A 29-point explosion from senior point guard Aieisha Luyken powered the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team to a landmark victory on Friday evening.
Facing the host University of Alberta Pandas at the Canada West Final Four, Luyken accounted for nearly half her team’s points in a 66-56 semifinal win.
The triumph sent the Cascades to the Canada West final for the first time in program history, and secured them a berth to the CIS national championships (March 14-16 in Windsor, Ont.) for the second straight year.
Luyken was scorching hot – she shot 8-for-13 from the floor, 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, and 9-for-11 from the free throw line.
Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer had seen Luyken’s outburst brewing all day.
“She was super-focused all day today, and I was kind of watching her – is this a good thing or a bad thing?” Tuchscherer recounted.
“She was really internal. I’ve seen Aieisha like that before, and we’ve tried to get her out of that mode, because her teammates count on her for so much leadership. But clearly, it was a different kind of focus for her.
“She just wasn’t going to let us lose tonight. She hit big shot after big shot. She led our team in every way.”
Luyken, remarkably, was the only Cascade to score in double figures – Nataliia Gavryliuk posted nine points and nine rebounds, while Kayli Sartori and siblings Sarah and Nicole Wierks chipped in with seven points apiece.
UFV’s defensive performance was lights-out – they held the No. 3-ranked team in the nation to 26.3 per cent shooting, and not a single Pandas player hit even half their shots from the field.
“We played more zone tonight than we’ve probably played in any other game since I’ve been coach at UFV,” said Tuchscherer, who is in his 12th season as the Cascades’ bench boss.
Going zone rather than their typical switching man-to-man defence was an effort to nullify Alberta’s tremendous size by packing bodies into the paint. The Cascades also did a great job of limiting the Pandas’ transition opportunities.
“It was a special win tonight,” Tuchscherer summarized. “The girls were really locked in all week. We had a good game plan, and I thought if we executed that game plan, we had a chance. We locked into it at both ends of the floor, and it was fun to watch.”
Both semifinal match-ups produced upsets – in addition to No. 4-seeded UFV knocking off No. 1 Alberta, the No. 3 Saskatchewan Huskies toppled their provincial rival, the No. 2 Regina Cougars, 64-52.
The Cascades and Huskies meet for the Canada West title at 4 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday, and the game can be viewed online at canadawest.tv.
UFV will seek to contain Dalyce Emmerson, the Huskies’ phenomenal 6’3″ centre who is the reigning Canada West MVP and defensive player of the year. The coaching match-up will also be fascinating, as Tuchscherer matches wits with Saskatchewan’s Lisa Thomaidis, who doubles as head coach of Canada’s national women’s team.
“Saskatchewan is playing some fantastic basketball,” Tuchscherer said. “(Emmerson) is just an absolute handful inside, and they surround her with a bunch of guards . . . and they get up and down the floor, shoot the three, come off of ball screens all day long.”