It wasn’t a pretty victory by any means, but the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team isn’t trying to win a beauty pageant.
The Cascades had their backs against the wall on Friday, after the Lethbridge Pronghorns had knocked them off 87-78 at home the previous evening in the first game of their best-of-three playoff series.
The UFV men managed to extended their season, grinding out a gritty 74-66 triumph that was long on defensive effort but short on offensive execution.
Saturday’s Game 3 will be for all the marbles, and tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Envision Athletic Centre.
“We had a much better defensive effort,” Cascades head coach Barnaby Craddock said afterward, alluding to the fact his team crushed the Pronghorns on the glass 54-38 and limited the visitors to just seven offensive rebounds.
“I’m still real disappointed with our level of composure and performance on the offensive end. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we haven’t played our best basketball in either of these two games offensively.”
Indeed, for the vast majority of the first two games of the series, the Cascades have looked nervous in the shadow of the basket. Countless shots have rimmed out, from point-blank layups to wide-open three-pointers.
The first half of Game 2 epitomized the Cascades’ offensive woes. They shot a horrendous 28.6 per cent from the floor as the Pronghorns took a 34-32 lead into the break.
Midway through the third quarter, UFV finally “got the lid off the hoop,” as Craddock put it, as rookie guard Jordan Blackman came off the bench and swished a pair of three-pointers on consecutive possessions.
Those would turn out to be Blackman’s only two shots of the evening, but they lit the fuse for the Cascades. Reserve forward Spencer Evans followed with a trey of his own, and then star guard Joel Friesen came up with a sequence that electrified the crowd. Friesen soared for an offensive rebound, dribbled back to the three-point line, and drilled a wide-open trifecta.
Sheldon Bjorgaard tacked on a layup and a free throw as the Cascades ended the third quarter on a 15-3 run, turning a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead in the process.
Blackman, reflecting on his pivotal baskets, said he felt he needed to be bold since his team was struggling to score.
“Coach tells me to shoot the ball when I’m open,” he said with a shrug. “So I was just confident with it, and I shot the ball.
“I just did my job, played my role.”
Meanwhile, the foul situation for both team’s big men was a fascinating subplot. In Game 1, UFV centre Jasper Moedt and his backup Mike James had both fouled out early in the fourth quarter. In Game 2, it was Lethbridge centre Derek Waldner who was in foul trouble all evening. He played only 14 minutes, and picked up his fifth and disqualifying foul with 8:31 remaining.
Waldner’s absence opened the door for Moedt to truly dominate – he would finish with a game-high 21 points and nine rebounds.
The Pronghorns opened the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run to trim the deficit to 56-54, but the Cascades responded with a 12-2 spurt of their own to regain control.
UFV had some nervous moments down the stretch, committing several gut-wrenching turnovers, but they made just enough of their free throws to fend off Lethbridge.
“I was frustrated last night, fell asleep frustrated, but I woke up in the morning and it’s a new day,” Moedt said, reflecting on his bounce-back effort after spending the crucial moments of Game 1 watching from the bench. “I think a lot of it had to do with the confidence Coach showed in me.”
Sam Freeman (12 points) and Friesen (10) also scored in double figures for UFV, while Lethbridge power forward Dominyc Coward, with 19 points and 13 boards, led the way for his squad.
The Cascades limited the Pronghorns to 37.3 per cent shooting from the field, and did a solid job slowing Lethbridge’s leading scorer Daryl Cooper. The Pronghorns point guard managed just 12 points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field, though he did drain all 10 of his free throws.