By Ali Lee, with files from Canada West
(ISN) – VICTORIA, B.C. – The half-way hump is over and the University of Victoria Vikes men’s basketball team have just 12 games left in the Canada West regular season. The next month and a half will fly by, as the Vikes aim to make their third-straight appearance at the CIS Final 8, hosted this year in Toronto at Ryerson University. That journey begins this weekend, Jan. 9-10, with a road swing against the conference leaders, the Manitoba Bisons.
“It’s a tough weekend to kick off with as Manitoba are in the top of the conference,” said Vikes men’s basketball head coach Craig Beaucamp. “(Manitoba) are a dynamic team and can definitely score. At home they are going to be tough to beat.”
The Vikes (6-2) trail on the heels of the Bisons (8-2) in the Pioneers Division standings with a four-point difference paired with Victoria’s two games in hand. Manitoba wrapped up the first half of their season with a pair of wins over Lethbridge, while their only two losses came to each of Regina and Calgary. The Vikes also finished their fall half with wins over Alberta, while the weak prior they lost two games to Saskatchewan.
Over the holiday break the Vikes were in Santa Barbara, Calif. playing in the Tom Byron Classic. Beaucamp’s squad returned with a split result losing 81-80 to Westminster College (Utah) and dropping Westmont College (Calif.), 66-64, the next day.
Stealing a win this weekend in Manitoba promises to be a tall task as the Bisons are undefeated at the Investors Group Athletic Centre, winning their first six home games by an average margin of 18.3 points.
The outcome of the series may very well be decided in the paint, where Vikes big man Chris McLaughlin has overpowered opposing frontcourts this season. The 6-10 fifth-year centre is currently averaging 18.8 points, while shooting 58.1 per cent from the field and grabbing 9.8 rebounds per outing, good for fifth in the Canada West in each of the three categories.
“Chris has seen double teams for the past two to three seasons now,” added Beaucamp about his lone fifth year. “He is used to it now and hopefully we can penetrate off him drawing players. Either way, we will still try and get him the ball.”
Bisons head coach Kirby Schepp may give the Vikes different looks throughout the game if Manitoba is intent on containing McLaughlin, with fifth-year Wyatt Anders tasked to set the tone defensively early. The six-foot-seven forward is second in the conference in rebounding with 11.5 rpg, and he will be instrumental in limiting the Vikes’ second-chance points.
Guard Amarjit Basi (18.3 ppg) and forward Andre Arruda (13.6 ppg) lead the Bisons’ high-octane offence that is tops in the conference at 85.4 ppg.
Vikes floor general Marcus Tibbs (16.1 ppg, 3.5 apg) will be relied upon not only to score timely buckets but to set up his teammates as well. Tibbs’ ability to penetrate will be key in getting seniorReiner Theil (10.0 ppg, .419 3P%) open looks from downtown.
“There is no magic potion to winning,” noted Beaucamp about his team’s back-to-back 7 a.m. practices in the first week back to school. “We have been in the gym early because we still need to fine tune but it is a great time of the season as our team is also shaping up off the court. We talk about commitment, cohesion and acceptance of roles. We have a better understanding of that now and how each person fits into the big picture.”
The weekend series tips off on Jan. 9 at 8:00 CT. The second game is on Jan. 10 at 7:00 pm CT. Both games will be available with live video and stats on CanadaWest.TV.