The University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team earned its most impressive win of the season to date, upsetting the Alberta Golden Bears 73-71 on the road in Edmonton on Friday evening.
The Golden Bears came in No. 6 in the U Sports national rankings, but the hot-shooting Cascades got a combined 12 three-pointers from Manny Dulay, Vijay Dhillon and Mark Johnson and shot 42.4 per cent from beyond the arc as a team. Defensively, UFV harassed the hosts into 35.4 per cent shooting from the field, more than 10 percentage points below their season average.
The Cascades (6-7, tied for 10th in Canada West) and Golden Bears (11-4, third place) renew hostilities on Saturday at 7 p.m. MST (webcast at ufv.canadawest.tv).
“We’ve been playing well in the second semester, and the guys are just playing with a confidence and belief and togetherness that makes us a challenging team – a team that you need to play well to beat,” UFV head coach Adam Friesen said. “We were able to hit some really clutch shots down the stretch tonight to pull it out.”
The Cascades got off to a fantastic start on Friday, building a 21-10 lead at the end of the first quarter and leading by as many as 12 points in the second. The Golden Bears, though, ended the frame on a 20-8 run to knot the score 34-34 at the break.
UFV surged ahead late in the third on the strength of a 9-2 run, highlighted by a pair of treys from Johnson, and they held a modest lead for most of the fourth before Mamadou Gueye sparked a mini-rally by a Bears. The hosts led 68-67 with a minute and a half left in regulation after a pair of free throws by Geoff Pippus.
The Cascades countered, as had been their pattern all night long, via the deep ball. Johnson swished a trey from the right wing off a feed from Nav Bains to restore the UFV lead, and after Pippus missed a triple at the other end, Dhillon pulled up from the top of the arc and knocked down a cold-blooded dagger to give UFV a five-point cushion with 29.8 seconds left.
The Cascades’ perimeter shooting and defence carried them on Friday – they prevailed despite losing the rebounding battle 46-34 and being whistled for 20 personal fouls compared to just 13 for the Bears.
“Offensively, as a newer group, guys are really understanding what style of play we need to play to be successful, and what good shots are for themselves are and for each other,” Friesen analyzed. “And defensively, we obviously knew they have some tough match-ups for us. It was some level of us keeping them off-balance and making life hard on their best players, and some of their other guys having some good shots and not knocking them down tonight.”
Dulay counted five three-pointers among his team-high 20 points, Dhillon racked up 14 points, and Anthony Gilchrist scored 11. Johnson’s nine points all came from beyond the arc, and Bains pulled down a team-leading 11 boards.
Gueye scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half to keep the Golden Bears in it, Brody Clarke scored 18, and Pippus registered 14 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.
The Cascades built some confidence last Friday against the U Sports No. 5-ranked Calgary Dinos, contending deep into the fourth quarter on the road before falling 92-87. Friesen felt that performance was a building block for the breakthrough effort vs. Alberta.
“Calgary was big, because we had that moment where we could really look at each other and believe that maybe we could get wins against quality teams,” Friesen said. “We just had to learn how to close games out, and tonight, some of the big shots and big rebounds and the way we protected the basketball were improvements over last weekend, and enabled us to pull it out.”