For the fourth straight year, the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team is headed to the Canada West Final Four.
The Cascades punched their ticket on Saturday evening at the Envision Athletic Centre, beating the Calgary Dinos 72-65 to complete a two-game sweep of their best-of-three quarter-final series.
UFV, coming off a 78-71 win on Friday, looked to have Game 2 well in hand – they led by 23 points (54-31) with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter after Manny Dulay swished a three-pointer. But the Dinos clawed nearly all the way back, drawing to within 67-65 after Jhony Verrone made a layup with 1:27 left in regulation.
Cascades power forward Nate Brown answered with a hook shot, though, and fifth-year centre Jasper Moedt soared for a defensive rebound in traffic on the next Calgary possession and hit two subsequent free throws to get the lead back to 71-65 with 23.5 seconds remaining and essentially salt the game away.
“Four straight years (in the Final Four) for UFV, I think that’s an unbelievable feat,” Cascades head coach Adam Friesen marveled. “It’s a comment on the guys that we have – guys are willing to come on board and believe in a dream that we could work hard enough to compete with the bigger schools and give ourselves chances to go to nationals. I’m glad all the hard work’s paying off.”
Third-year point guard Dulay finished with a game-high 21 points – when he wasn’t knocking down shots from beyond the arc (he went 4-for-7 from three-point range) he was penetrating into the paint to hit floaters over the outstretched arms of Dinos defenders. He also notched five assists and four rebounds.
Brown stuffed the stat sheet with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals, and Moedt had a double-double for the second straight night with 11 points and 13 boards. Kadeem Willis chipped in with 11 points off the bench, and Dominque Brooks, Kevon Parchment and Vijay Dhillon made an impact with their defensive effort, chasing Calgary star Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson all over the court.
Ogungbemi-Jackson, playing what turned out to be the final game of his outstanding Canada West career, had only four points to his credit through three quarters, but he erupted for 12 points in the fourth to lead the Dinos’ comeback.
Canada West rookie of the year Lars Schleuter finished with 12 points, while Abbotsford native Matt Letkeman had 10 points and four boards off the Dinos bench.
“A win’s a win at the end of the day, but still, we have to learn from this going into our Final Four games,” Dulay said. “When you have a lead, you have to finish it off.”
Friesen had a great deal of respect for Ogungbemi-Jackson’s effort in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t shoot the basketball particularly well, and the short end of it is, Jarred Jackson happened,” he said. “When you have him on your team, you’re never out of it, and we know that. We know he’s one of the best players in the country, and you’re in a situation as a fifth-year where you’re battling for your career. You’re going to go out swinging. He put on one heck of a performance in the fourth quarter.”
The Cascades, the Explorer Division champs and the No. 2 overall seed in the Canada West playoffs, are one of only two programs that can boast four straight conference Final Four berths, the Victoria Vikes being the other. No. 3-seeded UVic completed a two-game sweep of the No. 6 Alberta Golden Bears on Friday.
The No. 4 UBC Thunderbirds are also Final Four bound, having finished off the No. 5 UNBC Timberwolves in two games.
The last quarter-final series to be decided features the No. 1 Saskatchewan Huskies and the No. 8 Thompson Rivers WolfPack. Host Sask took Game 1 96-82 on Friday, but dropped an 81-75 decision tonight to necessitate a rubber match on Sunday. If Thompson Rivers wins, UFV would host the Final Four. If the Huskies prevail, they would host.
The Cascades’ first trip to the Final Four in 2012 yielded a conference silver medal and an eventual fourth-place finish at CIS nationals, but they’ve suffered semifinal losses each of the last two years en route to fourth place.
“We learned a lot from losing the last couple years, and we know we have a special team,” Dulay said. “We have a lot of good pieces on our team and feel like we can make it far. It’s just about taking care of business at the end of the day.”