Cascades thrive under pressure, upset top-seeded Huskies to force Game 3

Cascades forward Taylor Claggett came up huge on Friday, racking up 17 points and six rebounds in a Game 2 win over Saskatchewan. (File photos by Josh Schaefer/Huskie Athletics/

It sounds strange to say it, but do-or-die elimination games seem to be to closest thing to a comfort zone for the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team.

The Cascades improved to 3-0 when facing elimination in the Canada West post-season, knocking off the top-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies 74-62 on Friday evening in Saskatoon to force a Game 3 in their best-of-three quarter-final series.

The two teams will settle matters on Saturday at 2 p.m. Central time (12 p.m. Pacific), with the winner moving on to the Canada West Final Four.

“They like playing in these situations,” Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer said of his squad. “It’s not ideal as a coach, but even when Saskatchewan made a push at the end, it almost calmed us down more than anything.

“I’ve never really had a group like this. I mean, they just go out and play, and they play different ways – we played a lot different tonight than we did last night. We had a real hard time last night running a lot of our sets, so tonight we just went back to more free-flowing (offence). It wasn’t really pretty, but they just played uninhibited, went for it, and made plays.”

The reigning national champion Huskies, coming off a decisive 78-55 win in Thursday’s Game 1, picked up where they left off in Game 2, racing out to a 13-3 lead five minutes in.

But the Cascades closed the first quarter on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 13-12, and they dominated the second, outscoring Saskatchewan 22-11 in the frame to take a double-digit lead (34-24) into the locker room.

Sara Simovic stepped up in the second half to help get the Cascades to Game 3.

The Huskies closed to within 51-49 at the end of the third quarter after five straight points from standout point guard Sabine Dukate, but UFV answered every Sask surge with one of their own, ultimately reeling off a 9-0 run over the last three minutes of regulation to seal the victory.

In Game 1, Shayna Litman and Kayli Sartori had both scored 20-plus points for UFV, but they were the only Cascades with more than seven points. It was a much different situation in the rematch, as four Cascades scored in double figures – Sartori poured in 19 points to go with four assists, Taylor Claggett had 17 points and six rebounds, Sara Simovic had 14 points, and Litman notched 10 points and nine boards. Sydney Williams hit a trio of three-pointers to account for all of her nine points, and rookie forward Jessica Zawada scored four points in 17 crucial minutes off the bench.

As a team, UFV shot a scorching 50 per cent from the field and 87 per cent (20-for-23) from the free throw line.

Dukate posted a game-high 21 points for the Huskies, who shot just 36.5 per cent from the field, and Megan Lindquist (14 points) and Summer Masikewich (10 points) also chipped in offensively.

“I was really happy for Taylor – I know she wasn’t pleased with her play last night, and we just encouraged her to stay aggressive today and she did,” Tuchscherer said. “She made some big plays for us, and I thought Sara, in the second half, was huge.

“I think the key, more than anything, was we were down by quite a bit (in the first quarter), and we got JZ (Zawada) into the game. She did some good things right out of the gate, got some good movement going. That kind of tweaked something for the coaches – maybe if we go to more of a motion-style offence, it’ll work. I thought her contribution was huge tonight.”

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