VICTORIA – What was once an 18-point advantage shrunk all the way four late in the game but in the end the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team was able to fend off the Mount Royal Cougars to pick up their ninth-straight victory, by a score of 85-75, inside the CARSA Performance Gym on Jan. 26.

“We got casual, we didn’t defend very well all night and from halfway through the third quarter we just let them go straight to the basket, we didn’t contain the ball at all,” said Vikes head coach Dani Sinclair. “We have to do a better job of ball screen defence and knowing where shooters are, we also need to play with a little more passion.”

The Cougars came into the game as the third-best rebounding team in the conference, but the Vikes were able to beat them at their own game on the night, recording 53 rebounds, 28 of which came on the offensive end, compared to the Cougars 40 boards.

“All the credit to Victoria, I’m sure that was a point of emphasis for them this week and we have shown a little crack in our armour when it comes to rebounding in the last couple of weeks,” said Cougars head coach Nathan McKibbon. “They got all over us, smaller players did a great job of getting into our body early and being physical, so it was more of a credit to them than anything we did poorly.”

The win pushes the Vikes record to 13-4 on the season, a mark that has them tied for third-place in the Canada West conference. The Cougars meanwhile, fall to 1-16 on the season, but in a year where positives are hard to come by for a young Mount Royal squad, McKibbon was pleased with his team’s effort.

“I’m proud of the way we responded, if you just take that second half then that is the way we want to play,” said McKibbon. “We want to be able to disrupt, we want to get after people and I thought we did a much better job of using ball screens, finding open players and stepping up with confidence when we received the ball.”

Amira Giannattasio once again led the way for the Vikes. The fourth-year guard scored 28 points, pulled down six boards and added three assists on Shoot for the Cure night in Victoria. Kristy Gallagher and Calli McMillan each added 13 points for the Vikes, with McMillan also recording four assists and two steals to continue her strong play in the second half of the season.

“She’s been coming along really well since the break, said Sinclair. “She’s so dynamic and allows up to play with pace, when you have Kristy and Amira on either wing and Calli controlling the pace, it can be pretty tough to defend.”

Gala Mestres was the top-scorer for the Cougars, putting up 17 points in her 28 minutes on the floor. Michelle Tiffany was a big part of the Cougars second half revival, scoring 14 points in the half, including hitting four-of-six from long range, to end the night with 16 points.

“She’s a special kid for so many reasons, is a leader in our program,” said McKibbon. “Everyday in practice she pulls kids along and teaches the young kids how to play, so we know what she is capable of and sometimes she doesn’t realize what she can do, so to see her go out and put a full performance together is great, I’m really proud of her but it’s something that we all know she can do on a day-to-day basis.”

The Vikes showed their dominance on the glass early and often, picking up ten offensive rebounds in the opening frame alone. Mount Royal shot 53 per cent as a team to start the game to keep them within touching distance, but Gallagher hit a tough lay up as time expired to give the Vikes a 24-15 lead after the opening frame.

McMillan came to the fore in the second quarter, scoring nine points. Mestres answered with five points for the Cougars, but UVic ate the visitors alive on the glass, ending the half with a 42-27 lead and holding 33-15 advantage in rebounds.

The Vikes stretched out their lead early in the second half but Mount Royal ended the third playing their best basketball of the night. A 10-0 Cougar run to end the frame sent the teams into the fourth with the lead at just 59-52.

Tiffany started the fourth with a three to cut the lead down even further, before the Vikes were able to settle down and get their offensive groove back.

“We needed that offence, when we were more aggressive in attacking the rim we found some stuff,” said Sinclair. “But we let a team score 20 points more than their average, so that’s a big concern defensively that we are going to have to fix.”

An Ashlyn Day jumper with 3:30 left to play restored the double-digit lead, and from there the Vikes were able to hang on for the win.