The University of Manitoba Bisons enter unfamiliar territory tonight against the University of Victoria Vikes. Not particularly McKinnon Gym, but the Canada West playoffs.
The former powerhouse Bisons program, which produced the likes Olympians Martin Riley in a bygone era, is playing in the Canada West men’s basketball post-season for only the third time in the last 12 years.
The best-of-three quarter-final series begins tonight at 7. Game 2 is Saturday at 7 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, is 3 p.m Sunday. All game are at McKinnon, where the Vikes’ 10-1 home record matches up against Manitoba’s 7-4 road record.
It will be UVic’s height advantage versus the Bisons’ quickness quotient, which has allowed the latter to be the fourth-highest scoring team in Canada West this season with an 83 points-per-game average.
“We have to slow down their transition game,” said Vikes guard Michael Acheampong, who averaged 13.2 points per game in the regular season.
“Their point-guard [Stephan Walton, who averaged 17.3 points per game] can go from end of the court to the other. We need court awareness. And we need to make them run their offence.”
The Vikes (16-6) lost their only game against the Bisons (14-8) this season by an 82-79 count on a three-point buzzer beater by the dangerous Yigit Ozsayiner on Jan. 12 in Winnipeg.
The Bisons, however, come in on a losing streak after dropping their last two regular-season games last weekend against the Saskatchewan Huskies and Winnipeg Wesmen.
UVic, meanwhile, swept the nationally second-ranked UBC Thunderbirds last weekend to end their regular season.
“Because their point-guard Walton is so quick and all their guards push, our defensive transition will be key,” said Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp.
“Offensively, getting points inside is what we do.”
UVic guards Acheampong and Brandon Dunlop are able to destroy teams from the outside, as well, but that job is made a lot easier when the inside game is going well through players such as six-foot-10 Chris McLaughlin and six-foot-seven Pierce Anderson.
“We look inside first,” acknowledged Dunlop, who returning at age 25 after three years off, brings a crafty court presence.
“We feel we have good size and our bigs will be key. And that also has the double effect of opening up our perimeter game.”
Six-foot-four swing-man Terrell Evans, the Las Vegas native who led the Vikes in scoring with a 16.7 points per game average, can also penetrate the inside lanes with slashing moves.
Defensively, Dunlop sounded a familiar theme about being wary of the Bisons’ speed, especially from their guard positions.
“Our transition defence will be huge for us,” he said.
Graduating Vikes Dunlop, Acheampong and Anderson bring another crucial element — experience — to counter a veteran-laden Bisons roster.
“Manitoba has several fifth-year players and this is their last kick at the cat,” said Beaucamp.
“They’ve not been in the playoffs for a few years and will be bound and determined in this series.”