UVic Vikes plot courses through hoops brackets

Forget March. It’s February Madness in Canadian basketball. But whatever side of the border you’re on, it’s always Game 7 in university playoff hoops.

Both the University of Victoria Vikes men’s and women’s teams survived their opening-round Canada West playoff games late Friday night with the seventh-seed UVic women beating the 10th-seed Regina Cougars 69-49 and the fifth-seed Vikes men outlasting the 12th-seed Brandon Bobcats 88-80 on Ken and Kathy Shields Court at CARSA Gym.

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The Vikes men advanced to meet the fourth-seed Manitoba Bisons in the Canada West quarter-finals next Saturday in Edmonton. The other side of that bracket features the top-seed Alberta Golden Bears and ninth-seed Lethbridge Pronghorns. The quarter-finals winners meet in a conference semifinal game next Sunday in Edmonton.

The UBC Thunderbirds, Fraser Valley Cascades, Calgary Dinos and Saskatchewan Huskies are playing in the other bracket being hosted by the second-seed Dinos in Cow Town.

The Canada West championship game is Feb. 29 at the highest remaining seed.

It’s a short week, meanwhile, for the UVic women. Their conference quarter-final game is Thursday in Saskatoon against the second-seed Saskatchewan Huskies, coached by Lisa Thomaidis, who guided Canada to a Tokyo 2020 Olympic berth in the FIBA qualifier this month in Belgium.

The other Canada West quarter-final in Saskatoon has UBC meeting Winnipeg. The semifinal in that Saskatoon bracket is on Friday.

The other women’s bracket is in Calgary, where the top-seed Dinos play the UNBC Timberwolves and Alberta meets Fraser Valley in the quarter-finals Thursday, followed by the semifinal Friday.

The Canada West championship game is Feb. 29 at the highest remaining seed.

The Canada West champions advance to the U Sports championship tournament March 5-8 at TD Place in Ottawa, where the men’s and women’s national championships are being held concurrently for the first time.

The Vikes men’s victory over the Bobcats on Friday had a real retro feel to it for fans of a certain vintage. UVic and Brandon between them won every national championship in the 1980s. Perhaps fittingly, the Vikes used old-school hoops to prevail by pushing the ball inside on the perimeter-playing Bobcats.

It helped in that regard for UVic to have previously injured forward Matthew Ellis, Dominick Oliveri and Jason Scully return to the line-up in the nick of time Friday. Ellis had 18 points and Scully 13.

“Not that it was an easy transition back into fold for those three,” said UVic coach Craig Beaucamp.

“Especially Dom [Oliveri], who had not seen live action in three months. It was a bit clunky until we got our footing.”

The opportunistic Bobcats used their long-range shooting to lead by five points after the first quarter. The score was tied 43-43 at the half and 66-66 after the third quarter. Brandon led in the final quarter and an upset looked in the offing until a late 20-11 run pulled it out for the Vikes.

“They [Bobcats] play like five guards and they shot the ball well,” said Beaucamp.

“We expected a grind, and we stayed the course by throwing the ball inside, and we finally wore them down physically and in terms of fouls.”

A critical byproduct of UVic’s inside superiority was the 50-30 advantage in rebounds, which proved decisive. Fifth-year forward Hayden Lejeune led the way for UVic with 18 points and 11 boards. Outside help was provided by guards Diego Maffia and Scott Kellum with rookie Maffia hitting for 15 points and the veteran Kellum for nine.

Looking ahead to the quarter-final match-up, UVic and Manitoba split their regular-season set 1-1 at CARSA.

“At this point, obviously, every team is good. It will be a competitive game,” said Beaucamp.

“We are built well to play teams on our side of the bracket in Edmonton, which all feature traditional big forward.”

With the injury situation resolved, Beaucamp said he is finally feeling better about his team’s depth, especially up front.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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