UFV MBB Midseason Review
It is no secret that the margin for error in basketball is slim. A costly turnover, an ill-advised shot, or an empty offensive possession can spell defeat for a University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) Cascades team that is sculpting its identity in the wake of key players graduating last year.
The departure of three seniors — Navjot Bains, Mark Johnson and Andrew Morris — has thrust several Cascades into the spotlight, which in turn has brought both exciting revelations, as well as evidence of the growing pains that you would expect from a team that is learning on the fly.
Progression has arrived in the form of Sukhjot Bains’ improved three-point stroke, Parm Bains’ ever-expanding offensive arsenal, and the emergence of the likes of Matt Cooley, Kenan Hadzovic and Vlad Mihaila as key cogs in head coach Adam Friesen’s rotation.
Individual achievements aside, the Cascades are a group that is still growing as a unit. They are capable of competing for a Canada West playoff berth, but the window of opportunity to elevate themselves into playoff position is waning – a fact that team leaders like Sukhjot and Parm are equally aware of.
“We need to figure out how to finish games. That comes with experience, but right now we have let a few close ones slip away. We need to come together as a group and be able to deliver that knockout punch,” Parm said.
The Cascades entered the holidays with a 3-5 record. Despite the losing record, the team’s outlook on the remaining 12 games in the season is positive due to the fact that the veterans know that with improved offensive and defensive execution, UFV would have a winning record. The average margin of defeat across each of the Cascades’ five losses is 5.2 points, including a heartbreaking two-point loss in the season opener against the Winnipeg Wesmen, and a one-point defeat at the hands of the Lethbridge Pronghorns.
With 2019 in the rear-view mirror, the Cascades know that they face an uphill battle, though not an impossible one. After all, they’ve been here before. The Cascades put Canada West on notice last year thanks to a 10-game win streak, which proved to be an integral stretch that propelled the Cascades to a 13-7 finish and a first-round matchup against the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds.
The Cascades nearly pulled off the upset, stealing the series’ opening game 92-79 before ultimately falling to the Thunderbirds in three games.
“It was a disappointing end to our season. We felt like we had earned our place among the top teams in Canada West and that was our moment to take the next step. It stung when we let that slip away, but we learned a lot from it and realized what we’re capable of,” Sukhjot said.
The Cascades’ 2018-19 season needed a pivotal turning point against a Canada West powerhouse. Sporting a 1-4 record at the time, the Cascades defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears 80-73 to split a crucial series at home in Abbotsford. Though unbeknownst to them at the time, the win proved to be the spark that ignited the Cascades’ eventual 10-game win streak.
Just over a year later, the Cascades are at a similar crossroads as they face the 8-2 UBC Thunderbirds tonight. UBC currently sits third in Canada West behind only Alberta and Calgary. It may be too dire to label the series a must-win, but if the Cascades can’t at least split the series then they will need to recapture last year’s magic in order to claw back into playoff contention.
“It’s a huge series for us and a chance to make a statement. We’re not a team that you can sleep on. Yes, a few seniors graduated and we’ve lost a few closes one, but we have an athletic and motivated group that wants to surprise people,” Parm said.
There are no shortage of storylines heading into this weekend’s series. With a weekend sweep, UBC head coach Kevin Hanson would pass Don Horwood (Alberta) as the winningest coach in Canada West history with 314 victories to his credit. Parm Bains is also chasing his own piece of history.
Parm has hit 37 three-pointers through eight games, putting him on pace to nail 92 this season, which would shatter the previous Canada West single-season record of 82, co-held by Nathan Dixon (Manitoba Bisons, 2008-09) and Daniel Ferguson (Alberta, 2010-11).
On any given night at UFV, Parm alone is worth the price of admission. He has quietly risen to fourth in Canada West scoring, averaging 20.4 points per game, an increase of more than four points from his average last season.
A key pillar of Parm’s success has been his three-point shooting. He’s attempting roughly two more threes a game than he did last season and he’s hitting them at an extremely high mark of 45.7 per cent. Some might call that ridiculous, but it’s become the new norm at UFV. The best part? Parm’s shooting is contagious. His counterpart Sukhjot has improved his range dramatically, boosting last season’s clip of a 24.8 to 38 per cent.
As a team, the Cascades lead Canada West in three-point shooting at 40.5 per cent, but the impressive offensive stat will be relegated to background noise if the Cascades’ defence isn’t able to stymie UBC’s high-octane play. Entering tonight, the Thunderbirds were averaging the second most points, the most assists and the fewest turnovers per game in the conference.
“This series coming up has a lot of similarities to last year’s games against Alberta. We were below .500 and needed something to rally around. This year we have to take it one game at a time and not play down to anyone. Every team is tough and we can’t take any games off,” Sukhjot said.
It has been more than six years since UFV hosted the Thunderbirds for regular season action. All signs point toward the series being a shootout, with more than just a chance at redemption on the line.