It’s entirely accurate to apply the adjective “stunning” to the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team’s weekend sweep of the UBC Thunderbirds, though the Cascades themselves might beg to differ.
This was UBC, after all – a storied program which has qualified for the national championship tournament seven of the past eight years, and which strutted into Abbotsford this weekend carrying a sterling 12-2 record and the No. 3 national ranking.
The Cascades, relative newbies in just their sixth year in the CIS, only began to garner national-level respect this season. They came in ranked No. 8 in Canada at 10-5, but had some ugly blemishes on their resumé – namely, blowing 20-point leads in road defeats to the Thompson Rivers WolfPack and the Saskatchewan Huskies in the first half of the campaign.
But as the T-Birds found out, the Cascades have matured a great deal since those early-season stumbles. They upset UBC 77-72 on Friday, then completed the sweep with a dominant 94-83 win on Saturday that wasn’t necessarily as close as the final score indicated.
In the aftermath, Cascades guard Joel Friesen acknowledged his team is coming of age.
“We always knew we had it in us,” he asserted. “I think it’s really been a head game for our team.
“We always come out hungry, but a lot of times we’ve come out a little too emotionally aroused. Against certain teams, we’ve started off really well, but we haven’t been able to play 40 minutes of good, hard team basketball. It just seems like the last couple of weeks, on and off the court, we’ve stuck together.”
If UFV’s win on Friday raised eyebrows nationally, Saturday’s triumph proved it was no fluke. The Cascades’ dominance of the T-Birds was comprehensive – they looked cool, calm and collected as they built a 26-point lead late in the third quarter.
UFV, with the game seemingly in hand, got a little too casual in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, coughing up a series of turnovers against UBC’s press that allowed the T-Birds to trim the deficit down to 13 points with five minutes to go.
But the Cascades buckled down from there, and five consecutive points from Sam Freeman – on a mid-range jumper and a three-pointer – essentially salted the game away.
The Cascades shot a scorching 53.1 per cent from the field, including 47.3 per cent from three-point range (11-for-23), while the T-Birds hit on just 39.7 per cent of their attempts from the field.
And for the second straight night, UFV beat UBC decisively on the boards, out-rebounding the visitors 44-30. (The Cascades won the battle of the boards 48-30 on Friday).
“That was obviously something that was on the white board (in the locker room) all week,” Friesen said, reflecting on his team’s rebounding prowess. “We needed to play physically, because we knew UBC was going to come out playing as hard as any team we’ve played. We needed to be mentally prepared.”
Friesen paced the Cascades with 23 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including four three-pointers, while Freeman bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to chip in with 19 points. Freshman guard Jordan Blackman (16 points on 5-of-6 shooting) and Kyle Grewal (14 points, six rebounds) also scored in double figures for UFV.
UBC’s Nathan Yu poured in a game-high 27 points, but Kamar Burke, with 13 points, was the only other T-Bird in double figures.
With the weekend wins, UFV (12-5) moves to within a half-game of UBC (12-4) for second place in the Pacific Division of Canada West. The Cascades wrap up the regular season on the road vs. Trinity Western this Thursday, while the T-Birds have two games remaining against first-place UVic (13-3). If UBC loses one or both of those games, and the Cascades beat the Spartans, UFV would leap-frog the T-Birds for the second seed and host a first-round playoff series.