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Rowe and Raphael take reins for Wolves
Only a few years ago, Francis Rowe and Sam Raphael began their tenure at UNBC.
Fresh-faced rookie guards on a deep Northern Timberwolves back court, they got groomed in the position following all-stars Inderbir Gill and Matt Mills.
For three seasons, Rowe and Raphael could lean on the two veterans for support. The graduation of Gill and Mills, who rounded out their fifth and final years of Canadian Colleges Athletic Association eligibility in March, appeared to leave big holes in the leadership department. If Saturday’s performance at the Northern Sport Centre was any indication, the two fourth-year guards will have no problem filling roles as veteran starters.
Raphael led the Timberwolves in scoring with 26 points in their 92-74 victory over the Douglas College Royals, while Francis Rowe put 20 on the board to finish second in team scoring.
Despite their efforts on Saturday, make no mistake. Neither player will draw comparisons with Gill, the Timberwolves’ Most Valuable Player for three seasons.
“Obviously we’re not as strong on the perimeter missing both Matt and Inderbir,” Rowe said. “But we got guys who can make plays and our team is a lot older this year and we’ve got a bunch of mature guys who are ready to lead so looking pretty good. We’re just trying to get better every day, keep pushing.”
Rowe led the Timberwolves on a third-quarter surge in which they outscored the opposition 26-14 to turn a three-point halftime lead into a 64-49 advantage. Timberwolves head coach Todd Jordan pointed out that all of Rowe’s points came in the second half.
“But that’s what you expect. He’s worked really hard to deserve that success, and that’s what you expect out of a veteran guy. He’s been through the battles.”
Raphael’s also had to overcome challenges to become the impact player he is today. When he started with the program in 2008, he was a redshirt player only practicing with the squad. Last season, he missed action due to knee problems.
“We’ve had some other guys struggling,” Jordan said. “Jose (Araujo, fourth-year guard) had a tough night shooting the ball (on Saturday), and Sam really made up for that hole that we had there, so it was good.”
The Royals leading scorer on Saturday, second-year guard Aurel David, also recorded 26 points. Fourth-year guard Harmeet Mahal, a UNBC student last year who spent a portion of the season with the Timberwolves, chipped in with 13 points for the visitors.
Two other UNBC players reached double figures in scoring: fifth-year forward Dennis Stark (14) and third-year guard/forward Charles Barton (10).
Jordan also complimented Raphael on his efforts defending Douglas third-year forward Rupinder Athwal, who was limited to nine points in more than 30 minutes of playing time.
“(The Royals) are one of those teams that if you let them get going, they’ve got some guys who can get hot,” Jordan said. “We didn’t really let their guys get into a rhythm.”
Douglas’ lineup also includes second-year forward Harpreet Randhawa of Williams Lake. Randhawa, a 2010 Columneetza Secondary School graduate, considered attending UNBC and practiced with the Timberwolves before his first season.
Randhawa was a non factor on Saturday, collecting only three points and leaving early in the fourth quarter for picking up his fifth personal foul.
Saturday’s triumph followed a 94-42 win over the Columbia Bible College Bearcats on Friday, as the Timberwolves opened the 2011-12 PacWest regular season with a 2-0 record. The UNBC women’s basketball team also opened with a pair of wins, defeating CBC 119-47 and Douglas 87-26.
UNBC is off the PacWest schedule this weekend, and won’t play again until Nov. 25 in Squamish against the Quest University Kermodes. They visit North Vancouver on Nov. 26 to play the Capilano University Blues.
The Timberwolves were at Capilano for a pre-season game on Nov. 5, and lost that contest 91-68.
“There’s some motivation there,” Jordan said. “I told the guys we want to be a much better team (next weekend) than we were (on Saturday).”
The Northern Timberwolves will participate in an exhibition tournament at the University of Winnipeg from Dec. 28 to 30.
“Obviously my connection with Mike (Raimbault, Winnipeg Wesmen head coach and former Timberwolves head coach) is part of the reason that we’re going out. He called me up. We actually talked about possibly going out last year, but there wasn’t space in the tournament.”
The tournament will feature organizations from the U.S., Brandon University, University of Manitoba and another B.C. representative in UBC Okanagan of Kelowna.