It’s just like old times.
The University of Victoria Vikes are back to where they haven’t been in quite a while — the U Sports men’s basketball top-10 poll.
The nationally ninth-ranked Vikes (5-1) take on the University of Northern B.C. Timberwolves (2-4) tonight and Saturday in Canada West conference play at CARSA gymnasium.
“It’s good recognition for the guys,” said UVic head coach Craig Beaucamp.
“We’re getting contributions from a lot of different players and our senior guys are playing and leading well. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Indeed, it will be difficult just getting out of Canada West, which boasts four U Sports top-10 teams with the Alberta Golden Bears No. 2 behind top-ranked Carleton Ravens, UBC Thunderbirds No. 5, UVic No. 9 and the Calgary Dinos No. 10.
The UVic backcourt has a solid one-two punch in reliable fifth-year point-guard Scott Kellum as floor leader and sophomore shooting-guard Diego Maffia third in Canada West scoring with a 20.5 points-per-game average. Kellum is third in the conference in three-point percentage with a 47.6 average. Dom Oliveri, part of a highly-effective and veteran Vikes forward corps, is fourth in Canada west rebounding with a 9.7 per-game average on the boards.
With UVic’s natural bye week abutting a pandemic week built in this season for potentially previously postponed games, the Vikes haven’t played in three weeks.
“It’s not ideal,” Beaucamp said.
“You hope your rhythm hasn’t been broken. You try to mimic game action in practice, but you’re playing each other. I’m assuming there might be a little bit of rust. It’s almost like going back to the pre-season.”
The Timberwolves are flying from Prince George to Victoria, over the blocked highways, which have caused postponements of several sets of Canada West games — Fraser Valley at UBC-Okanagan, Trinity Western at Thompson Rivers, UBC-Okanagan at Thompson Rivers last week and Thompson Rivers at Fraser Valley this week.
“I’m appreciative that we’re just able to play the games,” said Beaucamp.
They are at 8 p.m. tonight and 7 p.m. on Saturday evening in CARSA gym.
In women’s Canada West action, the Vikes (2-4) meet the Timberwolves (4-2) at 6 p.m. tonight and 5 p.m. on Saturday at CARSA gym.
The duel will feature the top two leading scorers in Canada West with guard Alina Shakirova of UNBC leading the conference with 22.2 points per game and Ashlyn Day of UVic second with a 21.3 points-per-game average. Svetlana Boykova of the Timberwolves, like Shakirova a Russian import from Moscow, is a factor on the boards and leads Canada West in rebounding with an average of 8.8 boards per game and showed why she has represented Russia twice in the World University Games, the previous time as captain.
The Timberwolves are coached by former Soviet Union national-team player Sergey Shchepotkin, who is in his eighth season on the T-Wolves bench. He played 15 seasons of pro hoops in Russia and Lebanon. Shchepotkin guided four future WNBA players as coach of the pro Dynamo Moscow team. One of his Dynamo players won a bronze medal with Russia at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
“We made good use of the break and there was good energy in practice. Our team is excited to show to our home crowd what we have been working on,” said UVic coach Carrie Watts, whose squad has lost some tight games in the waning moments.
Watts said this weekend is a good opportunity against a good team to display more consistency, and not have those small lapses in stretches that prove costly, and to show her players know games are not 39 minutes but 40 minutes.