UFV men overcome eligibility violation to make playoffs
After finding out their season was in peril on Friday morning, the University of the Fraser Valley men's basketball team came out and took care of business in impressive fashion on Friday evening.
With their home-and-home set against the Trinity Western Spartans just hours away from tipping off, the Cascades players were informed that they'd been stripped of two victories due to the use of an ineligible player.
UFV and TWU had been tied with matching 11-9 records, both apparently assured of a post-season berth. All that was on the line was playoff seeding.
But with their record suddenly 9-11 after the forfeits, it was entirely possible for the Cascades men to miss the playoffs altogether. If they lost both weekend games to the red-hot Spartans (winners of six in a row coming in) and Thompson Rivers (8-13) beat UBC-Okanagan in their finale on Saturday, UFV's season would be toast.
The Cascades responded in the face of adversity, though, winning 69-58 on Friday at the Envision Athletic Centre to punch their playoff ticket for a second time.
"It was a shock," UFV shooting guard Sam Freeman said, speaking of his reaction to the eligibility violation. "The player that did it was rattled, of course, and they apologized and everything.
"But as a team, it didn't really affect us, as you can see. We came out strong and took care of the business at hand."
The Cascades put together a tremendous defensive effort Friday, limiting the Spartans to 33.9 per cent shooting from the floor. Only two TWU players, Tonner Jackson and Mark Perrin (10 points apiece), scored in double figures.
On the offensive end, UFV rode some red-hot outside shooting, hitting 11 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc (47.8 per cent). Freeman led the barrage, going 5-for-6 on triples en route to a game-high 32 points. He also snared 10 rebounds on a night where he and fellow seniors Kyle Grewal and James York were honoured in a pregame ceremony.
The details of UFV's eligibility violation are still murky. The athletic department has declined to name the player involved or clarify the precise infraction, though the player in question was apparently eligible (and playing) in January before his eligibility lapsed in February and is now eligible once again.
A press release is expected on Monday, but it's not expected to shed much more light on the subject.
UFV head coach Adam Friesen said he was "really proud" of how his players responded.
"The team reacted really maturely about the situation," he said. "They took in the information, they asked questions and got informed.
"They had the mindset to take care of what they needed to take care of."
Friday's win meant the Cascades had a shot at catching the Spartans for the No. 3 seed in the Pacific Division, but they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter on Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
UFV led by five heading into the final frame, but TWU out-scored them 23-5 the rest of the way and won 74-61.
The defeat sets up a first-round playoff match-up between the Cascades and the Saskatchewan Huskies (16-6), the top seed in the Prairie Division. UFV travels to Saskatoon for a best-of-three series beginning Friday.
The Huskies beat the Cascades 90-82 in Abbotsford on Jan. 11, but UFV was missing star power forward Kyle Grewal in that game.
"They're a really good team," Friesen noted. "We're looking forward to another shot at them with a full roster."