Coming of age: UFV men's hoopsters complete sweep vs. UBC
It's entirely accurate to apply the adjective "stunning" to the University of the Fraser Valley men's basketball team's weekend sweep of the UBC Thunderbirds, though the Cascades themselves might beg to differ.
This was UBC, after all – a storied program which has qualified for the national championship tournament seven of the past eight years, and which strutted into Abbotsford this weekend carrying a sterling 12-2 record and the No. 3 national ranking.
The Cascades, relative newbies in just their sixth year in the CIS, only began to garner national-level respect this season. They came in ranked No. 8 in Canada at 10-5, but had some ugly blemishes on their resumé – namely, blowing 20-point leads in road defeats to the Thompson Rivers WolfPack and the Saskatchewan Huskies in the first half of the campaign.
But as the T-Birds found out, the Cascades have matured a great deal since those early-season stumbles. They upset UBC 77-72 on Friday, then completed the sweep with a dominant 94-83 win on Saturday that wasn't necessarily as close as the final score indicated.
In the aftermath, Cascades guard Joel Friesen acknowledged his team is coming of age.
"We always knew we had it in us," he asserted. "I think it's really been a head game for our team.
"We always come out hungry, but a lot of times we've come out a little too emotionally aroused. Against certain teams, we've started off really well, but we haven't been able to play 40 minutes of good, hard team basketball. It just seems like the last couple of weeks, on and off the court, we've stuck together."
If UFV's win on Friday raised eyebrows nationally, Saturday's triumph proved it was no fluke. The Cascades' dominance of the T-Birds was comprehensive – they looked cool, calm and collected as they built a 26-point lead late in the third quarter.
UFV, with the game seemingly in hand, got a little too casual in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, coughing up a series of turnovers against UBC's press that allowed the T-Birds to trim the deficit down to 13 points with five minutes to go.
But the Cascades buckled down from there, and five consecutive points from Sam Freeman – on a mid-range jumper and a three-pointer – essentially salted the game away.
The Cascades shot a scorching 53.1 per cent from the field, including 47.3 per cent from three-point range (11-for-23), while the T-Birds hit on just 39.7 per cent of their attempts from the field.
And for the second straight night, UFV beat UBC decisively on the boards, out-rebounding the visitors 44-30. (The Cascades won the battle of the boards 48-30 on Friday).
"That was obviously something that was on the white board (in the locker room) all week," Friesen said, reflecting on his team's rebounding prowess. "We needed to play physically, because we knew UBC was going to come out playing as hard as any team we've played. We needed to be mentally prepared."
Friesen paced the Cascades with 23 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including four three-pointers, while Freeman bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to chip in with 19 points. Freshman guard Jordan Blackman (16 points on 5-of-6 shooting) and Kyle Grewal (14 points, six rebounds) also scored in double figures for UFV.
UBC's Nathan Yu poured in a game-high 27 points, but Kamar Burke, with 13 points, was the only other T-Bird in double figures.
With the weekend wins, UFV (12-5) moves to within a half-game of UBC (12-4) for second place in the Pacific Division of Canada West. The Cascades wrap up the regular season on the road vs. Trinity Western this Thursday, while the T-Birds have two games remaining against first-place UVic (13-3). If UBC loses one or both of those games, and the Cascades beat the Spartans, UFV would leap-frog the T-Birds for the second seed and host a first-round playoff series.
CASCADES WOMEN LOSE A HEART-BREAKER
The UFV women's hoopsters, coming off a win over UBC on Friday, also had a chance to sweep, but dropped a gut-wrenching 60-58 decision in the early game Saturday.
Staring at a 13-point deficit in the third quarter, the Cascades staged a stirring rally, surging ahead 56-52 after point guard Aieisha Luyken knocked down a three-pointer with 2:45 left in the fourth quarter.
But the T-Birds battled back to level the score 58-58 with 35 seconds left when centre Zara Huntley hit a pair of free throws. On the ensuing UFV possession, Nicole Wierks missed a jumper with 25 seconds remaining.
UBC came back down the floor, and Huntley hauled in an offensive rebound in the dying seconds and drew a foul on Sarah Wierks on the put-back attempt with just 0.4 seconds on the clock. She hit both shots from the charity stripe to provide the margin of victory.
"I'm not as broken up about the foul call as some people maybe are," Cascades coach Al Tuchscherer said afterward. "We've got to get that rebound, you know what I mean? We pride ourselves on not giving up a lot of second chance points, and that's what it was."
Huntley paced the T-Birds with 15 points, including 9-for-10 shooting from the foul line, while Kris Young (14 points), Kristen Hughes (11) and Alex Vieweg (10) also chipped in for UBC.
Luyken, with 15 points, was the only player in double figures for the Cascades, who shot the ball terribly as a team – they converted just 29.9 per cent of their attempts from the field.
While Saturday's near-miss might have left a bad taste in his mouth, Tuchscherer still viewed the weekend as a success in light of Friday's win – the first-ever for his program over UBC.
"You knew UBC was going to come out and hit us with something after we beat them last night," he noted. "They came out pretty strong and we got caught up in playing their game. But then I thought we got really gritty and started playing our game and gave ourselves a chance to win.
"Those are all really positive signs. If we shoot the ball a little bit better tonight, maybe we've got a win instead of a two-point loss."
With the victory, UBC (13-3) clinched first place in the Pacific Division, while UFV (11-6) is now locked into the No. 2 spot. After wrapping up the regular season on Thursday at TWU, they'll host a first-round playoff series against the No. 3 seed from the Prairie Division.