The Manitoba Bisons ended an eight-season playoff drought in pulse-pounding fashion, edging the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades 79-74 in overtime on Friday evening at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre.
The Bisons (9-10) have not tasted Canada West post-season play since the 2008-09 campaign, and they punched their long-awaited playoff ticket while simultaneously dealing a blow to the Cascades’ playoff hopes.
UFV (7-12) came into the night tied for the conference’s 12th and final playoff spot with the Thompson Rivers WolfPack, but held the tiebreaker by virtue of their 2-0 head-to-head record. TRU, though, defeated the Brandon Bobcats 80-73 on Friday to improve to 8-11 and take over the last post-season slot.
The Cascades’ playoff equation, then, requires a win over the Bisons in Saturday’s regular-season finale (5 p.m., Envision Financial Athletic Centre, CanadaWest.tv) and a Brandon win over Thompson Rivers.
“I’ve been saying since before Christmas, I’m not scoreboard-watching,” UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “We’re just trying to get our team to play at a competitive level. If we can do that on the last night of the regular season and it results in something good happening to us, that’s fantastic.”
The first half was closely contested, with the Cascades building a six-point lead in the first quarter before Manitoba rallied to take a modest 32-29 edge into the break.
The Bisons came out of the locker room on fire, opening the third quarter on a 16-3 run capped by an Emma Thompson three-pointer to surge ahead 48-32. The Cascades, though, responded with a monster run of their own, 17-2, to cut the deficit to 50-49 heading into the fourth.
UFV led 64-59 midway through the final frame, but the Bisons hung around and benefitted from Cascades forward Taylor Claggett picking up her fifth and disqualifying foul with three minutes left. A layup from the Cascades’ Shayna Litman with 48 seconds remaining gave the hosts a 69-67 lead, but Addison Martin responded with a bucket of her own to draw Manitoba even. On the Cascades’ ensuing possession, Sara Simovic’s turnaround jump shot from the baseline rimmed out and Katelyn Mallette’s putback attempt also rolled off the rim, and Thompson pushed the ball the other way as the final seconds ticked away. Her initial shot, a jumper from about 10 feet out, was blocked by Litman, but Thompson corralled her own rebound and appeared to drain a go-ahead shot with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. But she was whistled for traveling, sending the game to OT.
The Bisons opened the extra session on a 6-0 run, capped by a Thompson triple, and they kept the Cascades at bay from there.
“I just think it’s a perfect summary of our season,” Tuchscherer said. “Giving up 22 offensive rebounds, missing some key shots down the stretch, the idea of going down big (in the third quarter) and having to use a lot of energy to come back, and really struggling defensively for a lot of the night.”
Fifth-year forward Litman had a huge night for the Cascades, racking up 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. Simovic notched 23 points, and Claggett also had a double-double (16 points, 12 boards).
Taylor Randall paced the Bisons with 29 points, Claire Harvey was a thorn in the Cascades’ side with 15 points and 15 rebounds, and Martin chipped in with 10 points off the bench.
BOUNCE PASSES: Saturday’s game will be the final home game for UFV seniors Litman and Simovic. Their careers will be celebrated in a post-game ceremony.