Now, the race really begins.
The University of Victoria Vikes men’s basketball team is finally at full strength, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Vikes (7-3) kick off the second half of the Canada West season tonight, (6 p.m. PT) in Winnipeg and they enter the contest just one game back of the Pacific Division-leading UBC Thunderbirds (8-2).
Back to full health are big men Chris McLaughlin and Pierce Anderson, as well as veteran guard Brandon Dunlop.
All three missed several games in the first half of the season. And they can thank the mid-season break for their return to health.
The Vikes last saw Canada West action in late November. After a few weeks to heal, UVic trekked to California for their annual winter tune-up. Now, it’s all systems go.
“We are healthy now, so that’s good. And we’ve really been working on getting our game speed back, so those games in California really helped,” Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp said of the trip to Los Angeles that saw UVic beat Biola University, but drop a close one to the defending NAIA champs, Concordia University.
“We had two good games [in California], and the Concordia game, especially, was a good test for our guys. [Concordia] is an excellent team and we competed very well against them.”
Now, the Vikes turn their attention to a Wesmen team whose 8-3 start has surprised a lot of people. They are in second place in the Prairie Division, behind only the conference leading 9-1 Alberta Golden Bears. The Wesmen have also proved tough on teams visiting the Duckworth Centre. Winnipeg is a perfect 7-0 on its home floor.
“They have a good record at home because they play you real tough there,” Beaucamp said. “They’re very much improved over last year so we will have our hands full and will have to play a solid game at both ends of the floor.”
The Wesmen, who average 80 points a game — good for sixth in Canada West, are led by Steven Wesley, who is 10th in the conference in scoring with 17 points a game.
The Vikes will counter with the conference’s third best defence and sharp-shooting veterans Terrell Evans and Michael Acheampong. Evans is 15th in the conference in scoring, averaging 16.4 points per game, while Acheampong averages 13.
After tonight’s game, the Vikes will head across town to the University of Manitoba to face the 7-4 Bisons, led by the conference’s fourth best scorer, Stephan Walton, and his 18.4 points a game.
n The UVic women enter today’s game (4 p.m. PT) in Winnipeg needing some wins to stay in the playoff hunt.
The 6-4 Vikes are fourth in the Pacific Division and could use a sweep of their two games in the Manitoba capital against the 5-6 Wesmen and 2-9 Bisons.
The Vikes are coming off a pair of losses on their mid-season California trip, and associate coach Dani Sinclair knows her team will have to be a lot better starting this weekend.
“We didn’t perform as well as we would have liked in California so it’s important we get back to playing good basketball,” Sinclair said. “We didn’t shoot very well, even missed a lot of easy ones. So we’ve got to be better.”
The weekend is a homecoming for Vikes veteran Debbie Yeboah, who graduated from Sisler High School in Winnipeg. And the Vikes will need Yeboah’s 18.4 points a game, fourth best in Canada West, to help break down a Wesmen defence that is fifth best in the conference, allowing just 61 points a game.
“They play tough in their own gym and they use a zone defence, which throws a lot of teams off, so we’re going to have to be patient on offence and capitalize on our chances,” Sinclair said.
On Saturday, Sinclair’s squad will likely have an easier time as the last-place Bisons are the lowest scoring team in Canada West, averaging just 41.3 points a game.
After this weekend, the Vikes return home to face Regina and Brandon next week.