A victory on the last night of the regular season gave the University of the Fraser Valley women’s basketball team a new lease on life.
They’ll try to make the most of it on Friday, when they open the Canada West playoffs on the road vs. the Victoria Vikes (7 p.m., CanadaWest.tv). The winner of the one-game play-in advances to the conference quarter-finals.
No. 12 UFV Cascades (8-12)
Offence: 64.5 points per game (13th out of 17 in Canada West), 38.6 FG% (11th), 25.8 3pt% (14th), 69.5 FT% (8th)
Defence: 67.1 points against per game (9th), 36.7 opponents’ FG% (7th), 30.1 opponents’ 3pt% (8th)
Rebounding: 39.3 per game for, 42.0 against; -2.7 margin (12th)
As the conference’s lowest playoff seed and playing on the road, the No. 12 Cascades will be considered the underdog against the No. 5 Vikes. But that fact, combined with the dramatic circumstances surrounding their playoff qualification – they needed a win last Saturday over Manitoba, plus a Brandon win over Thompson Rivers, to punch their ticket – means they can play unencumbered by the weight of external expectation.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it – when you’re talking about a five-vs.-12 match-up and you’re such a significant underdog, you can play with some freedom and without a lot of pressure,” UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer noted. “The new playoff format aids in that as well, just being a one-game series, so we’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Cascades are led offensively by the trio of Shayna Litman (17.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game), Sara Simovic (14.9 ppg, 2.8 apg) and reigning Canada West female first star of the week Taylor Claggett (13.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg). Fellow starters Amanda Thompson and Kate Head lead a supporting cast which will need to provide secondary scoring and a strong defensive presence to knock off the high-octane Vikes.
No. 5 Victoria Vikes (16-4)
Offence: 76.2 points per game (3rd), 40.8 FG% (4th), 33.8 3pt% (2nd), 73.2 FT% (3rd)
Defence: 72.4 points against per game (13th), 41.7 opponents’ FG% (15th), 31.2 opponents’ 3pt% (10th)
Rebounding: 40.5 per game for, 41.3 against; -0.8 margin (10th)
The Cascades did not face the Vikes during conference play this season, but they hosted them in an exhibition series back in October. UFV prevailed 72-60 on Oct. 13, but the Vikes bounced back for a 58-41 triumph the next night.
“We’ve had really divergent paths since then,” Tuchscherer noted. “They’ve had a great season and turned themselves into a dynamic offensive team. We’ve obviously just squeaked into the playoffs. We have a big challenge in front of us.”
Indeed, the Vikes are an outstanding offensive squad, led by their dynamic backcourt of Amira Giannattasio (17.9 ppg) and Kristy Gallagher (17.8 ppg). They rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in Canada West scoring.
The Vikes could hardly be any hotter – they come in riding a 12-game conference winning streak, second-longest in the nation behind only the No. 1-ranked Carleton Ravens (19-0).
“They’re really well-coached, and they run a lot of really good stuff offensively,” Tuchscherer said. “Giannattasio and Gallagher are as tough a backcourt as you’re going to see in U SPORTS. They both really know how to score. Ashlyn Day (9.3 ppg) has had a great first year for them – another tremendous scorer. We really have our hands full trying to stop their offence.”