CALGARY – Trailing for most of the night, the No. 3-ranked University of the Fraser Valley Cascades turned an eight-point halftime deficit into an 11-point victory, defeating the University of Alberta Pandas 68-57 to capture the Canada West bronze medal and, more importantly, a trip to nationals.
Outscoring the Pandas by a whopping 30-15 margin in the fourth quarter, the Cascades punched their tickets to Regina, where they’ll take part in the national tournament for the first time in their history.
For the Pandas, their season comes to a disappointing close after seeing a big lead disappear for the second straight night. Friday, the Pandas fell by 10 after leading the host Calgary Dinos by 15 in the semi-final, only to see history repeat itself Saturday night at the University of Calgary’s Jack Simpson Gym.
The Pandas dominated the opening half, shooting 40 per cent from the field against just 29 per cent for Fraser Valley as the Cascades struggled to find any flow offensively. The final five minutes of the opening quarter turned a five-point UFV lead into a four-point Alberta advantage as the Pandas ended the opening 10 minutes on a 15-4 run. In the second, the Pandas held the Cascades to just 10 points while scoring 14 of their own, capped off by a trey from Sally Hillier late in the half and Alberta took a 32-24 lead into half time.
The roles were reversed in the second half as the Cascades were lights out from the field while it was the Pandas’ turn to struggle. UFV shot nearly 52 per cent from the field in the second half, including 5-for-10 from beyond the arc as they cut the deficit to four after the third quarter before embarking on the 30-15 whitewash in the fourth.
Alberta’s lead stretched to as many as nine early in the third quarter, but back-to-back threes by Courtney Bartel and Aieisha Luyken brought the Cascades within two points with just under two minutes to play in the frame. A Sarah Wierks lay-up in the opening minute of the fourth tied it at 42-42, and the Pandas would not lead again after that point.
Alberta was led by Renee Byrne offensively as she came in off the bench to score 12 points – all from three-point land – in just 15 minutes on the floor. Byrne ended up as the only Panda in double digits, with Anneka Bakker coming closest with eight in her final CIS game. Kendra Asleson, Hillier, and Megan Wickstrom each contributed six points for Alberta, which shot only 27.6 per cent from the field in the second half.
The Cascades, meanwhile, were led by the tandem of Nicole Wierks and Kayli Sartori. Both put up matching 17-point, seven-rebound efforts, with Sartori adding five assists and a pair of blocks to her stat line. Luyken added 15, mostly from the outside as she splashed four of her seven chances from long range. Sarah Wierks matched the seven-rebound efforts of Nicole and Sartori.
Fraser Valley joins Canada West champion Regina and finalist Calgary as the conference’s representatives to the CIS Final 8, hosted by Regina at the CKHS March 15-17.