Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Canada West bronze medal game, the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team saw its season hanging by a thread.
The Cascades were the nation’s No. 3-ranked team – and hadn’t been ranked lower than No. 4 all season – but they were trailing the underdog Alberta Pandas by 10 points, with the conference’s last guaranteed berth to nationals on the line.
“You could see the girls start to look up at the scoreboard a little bit, and see a bit of worry in their eyes,” UFV coach Al Tuchscherer said. “We ended up calling a timeout . . . telling them to relax and have faith in the work that they’ve done, the systems they play and the teammates they have.
“We got after our leaders a little bit – just told them to lead the team. And I don’t know if it was as simple as that, but you could just see them go OK, take a deep breath, and get back out on the court and play our game from the defence out.”
Indeed, the Cascades were a different team from that point – they trimmed the deficit to 42-38 by the end of the third quarter, then zoomed past the No. 10-ranked Pandas in the fourth, out-scoring them 30-15 en route to a 68-57 victory.
With the win, the Cascades clinched a berth to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship for the first time in their seven-year tenure in the league.
“For us to get there, it’s maybe a little bit of a relief more than anything for a lot of the girls,” Tuchscherer said. “It was something we talked about from the beginning of the year – we wanted to be involved in this tournament.”
The Cascades had opened the Canada West Final Four, hosted by the University of Calgary, with an 84-77 loss to the No. 2-ranked Regina Cougars in the semifinals on Friday.
But they punched their ticket to nationals by beating Alberta for the bronze, with Kayli Sartori and Nicole Wierks leading the way. Both players notched 17 points and seven rebounds, tying for game-high scoring honours, and Sartori added five assists and two blocked shots. Aieisha Luyken chipped in with 15 points, counting four three-pointers among her total.
The CIS women’s basketball nationals run March 15-17 at the University of Regina, but the seedings and schedule won’t be set until this weekend, after the Ontario and Atlantic leagues wrap up their playoffs.
“We’ve been ranked in the top four all season, and I don’t think it’s going to be acceptable for us to go there and flame out two straight games,” Tuchscherer said. “Just getting there isn’t good enough.”
CASCADES MEN FALL TO UBC
The UFV men’s hoopsters came within a whisker of earning a national championship berth of their own.
Taking on the heavily favoured UBC Thunderbirds, the nation’s No. 4-ranked team, at UBC’s War Memorial Gym in the Canada West semifinals on Friday, the Cascades built a 34-26 lead at halftime. The first-half performance was all the more impressive considering UFV was without top scorer Sam Freeman, who suffered a broken rib in the Cascades’ first-round playoff win over the Saskatchewan Huskies the previous weekend.
The T-Birds clawed their way back into it after the break, and the game was tied with two minutes left to go in the fourth quarter. But UBC out-scored UFV 9-2 from that point on to clinch one of Canada West’s two automatic berths to nationals.
Kyle Grewal (14 points), Kevon Parchment (13 points, 13 rebounds) and Klaus Figueredo (12 points) were the top Cascades, while Tommy Nixon scored 18 points off the bench to pace the T-Birds.
“Our shooting was off in the second half, credit UBC with great defence especially in the third quarter,” UFV coach Adam Friesen said. “I am very proud of the guys.”
The Cascades wrapped up their season with a 90-84 loss to the Winnipeg Wesmen in the bronze medal game, despite 23 points from James York and 19 from Grewal.
UFV HOOPSTERS EARN ALL-STAR NODS
Three UFV players were honoured last week when Canada West announced its all-star teams.
Freeman closed out his five-year career with a first team all-star nod, while Luyken was named a second-teamer on the women’s side.
Additionally, Alexa McCarthy is the Canada West nominee for the CIS’s Sylvia Sweeney Award, which recognizes accomplishments in athletics, academics and community involvement.