By Glen Ess (The Cascade) – Email

Photo Credit Glen Ess

Last weekend the women’s basketball team hosted the UBC Thunderbirds in the first round of CIS playoffs. Having come third in the Explorer Division on the back of a six-game winning streak — a streak that had included big wins over the likes of Mount Royal University (82-54), and UBC-Okanagan (90-44) — the Cascades were in fine form going into the weekend against a UBC team that had gone 5-5 in their last 10 games.

Game 1: Friday, February 26

The Cascades took an early lead, scoring with their first two possessions. But that sprightly start was quickly stopped, with UBC’s defence holding the Cascades at arm’s length. The Cascades wouldn’t score again until five minutes passed.

The second quarter was much of the same, with both sides taking their time with scoring. UBC’s defence in particular looked extremely organized, and the Cascades offense struggled to make clear-cut opportunities. But UBC’s offence also struggled — the teams went into the halftime break with UBC only up 25-24.

This low scoring, cagey aspect of the contest would be a hallmark of the night, with several members of the audience, as well as announcer Tyler Dyck during the halftime break, bemoaning the low-scoring nature of the tie in its early phases. Almost predictably, the second half saw both sides go on offensive streaks.

Roughly halfway through the third quarter, the Thunderbirds started to pull away from the Cascades, helped by an uninterrupted nine point streak. The Cascades would match that with a nine point run of their own, scoring three triples in a row (two coming from Sydney Williams and Hailey Kendall scoring the third). That thrilling run brought an end to the quarter with that single point still separating the two teams at 42-41. Sadly, that short lived burst of point scoring was as good as it got for the team, as the Thunderbirds took control and firmly established their lead in the final quarter.

Despite the loss (62-48), Cascades forward Kayli Sartori led both teams in points with 17; she was joined in double digits by Shayna Cameron, who netted 10. In comparison, UBC’s scoring was spread more evenly across the team, with four players getting to double digits. It was this efficiency in offensive output, coupled with a tight defence, that saw UBC go into the second game with a chance to close things out.

Game 2: Saturday, February 27

Going into this game, it was obvious how pumped the players and the audience were. After all, if the Cascades were unable to win this game, the series would be over— with this in mind, the Cascades put up one hell of a fight. This second game of the series was far more intense, far more physical, and much faster than the previous night’s had been.

The Thunderbirds continued in the same form that they had ended the last night. It took them under two minutes to establish a seven-point lead, establishing an imposing 15-5 lead within the first half of the period. But the Cascades dug deep and went on a fine run, initiated by rookies Kate Head and Taylor Claggett. The duo helped the Cascades close in, ending the first quarter with a 21-19 lead.

The attack emphasis continued in the second quarter, as the Thunderbirds once again went on a scoring streak to establish a large lead. With an eight point lead at 31-23, it looked like the Cascades were heading into the half with some work to do. But the Cascades restored a little hope by cutting down the gap once more, as the half ended with the Thunderbirds up 41-38.

In the third quarter, the two sides traded blows, scoring point for point, before a late 6-0 run put the T-birds up 61-55.

The Cascades may not have been able to end the third by closing the points gap as they had in the second quarter, but they made up for it by doing so in the fourth. But the women weren’t done. Opening the fourth with a pair of three-pointers from Sydney Williams, the Cascades launched attack after attack, with Shayna Cameron prominent in driving towards the hoop. Cameron’s cross-court, lung-bursting sprints had the Thunderbirds defence unraveled time after time. The Cascades traded point for point with the Thunderbirds deep in the fourth, setting the game up for a nail-biting finish.

Thirty seconds on the clock, Kayli Sartori gave the Cascades a bit of breathing room, muscling past the Thunderbirds defence to give the Cascades a 76-73 lead. It looked pretty good: the Cascades could draw the series at 1-1 and require a third game to be played on Sunday. Cruelly though, the Thunderbirds were awarded a pair of free throws within those last few seconds. With the clock running down, UBC’s Shilpa Khanna scored with her first free throw, levelling the game at 76-76. But she still had one more, and if she were to score, the Cascade’s season would be over.

She missed.

An audible sigh was released by the crowd, and several in attendance spent the short break before overtime outside getting some fresh air.

Once the overtime period began, UBC reasserted their defensive credentials. The Cascades struggled to penetrate, once again stifled by the Thunderbirds. Sadly for the Cascades, the Thunderbirds were able to marry their strong defence with an efficient offence, scoring eight points in the overtime period to win the game 84-78.

The Thunderbirds win means they’ll be facing the Saskatchewan Huskies in the Canada West quarter-finals Friday in Saskatoon. Meanwhile, the Cascades season has come to a close, having put up a proud fight against an obdurate UBC.