VANCOUVER — The Fraser Valley Cascades vowed last week that they would never let indecisive play be the reason they weren’t advancing through the Canada West playoffs.
On Thursday, the unranked Cascades showed it wasn’t just talking the talk after the ice-veined archers from Abbotsford hit a season-high 17 three-point baskets (at a 45 per cent success rate) en route to a stunning 92-79 win over the No. 6 nationally-ranked and host UBC Thunderbirds in the opening game of their best-of-three conference quarterfinal on the road at historic War Memorial Gym.
“I think we were a little bit nervous (a week ago) and that was the biggest thing that we wanted to be different… our state of mind and mental understanding ,” UFV head coach Adam Friesen said in the post-game Thursday, referencing the way his Cascades had fallen behind by 16 points in its single-game, sudden-elimination post-season opening play-in game against the UNBC Timberwolves, a game Fraser Valley trailed by 16 at the half but ultimately came back to win 67-59.
“To win playoff games, you can’t play tentative,” continued Friesen. “We were willing to live with the result of any game this weekend as long as we understood we worked as hard as we could and gave it everything we had with no regrets.”
It’s the kind of stuff that is much easier to say than do, but on Thursday, Cascades’ players managed to inhabit the very head space their coach spoke of.
UFV led by as many as 11 points in the opening half after a Parm Bains’ trey in the second quarter, and although the ‘Birds were able to take their share of runs at the visitors, Fraser Valley managed to go into the halftime locker room with a 38-32 lead.
Still, it took a lights-out third-quarter performance by the Cascades, one which gave them just enough leeway to hold-off the late-game surge they knew they were going to get from the hometown ‘Birds.
In that third quarter, UFV shot 60 per cent (6-of-10) from beyond the arc, and outscored UBC 28-19 to take a 66-51 lead into the final frame.
And during those 10 minutes, guard Mark Johnson and shooting forward Sukhman Sandhu could not have been more in-tune with their surroundings.
Johnson and Sandhu each scored nine points in the frame on a combined 6-of-7 shooting from the field. Johnson hit three treys, and while Sandhu hit just one, it got him going as he would add three more triples in the final quarter.
On the game, Parm Bains led the winners with 26 points (5-of-10 from three), while Sandhu (4-of-8 from three) added 21, Sukhjot Bains 20 points (3-of-9 from three) and Johnson 17 points (5-of-9 from three), 18 rebounds and eight assists.
And talking about refusing to be tentative, Parm Bains made it clear afterwards that he and his teammates had clear intent to play without pressure.
“We just came out and played free, played confident,” said Bains, despite the fact that UBC forward Grant Shephard, who poured home a game-high 29 points, capped a 14-5 UBC run in the fourth quarter to make it 70-67. “We just let the game come to us. We didn’t really have any nerves or emotions. We just came out and played. We just played free, and we played high-tempo. We ran in transition, and we passed up good looks for great looks. It feels good playing in this gym – shooters hoops in here.”
Of course the task of maintaining that mindset will not be easy come Friday (7 p.m.) when the series resumes at War against a prideful UBC team which has its season riding on the outcome.
“We came in with the belief that winning was possible,” said UFV’s Friesen. “That’s where it started. In the first quarter, we did what we tried to do every single game this season, and that’s play defence and rebound. We don’t expect to score in the nineties, and we don’t have the expectation of scoring in the nineties tomorrow. If it happens, it happens. But we know we’ve got to play defence, board, and take care of the basketball. We’ll look to improve on those areas, and take care of the offensive end as it goes.”
The monster game supplied by UBC’s Shephard was actually a double-double performance that included 12 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Manroop Clair returned from three weeks lost to injury, and scored 17 points, a total matched by teammate Grant Audu.
UBC, however, shot just 28.6 per cent from the field in the first half and 34.2 per cent for the game.
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