By Ali Lee, Vikes Communications
VICTORIA, B.C. – The holiday hangover comes to an end as this weekend Canada West basketball returns to the hard wood following a one-month hiatus. Head coach Craig Beaucamp and his University of Victoria Vikes hoopsters will be looking to continue improvement on their 5-3 Fall record against a strong 6-2 Manitoba line up this weekend, Jan. 8-9, on the CARSA Performance Gym floors in Victoria.
Despite the long break from Canada West play the Vikes have been hard at work over December including experimenting with line ups through a series of home scrimmages and exhibition games against Simon Fraser University and UBC Okanagan.
“It’s been a long time with no games but our scrimmages and exhibition game gave us flexibility to play a lot of our players in different combinations,” said Beaucamp, on the hunt for his fourth-straight CIS Final 8 appearance. “The team is getting back into routine now but I’m sure the guys are anxious for league play.”
A half-way check in with the Canada West standings puts Thompson Rivers at the top of the Explorer Division with a confident 7-1 record, while very little separates the top six teams in the Pioneer Division. The Bisons are on top of the league with a 6-2 record, alongside UBC, while Lethbridge are 5-1 with two games in hand. The Vikes are currently in sixth spot with a 5-3 record, where their five victories all came at the start of their season.
“Just one game separates the top teams in our division,” added Beaucamp on the current standings. “In the first half of the season we had strong points per possession and we need to continue that but defensively, as individuals and as a team, we need to be better to play at a championship level. We need to limit the fouling when we are on the road and at home it is doubly important as we get closer to battling for playoff positions.”
Manitoba are no stranger to the top of the standings this season, currently averaging five players in double-digit scoring. Senior guard AJ Basi leads the Bisons with 19.4 points per game, while Justus Alleyn (15.0) and Keith Omoerah (12.1) are also key contributors to the team being second in the conference in scoring. Senior forward Wyatt Anders leads defensively, currently averaging 12.6 rebounds per game.
“Manitoba are one of the best teams in the conference, I believe,” said the Victoria bench boss of this weekend’s double-header opponents. “They are one of the deeper teams, especially in their guard play and they have a solid front line. They are a group that has been together for a while and they are just coming off winning the Wesmen Classic over the break.”
In addition to a boost in defensive play, the Vikes will look towards the leadership of the fifth-year duo of Reiner Theil and Mack Roth. Guard-forward Roth leads the Vikes with an average of 17.1 points per game, while former Canada West Defensive Player of the Year Theil leads defensively with 6.6 rebounds per game. Fourth year Grant Sitton has been an important scorer for Victoria as the Clackamas Community College transfer is on the stat sheet with an average of 16.0 points per game and shooting 46.4 per cent from beyond the arc. Beyond these veterans the Vikes will also need important minutes from the supporting cast.
“We continue to utilize Brandon (Dunlop) and Kai (Greene) at the point,” described Beaucamp of his fifth and second-year point guards. “We will also be looking to Jordan Charles and his perimeter shooting as well as his brother Josh who now has a full term under his belt and had a good first half for a freshmen. Taylor (Montgomery-Stinson) is coming back from a Fall injury and has played some good minutes over the break, too, so we will look to see what he can provide this half.”
The Vikes will have one extra man on their side this weekend as a capacity 2,100 seat CARSA Performance Gym is expected to boost the Victoria side. The traditional back-to-school basketball weekend typically draws a boisterous home crowd that can often be the tipping point in Canada West play.
“Home advantage is big in Canada West play with how much parody there can be,” summarized Beaucamp. “There is often a five to ten point swing on the road so this weekend’s home games will be big for us, especially against Manitoba.”
The Vikes and Bisons will duel this weekend on Jan. 8 at 8:00 p.m. and Jan. 9 at 7:00 p.m. Both games will take place on the University of Victoria campus at the CARSA Performance Gym.