As University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball coach Al Tuchscherer toiled to build his program into a top contender in the Canada West conference, he used the Saskatchewan Huskies as a template.
It seems fitting, then, that as the Cascades get set to embark on the playoffs following a breakthrough regular season, the first team in their path would be the Huskies.
In many ways, the programs are mirror images, aside from the Huskies’ much longer tenure in Canada West.
Both teams shop local in terms of recruiting – 10 of 12 players on the Huskies’ roster are from Saskatchewan, while the entire UFV squad hails from with 60 kilometres of the Abbotsford campus.
“Even when our group of girls were in their first and second year, we always pointed to Saskatchewan – look how they do it,” Tuchscherer said.
“They’re always right there (contending). They recruit primarily Saskatchewan kids, they have a lot of pride in their program, and they’re well-coached. There’s just a lot of things I like about their program.”
Tuchscherer will put his admiration on the back burner this week as the Cascades (18-4), the top seed in the Pacific Division and ranked No. 4 nationally, host the Huskies (13-9) in a best-of-three series at UFV’s Envision Athletic Centre.
The series tips off Thursday and continues Friday and (if necessary) Saturday. All games start at 7 p.m.
EMMERSON A TOWER OF POWER IN THE MIDDLE
The Cascades’ first order of business will be slowing down Sask’s 6’3″ centre, Dalyce Emmerson. She was fourth in Canada West scoring (17.7 points per game) and third in rebounding (9.2) this season.
“She’s physically gifted, first of all – she’s got great length and athleticism, so that’s tough right out of the gate,” Tuchscherer said. “Then she can finish with her right and left hands, so any time she gets a touch in the paint, she’s pretty hard to stop.
“It’s about not letting her go where she wants to go. We’ve got to beat her to the spots, and we’ll take it from there.”
The Cascades counter with their own elite centre – 6’2″ Sarah Wierks was second in team scoring at 13.2 points per game, and her 9.5 boards were second-most in Canada West.
The Wierks-Emmerson match-up is a tantalizing one, but Tuchscherer indicated that Wierks won’t be left to handle her Huskies counterpart alone.
“It has more to do with what our team collectively doing what we can do to slow her down,” he said. “Sarah’s going to be featured in that, for sure.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cascades are a solid offensive team, ranking fourth in points scored (71.3 per game) and sixth in field goal percentage (.409) in Canada West. Most impressively, they lead the conference in three-point shooting percentage, knocking down 34.2 per cent of their attempts from downtown.
But it’s on defence where UFV really shines. The Cascades are Canada West’s second-best defensive team in terms of both points allowed (57.3 per game) and opponents’ field goal percentage (.327).
Saskatchewan is a great rebounding team, boasting the second-best margin (+8.1) in Canada West. Their offensive field goal percentage (.429) is also second-best in the league, indicative of their strength in the post.
HEAD TO HEAD
This marks the third straight year the Cascades and Huskies have clashed in the playoffs. In 2011, Saskatchewan – the top-ranked team in the nation at the time – beat UFV in the Canada West semifinals, and in 2012, they defeated them in the conference bronze medal game.
The Cascades prevailed in the teams’ only meeting during the 2012-13 regular season, winning 71-62 in Abbotsford on Jan. 11. The centres dominated that night – Emmerson posted 18 points, seven rebounds and an eye-popping six blocks, but Wierks outplayed her by a smidgen, racking up 21 points, 10 rebounds and six steals.
One encouraging sign for Tuchscherer’s squad over the second half of the season has been the contributions from depth players off the bench.
Players like Sam Kurath, Katie Brink, Celeste Dyck and Jaslyen Singh have taken turns stepping up in key moments. Most recently, Brink and Singh sparked a pivotal fourth-quarter run vs. Trinity Western last Friday.
“I’m really excited about that,” Tuchscherer said. “You see it with some teams – and we’ve been this way in the past as well – where you talk about your depth early, and then it fades off as the season goes.
“I think this is a year where our depth has gotten a lot better as the season has gone on. We’re getting a lot of really quality performances from kids coming off our bench right now, and it’s going to go a long way.”