The UBC Thunderbirds punched their ticket to the Canada West quarter-finals in heart-stopping fashion, edging the UFV Cascades 84-78 in overtime on Saturday evening at the Envision Athletic Centre.
In a game that crackled with intensity, pace and physicality, the two teams traded huge runs all night long. But the T-Birds had the last one, out-scoring the host Cascades 8-2 in the extra session.
UBC, coming off a 62-48 win in Friday’s Game 1, completed a sweep of the best-of-three series and move on to face the top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West quarter-finals, tipping off next Friday in Saskatoon.
“I’m really proud of the girls’ effort tonight,” Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “I thought it was a good bounce-back game for them. UBC came out really strong tonight, and we could have packed it in then. But I thought we regrouped, and we just battled all night long. It’s never fun to lose games, but when the girls compete that hard, you can’t be anything but just proud.”
The T-Birds picked up where they left off in Game 1 – they led 7-0 less than two minutes into the first quarter on Saturday, and were up 15-5 midway through the opening frame. But the Cascades responded with a 12-2 run, sparked by four points apiece from rookies Taylor Claggett and Kate Head, and held a 21-19 lead heading into the second quarter.
UBC reeled off a 12-0 run of their own to go up 31-23, but UFV hung tough cut the deficit to 41-38 at halftime.
The T-Birds scored six straight points to end the third quarter up 61-55, but the Cascades clawed back once again behind a pair of three-pointers from Sydney Williams and a series of dynamic drives to the hoop by Shayna Cameron. In the final minute, Kayli Sartori worked around a double-team in the post to lay the ball in, and UFV led 76-73 with 32.7 seconds left.
On the next UBC possession, Adrienne Parkin missed her initial shot, but wrestled down the rebound and laid it back in with 22 seconds remaining. The T-Birds had just two team fouls at that point, and after a timeout, the Cascades inbounded the ball successfully once to absorb an intentional foul. But on the next inbounds play, Sartori’s pass for Cameron was poked away, and Cameron picked up a foul in the ensuing scramble. UBC was already in the bonus, and Shilpa Khanna made the first free throw to tie it up 76-76. She missed the second, though, and Sartori raced down the court and drove to the hoop, but her finger roll rimmed out.
The T-Birds’ defence stymied the Cascades in OT, and Jessica Hanson scored four of her team’s eight points in the extra session.
“Both teams were giving it everything they had, and both teams were quite fatigued at the end,” UBC head coach Deb Huband noted. “It was a real gut-check, I think. I’m really proud of my girls, the way they battled . . . We found a way to force the overtime, and then come up with some good defensive possessions.
“Fraser Valley gave us everything today, and I think the game could have gone either way. They were very close to forcing a Game 3, which wouldn’t have surprised me. I’m just happy that two is enough, and Sunday’s a day off.”
Kara Spotton scored a game-high 20 points for the T-Birds, while Cherub Lum (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Parkin (12 points, 11 rebounds) both posted double-doubles. Rookie guard Hanson scored 14 points off the bench, and point guard Diana Lee contributed 13 points and seven assists.
Claggett came up huge for the Cascades, scoring 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field to go with nine rebounds. Canada West scoring champ Sartori notched 18 points and 14 boards, while Cameron and Williams posted 14 points apiece. Point guard Head had eight points, five boards and four assists, with just two turnovers.
“I think we played at our pace a lot more today,” Tuchscherer said. “We made a concentrated effort to push the ball through the middle of the floor, and I think that kept their defence off-balance a bit. It was just a real different game from both teams, I think. Defensively, I thought we were OK, but they had some good players in Spotton, who stepped up tonight and was a real handful. And Jess Hanson’s going to be a heck of a player.”
The game marked the conclusion of Cameron’s five years of eligibility. The Chilliwack product spent the first four years of her post-secondary career with the Quest University Kermodes of the PacWest conference, before transferring to UFV this season and emerging as a key contributor for the Cascades.
“We fought right to the end, and we’re not leaving with any regrets,” she said afterward. “I left it all out there tonight, and I know every other girl on this team did too.
“I’m not happy I’ve got to leave, but I’m happy I got to finish with this group of girls today. I’m just so proud of each and every one on this team.”
A contingent of Cameron’s former Quest teammates, and head coach Dany Charlery, made the drive down from Squamish to watch her play on Saturday. Reflecting on their presence post-game, Cameron fought back tears.
“They’re my family,” she said. “They made me who I am today.”