It’s enough to make people hark back to the glory days of Kathy Shields and Don Horwood.
The Alberta Golden Bears are 4-0 and ranked No. 5 in the U Sports national top-10 men’s basketball poll, heady heights reminiscent of when head coach Horwood graduated from his B.C. high school dynasty at Oak Bay to guide the Golden Bears to three national titles between 1994 and 2002.
The University of Victoria Vikes women’s team is 2-0 and has cracked the U Sports top 10 this season. The Vikes dropped this week from eight to nine after being idle during the bye week, but it doesn’t take away from the fact the Vikes are back in the national conversation. The last of UVic’s nine women’s national championships, eight of them under the legendary Shields, came in 2003.
The week’s rankings set up a compelling weekend in Canada West hoops as the Golden Bears and Pandas sweep onto Ken and Kathy Shields court at CARSA gymnasium. The Vikes and Pandas (3-1) meet in women’s action at 6 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday. The Vikes and Golden Bears men’s games are at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s obviously early in the season. But I feel we have been hovering around the top 15 in the country the last few years,” said UVic head coach Dani Sinclair, who as a player, was part of that Vikes championship heritage.
An intriguing amalgam of rookies and veterans played big roles as UVic swept the University of Northern B.C. Timberwolves two weeks ago in Prince George to open the Canada West season.
“Three of our four rookies have been in the mix,” said Sinclair, citing prize recruit Tana Pankratz from Abbotsford in particular.
On the veteran side, Sinclair pointed to the opening-weekend contributions of fifth-year Kristy Gallagher and fourth-year Marissa Dheensaw, who both return after missing all of last season to injury.
“Marissa and Kristy are playing with much more maturity and have brought another level to this team,” Sinclair said.
“Maintaining the consistency we achieved in the first two games of the season will be the key this weekend.”
The Vikes men (1-1), meanwhile, split their conference openers against UNBC and will face a much bigger challenge this weekend against the Golden Bears.
“Alberta was at nationals last season, and has been near the top of our conference for two years, and brings back a good nucleus,” noted UVic head coach Craig Beaucamp.
“The Golden Bears are deep and athletic, particularly in the backcourt.”
It is stark in terms of match-ups.
“They are small. We are big,” said Beaucamp.
“We have got to be able to pound it inside.”
In order to do that, the inside has to open up. You only do that by also showing an ability to hit your outside shots to keep the opposing defence honest on the perimeter and not let it pack into the middle without consequence.
UVic point-guard Scott Kellum has hit the longball with regularity since his Canada West rookie-of-the-year season and is integral to the Vikes now as the fourth-year team general. Part of his role is to mentor prize rookie recruit Diego Maffia out of Oak Bay, who many believe has the potential over his career to possibly rival the likes of legendary former Canada West shooting guards such as Canadian national teamers ‘King’ Karl Tilleman and Richard Bohne.
“It is your guards who set the table,” said Beaucamp.