Undermanned Cascades show heart, upset top-seeded Huskies
At this point, the University of the Fraser Valley men's basketball team could teach a graduate-level course in overcoming adversity.
It all started last summer, when head coach Barnaby Craddock departed to take the helm of the Alberta Golden Bears and took two of the Cascades' veteran stars – Joel Friesen and Jasper Moedt – with him.
Former assistant coach Adam Friesen took over the UFV program, and had to wade through a litany of injuries, most notably a foot/ankle infection that robbed star power forward Kyle Grewal of six games in the second semester.
Then two weeks ago, the Cascades discovered that Nathan Kendall's eligibility had lapsed at the start of February, unbeknownst to anyone, but he had suited up for four games in the meantime. UFV was stripped of the two wins they'd earned during that stretch, and Kendall, the team's fourth-leading scorer, was subsequently suspended an additional four games – beginning with the Cascades' best-of-three first-round playoff series against the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Few observers gave UFV, the fourth seed out of the Pacific Division, a chance against the Prairie Division's top-seeded Huskies. But they got off to a terrific start in Saskatoon, stunning the Huskies 83-64 in Friday's Game 1 behind a sublime 26-point performance from Sam Freeman.
But with two minutes left in the second quarter of Game 2, Freeman absorbed a hard foul on a drive to the hoop and suffered a broken rib. UFV's leading scorer, and a fifth-year senior at that, is expected to be out for the season.
The Huskies won that game 78-58, but the Cascades bounced back for a dominant 92-76 triumph in Sunday's Game 3 to punch their ticket to the Canada West Final Four.
Of course, it didn't come easily – James York, UFV's fifth-year point guard, fouled out early in the third quarter, and Friesen said the scorekeepers had mistakenly credited him with an extra foul.
But no matter. The Cascades simply completed the task at hand, which was blowing out the No. 7-ranked team in the nation on their home court.
"The one thing we had was, the guys are used to battling through adversity and challenges," Friesen analyzed. "We're very comfortable handling situations like that, and it showed today."
Fair enough. But some of the UFV performances on Sunday bordered on preposterous.
Klaus Figueredo, a little-used reserve guard who averaged just 1.1 points per game during conference play, had the game of his life. He had a perfect shooting night, going 6-for-6 from the field, 4-for-4 from three-point range and 6-for-6 from the free throw line en route to a team-high 22 points.
Manny Dulay, a rookie guard, played nearly triple his season-average in minutes, and counted a trio of three-pointers among his 14 points.
Nor should Grewal's 19-point, nine-rebound, five-assist outing be taken for granted. He'd struggled mightily after returning to the lineup in February following his injury, but found his form just in time for the playoffs.
Three other players – Andy Khaira (14 points), Kevon Parchment (13) and York (10) – also scored in double figures for the Cascades, who shot 55 per cent from the floor.
Stephon Lamar poured in 28 points for the Huskies, but Patrick Burns (12 points) was the only other player in double figures.
Figueredo's offensive explosion may have been a surprise to some, but not to Friesen.
"We knew he was capable, and we know how much he cares about the players on his team," the UFV bench boss said. "In moments like this, when you need guys to step up, you don't always look at points per game and statistics. You look at what's inside a person. We knew Klaus could hit shots, but we also knew how much he wanted this."
The UBC Thunderbirds, Winnipeg Wesmen and Victoria Vikes also advance to the Final Four, which will be held at UBC. The Cascades will be seeded fourth, which sets them up to face the host Thunderbirds, the nation's No. 4-ranked team, in the semifinals.
"To be honest, we talked about that game all week," admitted Friesen, whose team knocked off UBC at War Memorial Gym on Nov. 17. "We were very confident going into this weekend. Obviously Sam's injury we didn't expect, but we were very confident about it.
"Not to be arrogant, but we wanted a chance at playing UBC in their gym, facing the ultimate challenge and seeing if we can overcome that."