they’re really good guys,” said Clark.
Wolfram, Pribilsky and Gore all came to the program when it was in a time of flux and have been making WolfPack history ever since. They were a part of TRU teams that first made the playoffs, won a playoff series, won a division title, made it to the Canada West final four and played on the biggest stage of university basketball in Canada, the CIS final eight.
“They’ve made a lot of people proud, not just myself and their teammates, but the institution and I think the city of Kamloops.”
For a team that had only won one playoff series in program history prior to this year it is impossible to look back on the season that the ‘Pack put together as anything but excellent, despite them not being able to achieve the positive results that they wanted at the tournament.