The UFV Cascades basketball programs knew that their involuntary placement in the Explorer division of the Canada West this season would produce some odd circumstances for their top-tier teams. Still, it would have been hard to foresee a moment when, after winning four straight games, neither the men’s nor women’s coach would have a smile on their face.
It’s not that coaches Al Tuchscherer and Adam Friesen aren’t happy with their perfect 4-0 records, they’re simply well aware of how far their teams are from where they need to be if they want to be successful in the new playoff format, and consequently the work that needs to be done between now and February.
The Cascades women (4-0) won 83-57 on Friday and 81-57 on Saturday in their home opener against the UNBC Timberwolves, yet shot under 40 percent from the field in both games. On Friday the Cascades had trouble both creating quality opportunities and distributing the ball, despite outscoring their opponents in three of the four quarters.
“It’s hard to get a team to play how you want them to play,” said Tuchscherer. “We do some okay things, but we’re a long, long way from playing how we want to play. We don’t share the ball as much as I want us to. We don’t defend how I want us to. It’s getting better, but we have a long ways to go.”
Of course, the simple fact that UFV comfortably controlled both games is hard to ignore, especially since last year’s national bronze medal-winning squad often had trouble putting away their conference opponents. Tuchscherer attributes this intensity to his young team’s hunger for victory.
“When you have a veteran team, they tend to look to the next opponent, whereas this team looks at what’s right in front of them because every game is important and every game is an opportunity to prove themselves.”
The Cascades enjoyed some impressive numbers on Saturday from Sarah Wierks (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Nataliia Gavryliuk (17 points). Celeste Dyck, who has taken over point guard duties for UFV this season, put together 17 points and five assists.
“I’ve always been a pass first and score second player,” said Dyck, who also had 12 points and five assists on Friday, “so I’m always looking for that extra pass. I love to get assists more than points.”
Dyck spent four seasons playing behind Canada West all-star Aieisha Luyken, and is now adjusting to significantly expanded responsibilities as a senior leader on the roster. Her stability and playmaking were evident on the floor against the Timberwolves as she helped provide cohesion to a squad that is still trying to find its identity.
“I have to be a leader and I have to be vocal on the court,” she said. Dyck, along with fellow veterans Wierks and Gavryliuk, will be critical to the Cascades success this year.
The Cascades men (4-0) won Friday’s competition easily (82-59) thanks to the hot hand of point guard Manny Dulay, who scored all his 17 points in the second half including a 5-7 record from beyond the arc.
On Saturday UFV played a solid 10 minutes of basketball, good enough for a 62-60 victory over the visiting Timberwolves, but not enough to bring a smile to coach Friesen.
“The fourth quarter looked a lot different than the first three,” said Friesen, whose team outscored UNBC 20-9 in the final 10 minutes to scrape out the win. “There’s got to be a reason for that and we’ve got to figure it out.”
To the Timberwolves’ credit, the veteran visitors were the better defensive team for most of the night, shutting down the Cascades’ fast break and guard penetration. Fifth-year forward Franco Kouagnia took on the difficult task of guarding UFV’s Nate Brown with gusto, and helped UNBC to a 14-point lead in the third quarter.
UFV’s 21 turnovers were epitomized in the first play of the second half, when Kevon Parchment dribbled hard to the arc, then flipped a sloppy one-handed bounce to Brown in the post that was picked before it reached his hands. The constant miscalculations cost the Cascades, who required a miraculous fourth quarter to remain undefeated.
Still, those last 10 minutes were almost enough to forgive the rest of the night. In the final quarter the Cascades played like they’d suddenly awoken from a mass hallucination, putting together the defensive effort they’re known for and making the Timberwolves pay in transition.
Dominique Brooks led the Cascades with 16 points, while Brown would score an all-important hook shot with 36 seconds left to give UFV the lead. In the final seconds the Cascades defended flawlessly, foiling a last-second attempt by Kouagnia to tie the game.
“We get our energy right now from us playing well on offence,” said Friesen, whose team went 1-12 in the first six minutes of the third quarter, “and when we offensively struggle, our defence falters … It wasn’t a fluke that when shots went in [during the fourth quarter], our defence picked up.”
Next weekend the Cascades will travel to Kamloops to take on the Thompson Rivers WolfPack. The ‘Pack are sitting second in the men’s division with a 3-1 record, and tied for second on the women’s side with an identical record.