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UVic men rally for win, while women stumble in Canada West hoops semis

UVic women lose semifinals to Alberta
Diego Maffia and the Vikes advanced to Sunday's Canada West final. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

The University of Victoria Vikes closed in on their attempt to ­capture a third consecutive ­Canada West men’s ­basketball championship, something that hasn’t been done in the ­conference since UVic won seven in a row in the 1980s led by Olympians Eli ­Pasquale and Gerald Kazanowski and other national teamers such as Kelly Dukeshire and Phil Ohl.

The U Sports national top-ranked Vikes ended UNBC’s charmed run through the Canada West playoff tournament Saturday in Winnipeg with a comeback 80-68 victory over the upstart 12th-seed Timberwolves. UNBC led 16-9 after the first quarter and 33-28 at the half.

“It was a battle. They ­[Timberwolves] are for real. You don’t beat teams like UBC and Manitoba in the playoffs if you’re not,” said UVic head coach Craig Beaucamp, following the game.

“We were searching a lot on offence in the first half. Our defence kept us in it and held UNBC to 33 per cent shooting in the game. And then Diego [Maffia] and Elias [Ralph] began hitting some shots in the second half.”

Two-time Canada West MVP and Oak Bay-grad Maffia had 34 points and conference second-team all-star and stretch-guard Ralph 25 points while forward Shadynn Smid out of Cowichan came down with 11 rebounds.

“We had only six turnovers and 18 offensive rebounds and those were key stats,” said ­Beaucamp.

Offensive rebounds are crucial for a UVic team that will keep feeding the ball to prolific shooting-guard Maffia even if he misses his initial shot or shots in any offensive sequence. It’s basically shoot until you score for the mercurial Maffia.

The Vikes will play the winner of the late-finishing semifinal between the second-seed Calgary Dinos and third-seed Winnipeg Wesmen in today’s conference final.

Meanwhile, 10th-seed UVic’s upset-strewn run through the Canada West women’s playoff tournament was halted Saturday in Abbotsford with a 68-49 semifinal loss to the University of Alberta Pandas.

The Vikes led 15-14 after the first quarter but were done in by a sloppy second quarter in which Alberta outscored UVic 19-4. Tana Pankratz, the only Vikes player in double digits scoring, had 12 points. Abigail Becker had 11 rebounds and six points.

“We’ve had better days,” said UVic head coach Carrie Watts.

“We had a great start but then got much too tight and gave the ball away way too much with 20 turnovers at the half.”

The Vikes lost their first seven conference games in the fall before a sudden turnaround. UVic had an eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday by Alberta. It had included the final six games of the regular season and two upset playoff victories over the Lethbridge Pronghorns in the first round and the UBC Thunderbirds in the quarter-finals.

The U Sports top-ranked University of Saskatchewan Huskies, coached by Canadian 2016 Rio and 2000 Tokyo Olympics head coach Lisa Thomaidis, defeated the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades in the other semifinal and will meet Alberta in the final today.

The Vikes will play Fraser Valley in the bronze-medal game today with the winner receiving a wildcard berth into the U Sports national championship tournament March 7-10 at the Saville Centre in Edmonton. Canada West gets three berths into nationals this year because Alberta is automatically in as host team, meaning the Pandas and Huskies have both qualified, with the third conference berth going to today’s winner of the bronze-medal game between UVic and host Fraser Valley.

“We are going to have to regroup because the bronze-medal game is huge with a lot on the line in what will not be a friendly environment against the host team,” said UVic ­bench boss Watts.