The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team is into uncharted territory – the CIS Final Four.
But not without enduring some nervous moments first.
The Cascades, seeded fifth out of eight teams at the national championship tournament in Windsor, Ont., led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter during their quarter-final match-up with the McGill Marlets on Friday.
But the No. 4 Martlets caught fire at that point, carving the UFV cushion down to just two points at 59-57 with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Cascades, though, calmed down and pulled away for a 74-60 victory – the first in program history at CIS nationals.
“In the first half, we were crisp, moving the ball and getting stops,” UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “In the third quarter, we were real in a daze out there, and McGill took advantage of it.
“We had dead legs and wide eyes, and they were just running circles around us. At that point, it’s just a matter of trying to get them to believe in themselves, and they did, eventually.”
The Cascades, coming off a Canada West silver medal last weekend, opened the game on an 8-0 run and led by as many as 18 points in the second quarter, but McGill battled back to cut the deficit to 42-29 at the break.
UFV ran it back up to 19 points early in the third, but the Martlets owned the balance of the frame – they out-rebounded the Cascades 25-7 in the third, paving they way for their comeback.
All the while, Tuchscherer was trying to keep his charges calm and convince them that if they tended to their defensive fundamentals – communicating, rebounding, not ball-watching – they’d be able to turn the tide. And that’s just how it played out, though it took a while.
“A big part of any team’s psyche is just believing in what you’re doing,” he said.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t believe in ourselves on the defensive end of the floor – we’d done it a half-hour earlier in the first half.”
Aieisha Luyken (20 points, six rebounds, six assists), Nataliia Gavryliuk (17 points) and Kayli Sartori (14 points) were the offensive leaders for UFV, while Sarah Wierks hauled in 11 rebounds.
McGill’s 6’1″ centre Miriam Sylla paced her squad with 17 points and 11 boards, as the Martlets out-rebounded the Cascades 56-40. But the Cascades limited their opponents to just 26.9 per cent shooting from the field.
The Cascades move on to face the three-time defending CIS champion – and tourney host – Windsor Lancers in the semifinals on Saturday. The game tips off at 2 p.m. Pacific time, and will be televised on Sportsnet 360 and webcast on CIS-SIC.tv.
The earlier semi, starting at 12 p.m., features St. Mary’s vs. Saskatchewan.
“They’re a very talented and experienced team,” Tuchscherer said of the Lancers. “But for us, it starts with defence. They really like to push the tempo, and if we can get them playing five-on-five, it eliminates a lot of easy baskets.
“We’ve been preaching all year just playing our best basketball at this time of year. We need one of those games tomorrow where everybody’s playing their part.”