Manny Dulay doesn’t miss clutch shots, and the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team has forgotten how to lose.
At least, that’s how it seems at this point.
Dulay was the hero as the Cascades ran their winning streak to 15 games on Thursday evening – his three-pointer with 20 seconds left lifted UFV past the Lethbridge Pronghorns 66-64 in Game 1 of their Canada West first-round playoff series.
Game 2 of the best-of-three set goes Friday at UFV’s Envision Athletic Centre, and Game 3 (if necessary) would be Saturday (7 p.m. tip-off each night).
“All of us are gelling right now – we call it the freight train, and it’s rolling,” Dulay said, reflecting on a UFV win streak that stretches back in November.
“We have a bit of luck on our side – we’ve had some really, really close games. But at the same time, we’re just trying to work out butts off and win.”
Indeed, the Cascades have had plenty of close calls during their win streak, but their execution in the dying minutes has been razor-sharp.
On Thursday, they appeared to be in complete control when they reeled off a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter – highlighted by a Kevon Parchment fast-break dunk and a Dulay triple – that put them up 60-52 with six minutes left.
But the Pronghorns responded with a 10-0 run of their own, with Logan Reiter nailing a couple of shots from downtown.
Parchment stopped the bleeding by knocking down a long trey of his own, but Brent Watkins, Lethbridge’s 6’10” centre, banked in a shot to give the Pronghorns a 64-63 lead with just over a minute left.
Both teams came up empty on their next possessions, setting the stage for Dulay.
Parchment and Jasper Moedt began the play with a pick-and-roll at the top of the key, but the Pronghorns defended it well and the Cascades swung the ball to Klaus Figeuredo in the right corner. The fifth-year guard drove into the paint, drew the defence, and zipped a pass to a wide-open Dulay on the opposite side of the floor. His shot from beyond the arc found nothing but net.
“I had the easy job on that one,” insisted Dulay, who hadn’t had a vintage shooting night up to that point – his 14 points came on 5-of-17 shooting from the floor.
“Klaus drove and tried to create something, and he found me open.”
Dulay’s struggles earlier in the game aside, he’s UFV’s top three-point shooter in terms of both percentage (.393) and total makes (59) this season, and head coach Adam Friesen said the team had all the confidence in the world in him.
“He’d missed a couple easy ones before that, and I asked the team (during a timeout) what we should do on offence on that final possession,” Friesen said. “The whole team said, ‘Let’s get the ball to Manny.’
“Every time he gets the ball above his head, we believe it’s going in.”
The Pronghorns still had plenty of time to work with, but Morgan Duce’s potential game-winning three-pointer hit the back rim and bounced high off the shot clock, giving the ball back to UFV.
The Cascades are riding a wave of momentum, but Friesen cautioned that the win streak might have negative psychological effects as well.
“We’re kind of playing with fire,” he said. “We’re a talented team that does play well in clutch situations. But we’re putting ourselves in some close games recently, and I think it’s partly due to our own play.
“We kind of always think we can just win the game when we need to. That’s something we’re going to express to the guys and get that point home, starting tomorrow obviously.”
• In addition to Dulay, the Cascades had three other double-figure scorers: Figueredo (19 points, nine rebounds), Jasper Moedt (17 points, 11 boards) and Parchment (14 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists). Reiter, with 15 points, paced the Pronghorns.
• UFV had just nine healthy players available, as starting point guard Kevin Ford sat out due to a concussion. Friesen said he won’t be available this weekend.