Cascades women’s hoopsters to host UBC Thunderbirds in first-round playoff series

Katie Brink, the Cascades' outstanding two-way forward, will play a key role for her team as they take on the UBC Thunderbirds in the playoffs this week.

Katie Brink, the Cascades’ outstanding two-way forward, will play a key role for her team as they take on the UBC Thunderbirds in the playoffs this week.

UFV Cascades (13-7, 3rd in Explorer Division, No. 8 seed in Canada West) vs. UBC Thunderbirds (9-11, 6th in Pioneer Division, No. 9 seed in Canada West)

Canada West women’s basketball first round best-of-three playoff series

Friday 6 p.m., Saturday 6 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. (if necessary), Envision Athletic Centre

Webcast (pay-per-view): ufv.canadawest.tv

The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team welcomes a local rival, the UBC Thunderbirds, to the Envision Athletic Centre this weekend for a Canada West first-round playoff series.

The best-of-three set between the No. 8-seeded Cascades and No. 9 Thunderbirds runs Friday (6 p.m. tip-off), Saturday (6 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m., if necessary) on the UFV Abbotsford campus. The winner advances to face the No. 1 seed Saskatchewan Huskies in the conference quarter-finals.

This series pits two of the most successful programs in recent Canada West history. The Cascades appeared in the CIS national tournament four straight years (CIS East Regional in 2011 and 2012, and CIS Final 8 in 2013 and 2014), capped by a national bronze medal in 2014. The Thunderbirds have been to the CIS Final 8 twice over the past five years (2012 and 2015), earning national silver in 2012 and bronze in 2015.

The Cascades are offering complimentary admission to school basketball teams for the UFV-UBC games. Coaches are asked to RSVP to event coordinator Alicia Hurley (Alicia.Hurley@ufv.ca) with the number of tickets needed.

“UBC is a program we’ve always enjoyed competing with,” Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “They’re a team that’s playing some fantastic basketball right now.”

A pair of rookies, point guard Kate Head (4) and forward Taylor Claggett (10), have boosted the Cascades' fortunes this season.

A pair of rookies, point guard Kate Head (4) and forward Taylor Claggett (10), have boosted the Cascades’ fortunes this season.

Indeed, both teams come in playing their best ball of the season. The Cascades are surging into the playoffs on a six-game win streak, highlighted by a pair of home-court victories over the Thompson Rivers WolfPack, who were tied for first place in the Explorer Division at the time. The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, have won three in a row, including a pair of lopsided triumphs over the Winnipeg Wesmen last weekend (77-57 on Friday and 86-38 on Saturday) to secure their post-season berth.

“Both teams have had their backs against the wall for the past few weeks here, and it’s brought out some good basketball for us, and for them as well,” Tuchscherer noted.

“I think we’re feeling pretty good. We’ve made some strides in our game, and we’ve been able to build our game around our D over the past few weeks. That’s boosted our offence a little bit. It’s led to an excitement in our team, in how we play together.”

UFV-UBC is a fascinating match-up on paper, based on the teams’ 2015-16 statistical profiles. The Cascades and T-Birds ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, in Canada West in points per game (67.9 and 67.2 points per game). Defensively, UFV (60.4) and UBC (62.0) are sixth and eighth in the conference in opponents’ points per game.

The statistical similarities extend to the teams’ shooting percentages. UBC shot one-tenth of a percentage point better than UFV from the field (39.6 to 39.5) during the regular season, but the Cascades had the slim edge from beyond the arc (31.9 to 31.4).

Personnel-wise, UFV is led by fourth-year guard/forward Kayli Sartori, who averaged 18.4 points per game to win the Canada West scoring title. The graduate of Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary also finished among the league leaders in rebounding (7.7 per game, 11th in Canada West), assists (4.5 apg, fourth), blocks (1.5 bpg, fourth) and steals (2.3 spg, eighth).

The Cascades also get tremendous contributions from the likes of fifth-year guard Shayna Cameron (12.5 ppg, 36.6 per cent shooting from beyond the arc), fourth-year forward Katie Brink (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and rookie forward Taylor Claggett (11.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg).

The T-Birds counter with an elite veteran duo – fifth-year point guard Diana Lee and fourth-year forward Kara Spotton. Lee, a two-time B.C. AAA high school champion with North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals, averaged 14.3 points per game, highlighted by 41.1 per cent shooting from three-point range. Spotton racked up a team-high 17.0 points per game on 48.6 per cent shooting from the field, to go with 5.9 boards per game.

“Both of those players are fantastic at creating their own shot,” Tuchscherer said. “They’re extremely intelligent, and very skilled.”

Tickets for the weekend games are $7 for adults and $3 for non-UFV students, seniors and UFV faculty/staff/alumni. Admission is free for children age six and under, and UFV students with ID. Cascades season tickets expired at the end of the regular season and are not valid for playoff games.

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