The Legends Cup may only be in its second year of existence, but the rivalry between the University of Victoria Vikes and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds is more than a century old, with basketball taking centre stage.
When these two iconic programs tipoff Thursday night at the War Memorial Gym in Vancouver, there will be a new queen in Canadian women’s basketball and in this historic rivalry.
Since Kathy Shields left her post as Vikes head coach in 2001, she was alone on the mountaintop of Canada West basketball. Her 337 career wins looked unconquerable.
Fast forward 19 years and there is a new leader in Canada West women’s basketball.
Following the Thunderbirds 95-58 thrashing of the Trinity Western University Spartans last Saturday night, Deb Huband earned her 338th victory and eclipsed Shields.
“It’s a tremendous honour,” Huband told Stu Walters of UBC Communications after her record setting win. “To be following in Kathy Shields’ footsteps, she was a mentor of mine and somebody I have tremendous respect for. I think it reflects a tremendous journey, it’s been a very long and exciting journey with lots of amazing people.”
The feeling of respect was a mutual one for the UVic Sports Hall of Fame inaugural inductee.
“I think it’s wonderful that Deb pulled it off. She is a good friend of mine and even when we used to be competing on the court or for a recruit in this province, our friendship has always been the most important thing,” said Shields.
The record-breaking win also came as a surprise to Shields.
“I had no idea I was even the Canada West record holder for wins. I found out the same way everyone else did on the weekend when I read an article about it,” said Shields. “Since last weekend, I’ve already spoken a few times with Deb and we have shared some great memories about working together and travelling the world.”
Shields was an assistant coach on the women’s national team when Huband was a member of the team. They worked together for the 1983 and 1984 season, highlighted by a fourth-place finish at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif.
But for a few hours this weekend, the friendship will be temporarily put aside as the Vikes try to find their footing once again in the Canada West conference.
Once in position for a first-round bye, the Vikes enter the Legends Cup having dropped their last three games. They now sit at 7-5 and would have to travel for the Play-In game if playoffs started today.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds occupy the final first-round bye spot with a 10-4 record.
Vikes forwards Ashlyn Day, Marissa Dheensaw and Katie Langdon will have their hands full trying to contain Keylyn Filewich, who has been unstoppable in the paint this year. The fourth-year forward is fourth in points per game (18.9), first in total blocks (17), first in rebounds per game (10.6) and owns the best field goal percentage (58.2).
On the men’s side, there is also a new king in the coaching world. The Thunderbirds’ head coach Kevin Hanson took sole possession of first place in wins with 314, as his squad brushed back the visiting Spartans.
Looking to keep Hanson and the T-birds grounded will be a Vikes unit that learning what life is like without the conference’s best rebounder, Dominick Oliveri.
After taking on two non-playoff teams since the big man got hurt in early December, the Vikes faced their toughest test of the season last weekend in Saskatoon, where they earned a split with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
“This is kind of a new season for us: the season where we had Dom in the lineup and now six games without him,” said Vikes Head Coach Craig Beaucamp, who currently sits at 226 career wins. “We learned a few things in Saskatchewan and seemed to get our rotations sorted out a little bit, but UBC is very different than Saskatchewan. It will be two completely different games this weekend.”
This weekend, it will be the old adage of offence versus defence. The Thunderbirds enter this weekend with the second-best offence (93.5 points per game), while the Vikes are the best at locking teams down, having only allowed 69.0 points per game this season.
“We have to be well prepared this weekend. UBC always brings a lot of energy on both sides of the ball. They usually don’t have a problem scoring the ball and on defence they can get after you,” said Beaucamp.
Game 1 of the home-and-home series gets underway on Thursday at the War Memorial Gym. The women tipoff at 6 p.m., with the men following at 8 p.m. After a day off for travel, the series resumes at Ken and Kathy Shields Court inside the CARSA Performance Gym on Saturday. The women kick things off at 5 p.m., with the men starting around 7 p.m. Currently, the Thunderbirds lead the Legends Cup 13-9 with two events remaining after this weekend.