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Cascades slay competition in Canada West finals

I can tell you that it was the first time either of UFV’s basketball teams hosted a playoff series at home (both teams hosted this year). I can tell you it was the first time either team entered the post-season ranked in the top ten in Canada (both did this year), but I can’t recreate the magic of what UFV President Mark Evered is already labeling the “miracle.”

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By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 29, 2012

There comes a moment in the career of every university student when it is his or her responsibility—nay civic duty—to shut up, sit down, and cheer like &*%$#&. Last weekend was that moment, and if you missed it, well, there’s not a lot I can do. I can tell you that it was the first time either of UFV’s basketball teams hosted a playoff series at home (both teams hosted this year). I can tell you it was the first time either team entered the post-season ranked in the top ten in Canada (both did this year), but I can’t recreate the magic of what UFV President Mark Evered is already labeling the “miracle.” Still, shut up, sit down, and I’ll try to explain the pair of best-of-three series which went down at the Envision Center last weekend, and why many UFV staff and students had to spend Sunday and Monday nursing their vocal cords back into some semblance of normality.

Women’s Basketball: Defensive Domination

UFV Cascades vs. U of Calgary Dinos

The women opened this series last Thursday with a commanding 63-43 victory over the visiting Dinos, a victory made sweeter by the Cascade’s asphyxiation of a normally explosive Dino’s offence. Eight Cascades hit the score sheet in a confident performance punctuated by the staccato clicks of the Calgary coach’s high heels as she paced and ranted her team to a 20-point deficit.

After the game UFV coach Al Tuchscherer was optimistically cautious. “I thought we took care of business tonight,” he said, “and I thought we got the job done at this point. [But the] score is zero-zero tomorrow and if they come back and take the next two games who cares about this game really?”

Tuchscherer may play his cards close to his chest, but his team does the boasting for him. The Cascades came out Friday firing on all cylinders and benefited from monster performances from Tessa Klassen (34 points, seven steals in series) and Aieisha Luyken (25 points, 13 assists in series). UFV quickly cleaned up on a frustrated Dino herd by a score of 85-67, to secure a 2-0 series victory and a berth in the Canada West Final Four. The key, as always, for the Cascades was a defensive system which holds them in the game even when shots aren’t falling in the frontcourt.

Men’s Basketball: The Season of Friesen

UFV Cascades vs. U of Lethbridge Pronghorns

The last time these two teams met, UFV head coach Barnaby Craddock and star guard Joel Friesen were ejected in what is best described as a whistle massacre. The Pronghorns are big (epitomized by six-foot-ten, 250-pound power forward Nikola Kovac), fast, and frustratingly resilient. Kovac and his pal Daryl “Hollywood” Cooper ride an emotional game which frays tempers and bruises bodies. In short, they’re players who UFV faithful love to hate.

Last Thursday’s game played right to the Pronghorn’s strengths: it was a brutal, frenetic contest in which even UFV’s considerable physicality was battered into submission. The Cascades suffered from poor finish all night long, culminating in a missed lay-up in the final minutes that set the proverbial dagger in their collective heart. Kyle Grewal went 8-19 from field goal range, while Friesen was a heartbreaking 2-11. The Pronghorns snatched the game 87-78, and nationally fourth-ranked UFV walked off the floor facing elimination by a team that was barely .500 on the season.

“We’ve dug ourselves into a hole,” said Craddock afterward, “and there’s two things that can happen: we dig ourselves out or it’s the end of the season. It’s put up or shut up time.”

Put up or shut up indeed. In their hour of need, the men looked for a hero, and, at least in game two, that hero came in the form of six-foot-seven monstrosity Jasper Moedt. Accumulating 21 points and nine rebounds over the course of a 74-66 UFV victory, Moedt made Kovac seem puny by comparison. He attributed the transformation to a smarter defensive effort, and the faith of coach Craddock:

“I think a lot of it had to do with the confidence that coach shows in me. Like tonight when he says get the ball in to Jasper, get the ball inside, get their post in foul trouble… A lot of basketball players don’t really relish that contact and physical part of the game… but I love to play physical… that’s what I contribute to the team.”

Saturday night, game three, is the reason that this playoff series will never be forgotten. In a game that went back and forth, up and down, and possibly sidewise, the fate of the season came down to 13 seconds, a UFV inbound, and a two-point deficit. Cascades assistant coach Adam Friesen claims true competitors live for these kinds of moments, the chance, when all the chips are down, to take that final shot. The play was meant to grab a lay-up or an outside three from UFV sharpshooter Sam Freeman, but instead the playoff life of the team ended up floating from the fingers of an off-balance Joel Friesen with a half-second on the clock.

That buzzer-beating shot, which Craddock said, “will be remembered for the rest of our lives,” gave the Cascades a 69-68 victory, and proof that, whatever happens next week in the Canada West finals, UFV is one of the top teams in the nation.

I asked Craddock after the game if he ever wanted to sub himself in to take that shot, whether there were times when he wished he could do more than draw up the play and watch from the sideline. “Hey,” he said, laughing a little, “I want Joel Friesen to take it every time right now!”

Sorry Lethbridge, but this is the season of Friesen. Better luck next year.

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