The Bazooka isn’t the only big gun on the UBC Thunderbirds. All their players are big-calibre.
Luka Zaharijevic, a.k.a. “The Bazooka,” Phil Jalalpoor and Conor Morgan — all graduating seniors — have the men’s basketball team pushing for its first national crown in four decades.
Under their reign, the Thunderbirds have fielded the highest-scoring team in the nation, scoring at a 93.3-points-per-game clip. And it’s not just the three seniors — who average 11.2, 16.3 and 22.2 ppg, respectively. UBC also leads the country in assists-per-game at 19.6.
“I knew we had the potential,” said Jalalpoor, who upped his average from 6.8 ppg last season, and led the team in three-point percentage. “I was confident in the guys we had, and I knew the recruiting class coming in. To actually lead the country (in scoring), though, that’s a good surprise.”
Kevin Hanson’s team has won four straight, a streak that would stand at 14 games if they hadn’t run into Zac Overwater on Jan. 13, when the Lethbridge (Alta.) Pronghorns forward set a new career and program high with 49 points to lead his team to a 106-101 overtime win.
Still, the Thunderbirds have continued their ascent up the rankings — now slotted in at No. 4 on the national table — and wrap-up the regular season with a home-and-home against the UVic Vikes this week.
“We have a lot of great pieces. We’re still trying to get them to fully understand what their roles are,” said Hanson, who will likely only have one senior on his team next season.
“I think the best thing about our team is we can put a lot of different products on the floor, and play a variety of different styles. There’s only been one or maybe two games all season where we haven’t had the opportunity to play 12 guys. If you were to analyze our stats, you’d see that one night a guy might get 20 minutes and the next he’s getting two or vice-versa. That’s our philosophy. We have our horses, but if you’re playing well, you’re still going to get the opportunity, you’re still going to get your minutes.
“When you’re averaging that many points, it’s fun to coach that group, it’s fun to play that group, to play that system.”
UBC (15-3) sits second in Canada West standings, trailing only the University of Alberta (17-1), as they head into Thursday’s game with the Vikes (10-8). The season finale, in which Morgan, Jalalpoor and Zaharijevic will be honoured, is Friday at 8 p.m. at War Memorial Gym.
Solidifying home-court advantage could be huge for UBC, who are 10-0 at home this season.
“Going all the way back to my playing days, UVic and UBC is the rivalry. That is the game,” said Hanson. “I think it comes at a great time. You can’t prepare more for playoffs than to have a rivalry game at this time of year. It’s always intense.”
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