The University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team punched its playoff ticket thanks to arguably its best performance of the season – and a big assist from the Brandon Bobcats.
Taking on the Manitoba Bisons in a must-win game at the Envision Financial Athletic Centre on Saturday, the Cascades had outstanding energy from the opening tip and rolled to an 80-56 victory.
That wasn’t the final piece of their playoff puzzle, however. The Cascades also needed the Bobcats to defeat the Thompson Rivers WolfPack on the road in Kamloops, and Brandon obliged, clawing out an 81-73 triumph.
Those results left the Cascades and WolfPack with matching 8-12 records, tied for the 12th and final conference playoff berth. But UFV will advance to the post-season for an eighth consecutive year by virtue of their 2-0 head-to-head record vs. TRU.
The Bisons (9-11) are also playoff-bound, having clinched their berth after Friday’s 79-74 OT win over the Cascades.
“Honestly, it was crazy,” Cascades fifth-year forward Shayna Litman said afterward, reflecting on her team’s high-wire journey to the playoffs on the final night of the regular season. “But we just felt so relaxed coming into this game. We just wanted to play and have fun regardless of what the outcome was going to be. If we did lose, we wanted to know we played hard and gave it our all. And if we won, same thing – we wanted to end the season on a positive note. But knowing that Brandon put up their third win against TRU at this moment was amazing. Best feeling.”
The Cascades blitzed the Bisons in the first quarter, building a 25-11 lead with Kate Head providing an offensive spark. The sophomore guard, who had missed Friday’s game due to injury, poured in eight points in the frame including a pair of three-pointers.
UFV pushed their advantage to as many as 19 points in the second, and led 45-28 at the break. They cruised home from there, never allowing the Bisons within shouting distance.
“The girls just went out and played tonight,” Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer said. “They were aggressive offensively, and they were a lot more active at the defensive end of the floor. Manitoba didn’t get a lot of clean looks early, and it resulted in us turning some of that stuff into offence at the other end. It was a really good start for us, and it was a team effort. We distributed our scoring a little more tonight, and had some people step up defensively.”
Taylor Claggett had a record-breaking night for the Cascades, racking up 27 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Most notably, she went 15-for-19 at the charity stripe, setting a new Canada West record for free throw attempts (19) and tying the all-time mark for makes (15) in a single game.
The previous record for free throw attempts (18) had been co-held by Claggett’s former UFV teammate Kayli Sartori (Nov. 5, 2016 vs. Saskatchewan) and Kelsey Lund of the Calgary Dinos (Feb. 11, 2016 vs. Regina). Seven other players have made 15 free throws in a conference game, the most recent being UVic’s Kristy Gallagher on Nov. 18, 2017 vs. the Saskatchewan Huskies.
It was Senior Night for Cascades fifth-years Litman and Sara Simovic, and both players contributed offensively in their final game at the EFAC. Litman scored 22 points and hauled down seven rebounds, and Simovic had 13 points, five rebounds and three assists. Head helped give UFV a balanced attack, scoring 11 points.
Simovic’s season-long performance at the free throw line earned her a place in the Canada West record books. She led the league in free throw percentage (70-for-78, 89.7 per cent) in 2017-18, and tied for eighth-best single-season free throw percentage in conference history.
The Bisons, who shot just 25.4 per cent from the field on Saturday, were led offensively by Emma Thompson (12 points) and Claire Harvey (10).
Tuchscherer felt that his team drew inspiration from the fact it was Senior Night.
“Senior Night should be an emotional night,” he said. “It’s a night where you’re honouring people who have played university basketball for five years, and that’s really a significant accomplishment. You really hope that the underclassmen are excited about that opportunity to honour the careers of the veterans. And then at the end of the night to learn that we’ve got at least an extra week, it was kind of fun to see their reaction to that and how excited they were.”
The Cascades are the No. 12 seed in the Canada West playoffs, and will face the No. 5 Victoria Vikes in a play-in game on Friday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in Victoria.