Cascade women earn semifinal berth at CIS national tourney

Windsor — The UFV Cascades women’s basketball team drew first blood and then kept scoring hits in Friday’s 74-60 CIS nationals semi-final victory against the McGill Martlets. Coming into the game, the Cascades were seeded fifth and McGill fourth, but UFV never trailed as they scored their way to the program’s first ever victory at nationals.

The Cascades will play against the Windsor Lancers Saturday, March 15 in the CIS Final Four, while McGill will play in a consolation round against the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. The Martlets entered the national tournament as the RSEQ (Quebec) conference champion, ranking first among CIS teams in least points allowed per game on average (47.3). The Cascades scored 42 points in the first half alone, and looked to be running away on McGill with a 42-29 halftime lead. To the Martlets’ credit, they out-rebounded the Cascades 25-7 in the third quarter and were rewarded with a reduced six-point deficit (53-47) at the end of the quarter. Key to McGill’s resurrection were two momentum-shifting treys from guard Helene Bibeau (3-5 overall) and dominant inside work from 6-1 forward Miriam Sylla.

The Cascades, by contrast, owned the first, second, and much of the fourth quarter. The contest began with a UFV 15-3 run in the first five minutes, enabled by a Cascades squad that shot 48 percent from the field, including 43 percent from behind the arc through twenty minutes. Nataliia Gavryliuk and Aieisha Luyken drove the Cascades push in the first half with 21 points and eight assists between them, peppering the Martlets with merciless precision.

Still, UFV’s game simply fell apart in the fourth minute of the third quarter and a 15-2 Martlet run ensued. The come-back invigorated the McGill cheering section, which included the entire McGill men’s hockey team, but the Cascades refused to be intimidated. The Martlets pulled within five, then three, but just when all things seemed their most dire, UFV regained some of their first quarter fire. Kayli Sartori made a free throw, then a layup. then grabbed the offensive rebound on a missed free-throw from Sarah Wierks to set up a pivotal Luyken three-pointer. Suddenly the Cascades were back up by nine, 66-57 with three minutes remaining, and McGill’s window of opportunity had all but closed. The Cascades were led by Luyken with 20 points and six assists, Gavriliuk with 17 points, and Kayli Sartori with 14 points and 7 rebounds.

The Martlets rallied behind Sylla with 17 points and 11 rebounds. “I thought our ball movement was fantastic in the first half and defensively we forced a lot of tough shots,” said UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer. “We started to kind of glaze over a little bit in that third quarter and they came at us super hard. All our time-outs, all our quarter time-outs, were just talking to the girls about relaxing and just having confidence in what we do and just finding something to make it happen. They did, and I’m really proud of them. McGill pulled within four at one point and we got some big baskets down the stretch, and that’s a big veteran effort for us.” The Cascades will take on the Windsor Lancers Saturday in the CIS Final Four at 2 pm (PST). Watch the game on Sportsnet 360.

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