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Vikes conclude business at CARSA by sweeping WolfPack

UVic teams now get set for Canada West championship tournaments
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Vikes guard Diego Maffia drives to the hoop against Wolfpack guard Daniel Bost during Canada West basketball action at CARSA gym on Thursday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The University of Victoria Vikes gathered in a circle at centre Thursday night on Ken and Kathy Shields Court, following the 88-55 win over the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack, and saluted their fans. Their season is over in CARSA gym, but far from it overall, as the top-ranked U Sports men’s basketball team in the country is headed to the Canada West playoff tournament Feb. 21-25 in Winnipeg as the top seed.

“Our standards are so high that sometimes we don’t celebrate the lesser achievements [like winning the Canada West regular-season title at 17-3] but you should celebrate them,” said Vikes star guard Diego Maffia.

Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp concurred that his group should savour every moment along the journey: “We have bigger goals, but this is still an accomplishment, and I’m proud of the guys because it’s not easy to win the regular season against 16 other teams in the conference. That’s over 20 games — and all with a target on our backs this season — and not just one, two or three games in the playoffs.”

Unfortunately for the Vikes, the new single-venue Canada West playoff format negates any home-court advantage in the post-season, such as the defending Canada West champion Vikes enjoyed in a pulsating and packed CARSA gym in last year’s playoff format in which the higher seeds hosted playoff games.

“Nobody will have home-court advantage under this new format, unless its Winnipeg, Brandon or Manitoba [the Wesmen, Bobcats and Bisons have all qualified for the Canada West tournament in Winnipeg],” noted Beaucamp.

Maffia admitted the lift provided by the CARSA faithful last year will be missed in the post-season this year: “It’s not ideal not being at home. But we play better on the road and are excited about going to ­Manitoba.”

The mercurial fourth-year sensation Maffia, two-time Canada West scoring champion, led the Vikes with 30 points Thursday while rookie Griffin Arnatt, also out of Oak Bay, added 18 points and Renoldo Robinson 11.

“This was a good regular-season finish for us this week [in the two-game sweep of the WolfPack] but our goal is to go all the way [national championship],” said the dynamic sophomore Robinson.

“We know we are going to have to be prepared.”

The WolfPack finished 6-14 and will miss the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the UVic women’s team (10-10) won its sixth-consecutive game by downing Thompson Rivers (2-18) by a 70-41 count Thursday as Tana Pankratz led the Vikes with 19 points while Abigail Becker scored 13.

UVic has clinched a playoff berth in the Canada West tournament Feb. 21-25 in Abbotsford while the WolfPack are eliminated. UVic’s turnaround, after losing its first seven conference games of the season, has been keyed by Canada West top-10 scorers Becker and Pankratz, the latter who returned from injury mid-season to energize the team.

“It was a slow start against some tough teams early in the season but we turned it around,” said Pankratz, who will be returning to her hometown of Abbotsford for the Canada West tournament.

“We had a lot of new players but now we have meshed well on and off the court.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com