Cascades win opener at CIS men's basketball nationals, cruising past Lakehead
Within the Canada West conference, it's become increasingly evident over the course of the season that the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades are legit.
Now, the rest of the nation knows it as well.
The Cascades introduced themselves on the national stage in impressive fashion, cruising past the Lakehead Thunderwolves 83-71 on Friday morning to open the CIS men's basketball Final 8.
UFV, a relatively young program in just its sixth season of CIS competition, put together a poised performance in the first quarter-final of the day at the Halifax Metro Centre, dispatching a Lakehead team ranked No. 2 in the nation for much of the year.
"I think the Canada West conference is real tough, and perhaps we're a little bit battle tested," head coach Barnaby Craddock analyzed afterward. "That helped us in this environment."
The first half was back-and-forth for the most part, but the Cascades put together an 11-2 run bridging the second and third quarters to seize the first significant lead of the game for either team at 38-29.
The Canada West silver medallists led the rest of the way, answering every challenge Lakehead mustered.
Backup point guard Sheldon Bjorgaard had the game of his life for UFV – the senior out of Abbotsford's Yale Secondary went 5-for-6 from three-point range en route to a team-high 19 points.
"We kind of called him out after the game and thanked him for his performance over the last four years for our program," Craddock said of Bjorgaard, who also pulled down seven rebounds. "He epitomizes what our program is all about. Guys like that, playing with heart, shine in moments like this. Sheldon definitely stepped up on the biggest stage in Canada."
Bjorgaard said he was proud of the way his team was able to stay composed.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," he said. "I knew I'd get my opportunities, like I have all year, and fortunately I was able to knock them down."
Cascades power forward Kyle Grewal was limited to 20 minutes due to foul trouble, but he poured in 17 points, consistently finding his way to the basket. Joel Friesen (13 points, seven rebounds) and Mike James (10 points, six rebounds) also scored in double figures for the Cascades, while Jasper Moedt hauled in a game-high 14 boards.
Venzal Russell and Joseph Jones led the way for Lakehead with 20 points apiece.
UFV shot 45 per cent from the field while limiting Lakehead to 32 per cent, and they out-rebounded the Thunder Bay, Ont. squad 56-48.
In the late going, with the Cascades holding a comfortable lead, Friesen drove the lane and attempted a dunk, but absorbed a hard foul from Lakehead's Jones. He came up favouring his right ankle and had to leave the game.
Craddock said the injury isn't severe enough to keep the first team Canada West all-star on the sidelines.
"He's going to play tomorrow," Craddock said of Friesen. "It's obviously an unfortunate foul there at the end, but there was no ill will. It just happened to be a hard landing."
The Cascades move on to the national semifinals to face the top-seeded Carleton Ravens, who beat the Acadia Axemen 82-68 in the second quarter-final of the day. The UFV-Carleton game tips off at 6 p.m. Atlantic time on Saturday (2 p.m. Pacific) and can be viewed online at ssncanada.ca.
"Acadia gave them a great game, but you can see why they're undefeated," Craddock said. "They pulled it out down the stretch in a tight game.
"We want to play the best in the nation, and we'll get that chance tomorrow."