First-Place Cascades visit Vikes in pivotal weekend homestand

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Andy Watson

VICTORIA – With a .500 record and just three home games remaining, it’s gut-check time for the University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball team and their quest to make the post-season by finishing in the Top 3 of the Pacific Division in the Canada West Universities Athletics Association in the 2011-12 season.

Dropping games to nationally ranked Saskatchewan and Alberta at home last weekend – games the Vikes led in and had a chance to win – UVic has forced themselves into a bit of a hole but has a chance to climb out over the next month.

This weekend, UVic (5-5) hosts the Pacific Division leading Fraser Valley Cascades (7-3) on Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. and on Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. at Ken & Kathy Shields Court at McKinnon Gymnasium. Live streaming and stats are available at http://canadawest.tv.

The Cascades (7-3) are on a three-game winning streak with recent victories over Lethbridge (64-56), Calgary (88-71) and on the road at Alberta (68-67) in conference play. Fraser Valley also posted a respectable 2-1 record at the late-December Windsor Lancers tournament in Ontario, dropping Ryerson and Bishop’s before losing to the host and defending national champion Lancers in the final.

However, the Cascades have the undefeated Regina Cougars (9-0) up next following the trip to the Island on the weekend followed by a challenging final four games, including two games against a hungry Trinity Western Spartans (4-6) team and two more against nationally ranked UBC (6-2). They only have one arguably easy game against winless Brandon (0-10) in between. This makes the UVic games all the more meaningful for Fraser Valley – a squad with just one road win this season (two losses at Thompson Rivers and one more at Saskatchewan).

Both teams have to be poised with first through fourth place spots on the line in the division.

UVic head coach Rich Chambers said the weekend games – and the next four overall – will likely be a turning point on the season. They are hoping for, at minimum, a weekend split against a Fraser Valley team just out of the CIS national rankings.

Fourth-year guard Debbie Yeobah agrees.

“These are very important games for a few reasons,” said Yeboah. “We’re fighting for a playoff spot, and also just to prove to ourselves that we can win in tight games. We’ve lost a lot of close games, and we need to prove to ourselves that we can close.”

“We’re making improvements,” Yeboah said. “But as nice as it is to be in those games, we need to bear down and get those defensive stops that we need in the last few minutes, grab rebounds and not give second chance shots, especially in last few minutes.”

“We’re in spot where it’s doable to make the playoffs, nothing is out of sight,” added Yeboah, who scored a game-high 32 points to tie a career best in UVic’s 88-84 loss to the No. 7 ranked Alberta Pandas on Saturday Jan. 7. “If we make playoffs we’re going to be tough team to deal with.”

For the Vikes, the weekend games against Fraser Valley are two of their final three home games of the regular season – the last coming against nationally ranked rival UBC on Feb. 17. UVic also travels to face three teams with .500 or worse records on the road in Winnipeg (5-5), Manitoba (3-7) and UBC Okanagan (2-6), along with a game in Vancouver against UBC on Feb. 10.

On paper, the Vikes have a chance to finish at .500 or better but they’d like to do even better with just the top-three teams from the Pacific Division and top four in the Prairie Division guaranteed a playoff spot – the eighth and final Canada West playoff spot is determined between the fourth-place Pacific Division team and the fifth-place Prairie Division squad.

UVic enters the game with the second highest scoring offence in the conference, averaging 76.6 points per game this season. The Vikes also boast the best assist to turnover ration in Canada West (0.9 rating on 14.9 assists and 17.0 turnovers per game). Jessica Renfrew of Victoria leads team in scoring 12.9 points per game (13th in the Canada West), while Cassandra Goodis of Penticton, B.C., and Yeboah of Winnipeg are the next two, averaging 12.4 points per game each – good for a tie for 14th respectively in Canada West scoring. Goodis is talso tied for the Canada West lead in assists per game averaging 6.0 APG.

Chelsea McMullen of Prince George, B.C. – a transfer in the off-season to UVic from Camosun College – has been great thus far in the second half. Often playing in the five spot to help out with UVic’s other two bigs – Sarah Semeniuk and Natalie Janssens – when they get into foul trouble, the small forward has been terrific in her transition to CIS ball. She’s the third big on the team but the smallest of the Vikes forwards, but she’s had a great effort including leading the Vikes with a team-high 15 points in the 62-52 loss to No. 5 nationally ranked Saskatchewan on Friday Jan. 6.

Meanwhile, Fraser Valley is a tough backcourt team with strong team rebounding. The Cascades are second in the Canada West in steals averaging 15.4 a game, and they enjoy the best turnover margin, outdueling their opponents for a +7.12 margin in turnovers for and turnovers against. Fraser Valley’s top scorer is Nicole Wieks who is averaging 13.3 points per game, 12th in the Canada West in scoring. Wierks is also the Canada West’s second best rebounder averaging 9.5 boards per contest.

“With an 18-game schedule, every win is so important,” said Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer. “We’ll take the two wins this past weekend and start getting ready for a tough test in Victoria.”

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