Al Tuchscherer’s biggest challenge this weekend was keeping his University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team mentally invested for the entirety of their two-game series vs. the Mount Royal Cougars.
The Cascades are a national powerhouse, ranked No. 3 in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), while the Calgary-based Cougars are a fledgling program in just their second season in the nation’s top post-secondary league.
The decisive nature of the results was hardly a surprise – UFV prevailed 79-35 on Friday at the Envision Athletic Centre with Sarah Wierks (11 points, 13 rebounds) and Shayna Litman (11 points) leading the way, and 77-46 on Saturday behind 13 points apiece from Litman and Kayli Sartori. The Cascades out-rebounded the Cougars by massive margins along the way (45-22 on Friday and 48-22 on Saturday).
That’s not to say head coach Tuchscherer was entirely happy. On Saturday, he pointed to his team’s 24 turnovers and the fact they were outscored 15-11 in the fourth quarter as signs they weren’t as mentally sharp as they could have been.
“You’d like to think they’ll go out and just play hard for 40 minutes every night, but unfortunately human nature is to look at the scoreboard and see what’s going on,” he noted.
“You’ve got to be able to fight through that kind of stuff. It’s the challenge we issued them, and I thought for three quarters we did a decent job, and then in the fourth quarter, not so good. We go into the fourth quarter shooting 48 per cent, and we end up shooting 41 per cent for the game.”
If it sounds like Tuchscherer is nit-picking, it’s because he knows his team needs to be firing on all cylinders this week, when they hit the road to face two elite programs – the No. 5 Alberta Pandas on Friday, and the No. 4 Saskatchewan Huskies on Saturday. As if the games themselves aren’t tough enough, the Cascades have to endure a six-hour overnight bus trip from Edmonton to Saskatoon in the middle.
“It’ll for sure be the biggest test we’ve had this season,” Tuchscherer said.
The Cascades (6-0) should be relatively fresh, though, as three key rotation players took breathers vs. Mount Royal. Nicole Wierks sat out on Friday, while Sarah Wierks and Courtney Bartel didn’t dress Saturday. UFV’s deep 14-player roster allowed for what Tuchscherer termed “maintenance days.”
“We’ve got Alberta and Sask coming up on the road this week, and we just gave them an extra day to get ready for that,” he explained.
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The weekend was a valuable learning experience for the youthful Cascades men’s squad, who showed vast improvement in crunch time from one night to the next.
On Friday, UFV led Mount Royal by four points with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, but struggled mightily down the stretch en route to a 62-60 defeat.
On Saturday, the Cascades built a 13-point lead in the third quarter, only to watch their two best players – guard Kevon Parchment and centre Jasper Moedt – pick up their fourth personal fouls in quick succession. That paved the way for the Cougars to rally, and they knotted the score 60-60 with 7:45 left in regulation after Awet Abraha swished a three-pointer.
This time, UFV responded with a 15-2 run, capped by Parchment’s highlight-reel dunk on the fast break which electrified the home crowd, and won 79-66.
“Our response was energetic,” Cascades head coach Adam Friesen analyzed. “We didn’t get down, we didn’t hang our heads. On Friday, maybe we didn’t know how to respond that well. We kind of learned from yesterday and did a better job.”
Parchment (29 points in 11-for-20 shooting) and Kadeem Willis (21 points, 15 rebounds) came up huge on Saturday for UFV, who were missing standout guard Klaus Figueredo both nights due to an ankle injury. He’s expected back for the Alberta-Saskatchewan road swing.
Losing both games at home vs. Mount Royal would have been a blow to UFV’s playoff hopes, even at this early stage of the season, but they were able to even their record at 3-3.
“We basically had to win this game, really, and the guys understood that,” said Friesen, who got solid performances from the likes of Kevin Ford and Gurminder Kang in Figueredo’s absence.
“We definitely became a deeper team this weekend . . . Gurminder stepped up huge.”