ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The playoffs are officially here!
With the regular season in the rear-view mirror in the Canada West, the attention quickly shifts to the First Round of playoffs. Some intriguing match-ups are on the docket on Valentine’s Day, no less, serving up a treat for basketball fans across the country.
Last season, the First Round of playoffs brought forth one upset, with the 11th-seed Winnipeg Wesmen knocking off the 6th-seed UBC Thunderbirds on the road. How many upsets we’ll see this year in the playoffs, if any, remains to be seen, but the games all promise to be exciting from start to finish.
Some teams have hit their stride at the right time, while others are searching for momentum as the post-season gets underway. All 12 teams have their sights set on a Canada West Championship and a spot at the 2020 U Sports Women’s Basketball National Championships in March.
One of the more intriguing games in the First Round of the Canada West playoffs pits two teams trending in opposite directions against one another when the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack visit the Fraser Valley Cascades in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
On one side you have the Wolfpack, a team that squeaked into the playoffs as the 12th seed despite having lost their last six games. On the flip side, the Cascades are arguably the hottest team in the country, having won 11 in a row to give themselves a massive boost ahead of the post-season.
Thompson Rivers and UFV met twice in the regular season, with both games coming in the second-last weekend of the regular season. The Cascades got the best of the Wolfpack in both contests, picking up two wins on Thompson Rivers’ home floor. On January 31st, the Cascades picked up a 75-50 win. The next night, Fraser Valley completed the sweep with a 91-76 victory.
After picking up four wins in their first five games to start the season off strong, the Wolfpack quickly cooled off. With just three wins over their final 14 games of the season, Thompson Rivers enters the post-season looking for answers, especially on offense. The Wolfpack average just 60.2 points per game on offense as a team, and they scored 60 or more points in just 10 of their 20 games this season.
The Wolfpack are led by a seven-woman rotation, all of whom have seen action in all 20 regular season games and average at least 18.8 minutes per contest. Leilani Carney led the Wolfpack in scoring during the regular season, averaging 12.0 points per game. Carney led the Canada West in free throw shooting, hitting in 89.4% of her attempts from the line during the season. Fellow guards Emma Piggin (11.4 ppg) and Jordon Haggerty (10.6 ppg) round out the players averaging double-digit points for the Wolfpack.
Guard heavy in terms of production, the forwards for Thompson Rivers will be in tough against a Fraser Valley team that is home to one of the top forwards in the country, let alone the Canada West. Lacking an elite scoring guard, the Wolfpack will need to capitalize on their attempts from the floor while limiting the Cascades’ forwards in the paint if they want to have a chance to pull off the major upset in the First Round.
On the Cascades’ side of the ball, they are riding an 11-game winning streak into the playoffs. Finishing 16-4 in the regular season and in a three-way tie for third in the conference with the UBC Thunderbirds and Alberta Pandas, the Cascades narrowly missed a First-Round bye. As a result, the Cascades will have to pick up a victory in a win-or-go-home game to open the Canada West playoffs.
The women’s program at Fraser Valley and their ability to come together as a team quickly has been well-documented this season. With three of their starters as first-year players, it makes their winning streak that much more incredible. Guard Deanna Tuchscherer has lived up to the hype, and then some, in year one for the Cascades. Tuchscherer is averaging 15.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, all of which are good for second-best on the team.
But, when people talk about the Cascades, the conversation starts with fifth-year forward Taylor Claggett. Highly regarded as one of the top players in the country, and rightfully so, Claggett will go down as one of the greatest players to ever suit up at Fraser Valley. Her list of accomplishments and records speaks for itself. Claggett led Fraser Valley in points (19.6 ppg), rebounds (10.4 rpg), and assists (3.4 apg) this season. She has 11 double-doubles to her name this season, and she has recorded double-digit points in all 20 regular season games.
Claggett also closed the regular season ranked second in the Canada West in scoring and first in rebounding.
Claggett is one of the most consistent players in all of U Sports and has proven to be a match-up nightmare for every team the Cascades have played this season. In the first meeting between Thompson Rivers and Fraser Valley, Claggett was held to just 3-of-11 shooting, but still finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The next night, she had 19 points and 12 rebounds, finishing the day shooting 8-of-12 from the field.
When the two teams met back at the end of January, it was the guards for the Cascades that did the bulk of the damage. In the second meeting, Tuchscherer fell just shy of a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 12 assists, and nine rebounds. Off the bench, first-year guard Nikki Cabuco averaged 17.5 points per game over the two contests, setting a new career-high in the process with 19 points in the second meeting.
While both teams primarily use a seven-player rotation, the edge must be given to the Cascades. With more offensive firepower at their disposal, and a roster that boasts one of Canada’s top forwards and one of the top young stars in the Canada West, the game is Fraser Valley’s to lose. Riding an 11-game winning streak into the post-season has the program full of confidence, and with two wins over the Wolfpack under their belts already, all signs point to a 12th consecutive win.
The contest gets underway at 6 p.m. PT inside the Envision Financial Athletic Centre in Abbotsford, BC.
– T. Bennett