Cascade women rally to beat Pandas

The University of the Fraser Valley women's basketball team is off to nationals after beating the Alberta Pandas.

Dan Kinvig,

Black Press

Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Canada West bronze medal game, the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team saw its season hanging by a thread.

The Cascades were the nation’s No. 3-ranked team – and hadn’t been ranked lower than No. 4 all season – but they were trailing the underdog Alberta Pandas by 10 points, with the conference’s last guaranteed berth to nationals on the line.

“You could see the girls start to look up at the scoreboard a little bit, and see a bit of worry in their eyes,” UFV coach Al Tuchscherer said. “We ended up calling a timeout . . . telling them to relax and have faith in the work that they’ve done, the systems they play and the teammates they have.

“We got after our leaders a little bit – just told them to lead the team. And I don’t know if it was as simple as that, but you could just see them go OK, take a deep breath, and get back out on the court and play our game from the defence out.”

Indeed, the Cascades were a different team from that point – they trimmed the deficit to 42-38 by the end of the third quarter, then zoomed past the No. 10-ranked Pandas in the fourth, out-scoring them 30-15 en route to a 68-57 victory.

With the win, the Cascades clinched a berth to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship for the first time in their seven-year tenure in the league.

“For us to get there, it’s maybe a little bit of a relief more than anything for a lot of the girls,” Tuchscherer said. “It was something we talked about from the beginning of the year – we wanted to be involved in this tournament.”

The Cascades had opened the Canada West Final Four, hosted by the University of Calgary, with an 84-77 loss to the No. 2-ranked Regina Cougars in the semifinals on Friday.

But they punched their ticket to nationals by beating Alberta for the bronze, with Kayli Sartori and Nicole Wierks leading the way. Both players notched 17 points and seven rebounds, tying for game-high scoring honours, and Sartori added five assists and two blocked shots. Aieisha Luyken chipped in with 15 points, counting four three-pointers among her total.

The CIS women’s basketball nationals run March 15-17 at the University of Regina, but the seedings and schedule won’t be set until this weekend, after the Ontario and Atlantic leagues wrap up their playoffs.

“We’ve been ranked in the top four all season, and I don’t think it’s going to be acceptable for us to go there and flame out two straight games,” Tuchscherer said. “Just getting there isn’t good enough.”

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