The University of the Fraser Valley women’s hoopsters were playing for their playoff lives on Saturday evening, but you never would have known it based on their demeanour at their morning shoot-around.
“They kind of surprise me sometimes, how confident they are,” Cascades coach Al Tuchscherer said. “They come in to shoot this morning, and they’re relaxed and joking around. Inside of me, I’m just ready to explode, and they’re just goofing around. I’m like, ‘Are you guys kidding me right now?’
“But they were in a totally good headspace. I didn’t want them uptight.”
The Cascades proved to be cool in the clutch, as they punched their ticket to the Canada West Final Four with a 73-58 victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies in a game which was far closer than the final score indicated.
UFV got off to a terrific start, building a 24-7 lead after the first quarter, but the Huskies simply wouldn’t quit. They battled their way back to within 12 at halftime, then opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to five.
The Cascades made a run of their own bridging the third and fourth quarters to build the lead back up to 14 points – Celeste Dyck came up with a pair of steals and went 4-for-4 from the foul line, and Alexa McCarthy knocked down a three-pointer.
But once again, the Huskies clawed their way back, drawing to within 60-58 after Kiera Lyons swished a pair of free throws with 2:14 left.
But UFV’s Aieisha Luyken and Nicole Wierks took over the game at that point.
On the ensuing possession, Luyken drove the left baseline and hit a tough layup over Dalyce Emmerson, Saskatchewan’s phenomenal 6’3″ centre. Then, at the other end of the floor, she hustled over to block what looked to be an easy layup by Lyons after she’d beaten her defender on the perimeter.
The Cascades took the ball the other way, and Wierks scored on a hook shot – the first of six points in a row for the fourth-year forward.
By the time it was all said and done, UFV had fashioned a 13-0 run to end the game.
“Those are just big-time plays by big-time players,” Tuchscherer said of Luyken and Wierks’s performances in the clutch.
“We faced a lot of adversity. We had a lot of kids fouling out of the game, and, I thought, some questionable calls down the stretch. You’ve got to give credit to our kids – they’re resilient, and they stepped up.”
The Cascades had shot the ball poorly in each of the first two games of the series – they made just 31.4 per cent of their attempts from the field Thursday’s 65-58 victory, and 32.1 per cent in Friday’s 67-56 loss.
They managed to boost their shooting percentage to 41.3 on Saturday, an improvement Tuchscherer attributed to an attacking mindset.
We needed to be a little more aggressive offensively tonight – we found we were really perimeter-oriented (the first two games),” he said. “A lot of our attacks were to the corners, and we wanted to attack the middle more tonight. I thought that was pretty successful for us.”
Chilliwack’s Kayli Sartori was UFV’s top scorer, notching 19 points and hitting 3-of-4 attempts from beyond the arc. Sarah Wierks (13 points) and Luyken (10) also scored in double figures, while Nicole Wierks notched nine points and 10 rebounds.
Emmerson was exceptional for the Huskies – she notched a team-high 18 points to go with six rebounds and three blocks, and was the major reason that both Sarah Wierks and her primary backup, Katie Brink, fouled out.
“They don’t quit – they’ve got a lot of pride,” Tuchscherer said of Saskatchewan. “It’s a team that we’ve always admired and respected, and that’s the reason why. They do it the right way.”