The Vikes men’s basketball postseason charge is rolling into March with a dominating win over the Fraser Valley Cascades in the Canada West semi-finals, securing UVic a spot in the CIS National Finals.
UVic had just missed out on hosting the regional tournament, as the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears eclipsed the Vikes by one game in the regular season standings. With Alberta winning their first round playoff series against the UBC Thunderbirds, UVic was forced to take care of business on the Edmonton campus.
The team carried plenty of momentum with them after a thrilling home playoff series against the Winnipeg Wesmen the week before. After a poor display in their loss on Feb. 21, UVic stormed back to win the final two games to keep the season alive.
Hours after the deciding win against Winnipeg, the Vikes learned their opponents in the semifinal matchup would be the Fraser Valley Cascades. While this may have appeared to be welcome news, with UVic sweeping the Abbotsford-based side in a two-game home series in November, the fact that Fraser Valley had played them close, and that the game was in a neutral venue, meant UVic could be anything but relaxed going into the matchup.
The Feb. 28 game saw UVic get off to a blazing start, going up 10-2 in the first three minutes. As expected, the Cascades pushed back, trailing by just six after the first quarter and by 10 at the half. Any thought of an upset was firmly put to bed in the second half however, courtesy of lights-out shooting from the Vikes.
UVic knocked down six three-pointers after the break, to go along with an overall shooting mark of 50 per cent. A 16-4 run to open the third, capped by a driving layup from senior forward Terrell Evans, effectively put the game out of reach.
Choosing to leave nothing to chance, the Vikes continued to pour on their defeated opponents, opening up a game-high lead of 30 in the fourth off an emphatic slam dunk by fourth-year centre Chris McLaughlin. It was cruise control after that, the final score 77-57 in UVic’s favour.
Third-year point guard Marcus Tibbs played a major role in the victory, posting game highs in points and assists with 16 and eight. Evans and McLaughlin each had double-doubles, with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and 15 points and 10 rebounds, respectively.
With the Canada West conference sending a minimum of two teams to nationals, also known as the CIS Final Eight, the result meant that UVic was a lock for the year-end tournament. Their Saturday game against the Alberta Golden Bears, who defeated the Saskatchewan Huskies 83-65 in the other semi-final, would therefore be played for Canada West bragging rights, and preferable seeding at nationals.
UVic would fall just short in its quest for a 15th Canada West banner, as the Golden Bears held on in front of a massive home crowd of 2 319, for an 82-77 win. The win gave Alberta their 11th regional title, trailing only UVic in total banners.
While it looked as though the Vikes might complete a frantic fourth-quarter comeback, they had ultimately dug themselves too deep a hole early on, being outscored 22-6 in the second quarter. McLaughlin was once again dominant, posting his fourth-straight double-double, with 25 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs. Tibbs added nine assists, while third-year guard Mack Roth chipped in with 10 points off the bench.
The Vikes did what they needed to on the road, and now head to their second straight CIS Final Eight tournament. It will only take one win to improve on last year’s result, as a cruel draw forced the Vikes to go up against the Canadian basketball powerhouse Carleton Ravens. Carleton made easy work of UVic en route to their record ninth CIS championship.
UVic enters the 2014 championships in a much better position; their fourth seed earning them a first-round matchup against the fifth-seeded McGill Redmen, champions of Quebec’s RSEQ conference. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. EST (2:30 p.m. PST) on Friday, March 7 as the two sides will play the third of four quarterfinal games.
The host side Carleton surprisingly enters the tournament as the second seed, after losing the Ontario conference’s OUA final to the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Alberta claimed the three seed in the tournament, while fellow Canada West side Saskatchewan Huskies earned the eighth and final spot through a CIS coaches committee vote, as the strongest side not to have clinched an automatic berth.
The Saint Mary’s Huskies, champions of the Maritime AUS conference, and McMaster Marauders, OUA third-place finishers, round out the tournament.
The CIS Final Eight tournament runs March 7–9 from Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre. All games can be seen live online at cis-sic.tv. Sportsnet360 will carry Saturday’s semifinal action, while the March 9 final will be shown live on Sportsnet.