The University of Victoria Vikes won all three games in the Guy Vetrie Memorial Tournament over the weekend on Ken and Kathy Shields Court at CARSA Gym, but observers will invariably point to one victory in particular.
The Vikes outpaced the defending U Sports national champion Carleton Ravens 85-58 in a match-up of the two greatest programs in the history of Canadian men’s university basketball. The Ravens have won a staggering 17 national championships since 2003, including the last four in a row, and 11 of the last 12.
“Carleton is the benchmark that other teams want to compare themselves against,” said UVic head coach Craig Beaucamp.
UVic’s dynasty days are further back but it has been a return to prominence for the 2023 national semifinalist Vikes, who won seven consecutive national championships in the 1980s under coach Ken Shields with rosters that included Olympians Eli Pasquale, Gerald Kazanowski, Greg Wiltjer and other stars such as Kelly Dukeshire and Craig Higgins. The Vikes’ last of eight national titles was in 1997 under the late coach Guy Vetrie, and was led by Eric Hinrichsen, who represented Canada in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“It was a statement,” said UVic star guard Diego Maffia, who had 21 points against the Ravens while Elias Ralph scored 21.
Maffia had 21 points, seven assists and six steals in the 96-73 win over the Bishop’s Gaiters of Quebec and freshman Griffin Arnett, like Maffia also out of Oak Bay, an impressive debut with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Maffia had 25 points in the 75-67 victory over the Alberta Golden Bears.
“It was the same format as nationals [which has quarter-finals, semifinals and final back-to-back over three days] and we talked about going 3-0,” said Maffia.
So in some measure, this wasn’t about a pre-season tournament in early fall. It was about the big one next March.
“We tried to replicate that,” said Beaucamp.
“We saw last spring at nationals we needed to be tougher and stronger,” added Maffia, of falling in the semifinals of the 2023 U Sports tournament after going in as the top-ranked team in the country.
The Vikes also displayed their recent resurgence by playing 2023 March Madness NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 team Xavier tough in an 80-68 loss to the Musketeers in August in the bdG Sports Tournament in the Bahamas before losing 103-77 to the Penn State Nittany Lions, who made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last spring.
“That was super exciting and an awesome experience for all of us,” said Maffia, who is in his fourth season with the Vikes.
“We surprised ourselves against Xavier and it was an exciting first step to the season.”
Maffia further prepared for the university season by playing pro over the summer. The defending Canada West MVP, who led the conference and nation in scoring last season with a 24.9 points-per-game average, was selected sixth overall in the first round by the Vancouver Bandits in the Canadian Elite Basketball League-U Sports draft.
The CEBL, like the professional soccer Canadian Premier League, has an arrangement in which U Sports players can be drafted and play pro over the summer without losing their university eligibility.
Maffia started four games and averaged 12 minutes a game and eight points and three assists for the Bandits: “It’s an amazing opportunity for U Sports players and was probably the best experience I’ve had in basketball. Playing with the pros taught me a lot about the physicality it takes to play against bigger and stronger players. I picked as many brains as I could.”
UVic will play in the Queen’s Tindall Invitational Oct. 20-22 in Kingston, Ont., before the Vikes open the Canada West season at CARSA Gym on Nov. 3-4 against the University of Calgary Dinos.