An upset victory wasn’t in the cards for the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team on Wednesday evening, as they fell 77-59 to the University of Mississippi Rebels.
But along the way, the Cascades earned a great deal of respect from the visiting NCAA Division I squad.
UFV came out on fire, racing out to an early 10-2 lead, and led 21-10 after the first quarter. But the Rebels cranked up the defensive intensity at that point, and their effective full-court pressure and superior size in the post paved the way to victory.
“That game was probably the most physical game I’ve ever been involved in,” Rebels coach Renee Ladner marveled afterward. “Their team is very fundamentally sound, and I think we were a bit surprised by their physicality.
“They literally popped us in the mouth to start the game, and we stepped back. Once we got adjusted and figured out they (the referees) were going to let us play this way, I thought our kids stepped up and played with them.”
Wednesday’s game was a late addition to the Cascades’ preseason schedule. They have another previously scheduled game against Ole Miss on Friday (7 p.m., Envision Athletic Centre), but were able to add the additional date after the Rebels had another opponent on their Canadian tour cancel.
Al Tuchscherer’s squad only had one full practice prior to Wednesday’s game, but the Cascades head coach said he was still “a little bit disappointed” to see some of his team’s breakdowns in the defence and rebounding departments.
“They’re a lot more athletic than us, obviously,” Tuchscherer noted. “We had a good start, but then they started moving a little quicker and jumping a little higher, and we didn’t respond to that.
“You can’t miss a rebounding assignment, you can’t be slow in transition. We’re having a lot of those breakdowns, and it’s good for us to address that, but it sucks that it’s happening.”
That said, Tuchscherer saw some very positive signs. Third-year guard Aieisha Luyken appears poised for a breakout season – she played with a great deal of confidence on Wednesday, and had little trouble getting to the hoop.
“She’s just killed it this off-season,” Tuchscherer said of Luyken. “She’s in the gym every day. She’s kind of turned into that player that we hoped she would, just in terms of her preparation and her approach to the game in all aspects.”
Four rookies made their UFV debuts on Wednesday – the former W.J. Mouat trio of Kayli Sartori, Katie Brink and Jaslyen Singh, and Lauren Sollero out of Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary.
Sartori, the most hyped recruit of the bunch, was particularly impressive. She came off the bench midway through the first quarter, and after a bit of a tentative start, she notched her first basket as a Cascade on a pretty driving layup. She would go on to swish a pair of three-pointers, and was one of the better UFV players on the night.
Tuchscherer noted that making their debut against an NCAA foe represented a bit of a trial by fire for the rookies.
“I think they’re scared spitless,” he said with a chuckle. “You see it every year, because we always start out with these NCAA games. Our rookies are just petrified in the changeroom before. They’re just shaking. You tell them, ‘Just go out there and play and have some fun.'”
This is the first time the Ole Miss women’s hoopsters have toured in Canada. They’re in B.C. for the week, also taking on Canada’s World University Games team, and the Thompson Rivers WolfPack.
“It’s been incredible,” Ladner said. “It’s beautiful here, and it’s a different culture. We’re learning a lot.”
Wednesday’s game is the beginning of a series of games against NCAA opponents at UFV. In addition to Friday’s rematch with Ole Miss, the Cascades women host the University of Louisville on Sunday, Aug. 14.
The UFV men’s hoopsters host the University of Texas-Arlington on Aug. 22, Whitman College (NCAA Div. III) on Aug. 26, and the University of Santa Clara on Sept. 9. Each of the games tips off at 7 p.m.