Cascades edge Vikes to clinch trip to CIS basketball nationals

The University of the Fraser Valley men's basketball team doesn't do anything the easy way.

In the wake of their landmark victory over the Victoria Vikes in the Canada West semifinals on Friday, it’s clear the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team doesn’t do anything the easy way.

Last week, the Cascades needed a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Joel Friesen to secure a 2-1 series win in their best-of-three quarter-final against the Lethbridge Pronghorns.

On Friday in Saskatoon, with a berth to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championships on the line, the UFV men roared out to a 20-point lead in the first half. They maintained the huge margin through the third quarter, and led 59-38 after Friesen opened the fourth quarter by hitting a runner in the lane.

But the Vikes took over from that point, reeling off a stunning 24-4 run. After Vikes guard Ryan MacKinnon knocked down a pair of free throws with just over a minute left, UFV was left clinging to a 63-62 lead.

Those were the last points scored in the game, though, as UFV hung on down the stretch to seal a trip to the CIS nationals in Halifax (March 9-11).

“It was agonizing,” Cascades head coach Barnaby Craddock admitted in the aftermath, reflecting on his team’s fourth-quarter struggles. “We started off the game playing to win, but at the end, we were playing not to lose.

“When there’s a trip to nationals on the line, it becomes second nature to tighten up a bit. But we got the job done, so I can’t complain too much.”

The Cascades were lights-out defensively in the first half, holding the Vikes to 19.4 per cent shooting from the field (6-for-31) as they built a 38-19 lead at the break.

“It was maybe our best defensive performance of the year,” Craddock said. “That set the tone for the game.”

Victoria’s fourth-quarter comeback was aided by a rare seven-point possession. With Victoria’s Zac Andrus headed to the line for two free throws, UFV point guard James York picked up a technical foul. Andrus knocked down all four foul shots, plus the Vikes got the ball back, and MacKinnon followed up by hitting an off-balance three-pointer.

That lightning-quick run cut the Cascades’ lead to 59-47, and the Vikes stepped on the gas from there.

Victoria got to within 63-62, but no closer. After the two teams exchanged defensive stops in the final minute, the Vikes got the ball back in the waning seconds. MacKinnon barreled up-court, but lost control of the ball and was tied up by a Cascades defender. The possession arrow was pointing UFV’s way, and with 0.7 seconds left on the clock, the Cascades only had to inbound the ball safely to put the finishing touches on the nail-biting win.

UFV’s balanced attack saw four players score in double figures – Kyle Grewal (12 points), Jordan Blackman (11), Friesen (10) and Sam Freeman (10) – while Jasper Moedt and Mike James had nine rebounds apiece. MacKinnon, with 15 points, paced the Vikes.

In the short term, the Cascades will advance to the Canada West title game on Saturday against the winner of Friday’s late semifinal between the host Saskatchewan Huskies and the Alberta Golden Bears.

But more importantly, they’ve locked up the program’s first-ever berth to nationals.

“It’s a fantastic accomplishment,” Craddock said. “It’s an elusive tournament, and many universities and players never get a chance to compete there. It’s a fantastic reward for the guys’ hard work.”

CASCADES WOMEN FALL TO COUGARS

The UFV women’s hoopsters were in southern Saskatchewan for their Final Four tourney, and they had an incredibly tough test in the semifinals against the undefeated host team, the Regina Cougars.

The Cascades stuck with the No. 1-ranked team in the nation in the first half, trailing 32-28 at the break. But the Cougars carved out some breathing room in the third quarter, out-scoring UFV 24-13 in the frame en route to a 72-56 win.

Sarah Wierks led the charge for UFV with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Kayli Sartori chipped in with 15 points off the bench. But the Cascades struggled offensively for the most part, shooting just 25.6 per cent from the field in the loss, and backcourt stars Tessa Klassen and Aieisha Luyken were limited to five and zero points, respectively.

Carly Graham racked up 22 points for Regina, including six three-pointers.

The Cascades women move on to face the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West bronze medal game on Saturday.