Holidays out of the way, more Vikes basketball to come

After posting dominant first halves to their respective seasons, both the Vikes’ men’s and women’s basketball teams hit the road over the holiday break to test their skills outside the Canada West conference.

The men took their Canada West best mark of 9-1 down to California for games against the Biola University Eagles and Concordia Eagles, both playing out of the American-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA).

The first tipoff of their journey took place in La Mirada, Calif. on Dec. 30 against Biola. The first half went perfectly to script, as a fast start saw the Vikes open up a lead of 14 points en route to a 33-27 advantage at halftime.

A different Biola team came out after half though, dominating UVic in the paint by a 20-2 mark to get back in the game. Biola took the lead courtesy of a Pierre Zook three-pointer with just over three minutes to go, and held on for the 69-61 win.

The Vikes were back in action on New Year’s Eve just down the road in Irvine, Calif. This time, it was their opponents who got off to the fast start, with Concordia taking advantage of sloppy Vikes play to post 16 points off turnovers in the first half. The Eagles led 40-27 at the half, and despite UVic winning the second half battle, Concordia emerged victorious 72-60.

Fourth-year centre Chris McLaughlin put up a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds against Biola, while senior guard Terrell Evans had the game’s top mark against Concordia with 18 points.

Despite the results, Head Coach Craig Beaucamp was pleased with the trip. “Really the trip is just to get us back up to speed, get a little bit of timing and get some of the rust off. So, mission accomplished, as far as that goes.”

It certainly helped the Vikes in their return to Canada West action, as the number one ranked defense in the conference stifled the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies on Jan. 10, at the McKinnon Gym, for a 55-46 win.

“It’s a real focus of what we do every night at practice,” Beaucamp commented on UVic’s defensive success. “We spend at least half our practice time playing defense and working on different breakdown drills. We’re getting carry-over, and it’s certainly giving us an opportunity to be successful every night.”

The Vikes just failed to complete the weekend sweep on Jan. 11, against the Alberta Pandas, falling 61-58. UVic still enjoys a three-game lead on top of the Pacific division, however, with their 10-2 record. This weekend sees the team head north to Prince George for a doubleheader against the UNBC Timberwolves (4-8) on Jan. 17 and 18.

The women stayed in the great white north, though had a lot farther to travel. The Holiday Classic tournament took place in Halifax, with the first game coming against the McMaster Marauders on Dec. 28. The Hamilton team certainly had the edge, winning every quarter to dispatch the Vikes 76-54. Centre Hailey Milligan was unstoppable under the boards for McMaster, recording a double-double with 32 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs.

UVic had to regroup quickly after the loss, with a game the following day against the Western Mustangs. This time their fortunes would be much improved, as they pulled out a tight 77-74 win over the host side.

In a game that was close throughout, the Vikes carried a four-point lead into halftime, only to see the advantage slip to one, going into the fourth. Western would take the lead early on in the final frame, and led by as many as seven, but strong resolve from UVic allowed them to stay close going into the final minutes. A pair of clutch free-throws from Shaylyn Crisp, with 39 seconds left, returned the lead to UVic, while a steal by Nicole Karstein, on the following Western possession, allowed the Vikes to put the game away.

The women’s third and final game of the Holiday Classic came against the host Dalhousie Tigers. This one went to an extra frame, with the Vikes once again prevailing in a high scoring 88-86 overtime affair.

UVic saw four players score in double figures, including fourth-year forward Jessica Renfrew, with 25. Renfrew led the Vikes in scoring all three games of the tournament, averaging over 21 points a game. Fellow fourth-years Cassandra Goodis and Sarah Semeniuk had 23 and 14 points in the final game respectively, while second-year forward Jenna Bugiardini chipped in with 16 points.

Vikes Assistant Coach Leanne Evans was impressed with how the team closed out the tournament. “They were all really top teams, and I think in the first game we got caught on our heels,” Evans commented on the opening loss. “The second game against Western, we really battled hard for the full 40 minutes. Against Dalhousie, it wasn’t pretty the whole game, but we fought it out to win by two in overtime.”

While UVic had a strong close to 2013, including a six-game Canada West win streak and a pair of gutsy performances in the Holiday Classic, their first taste of 2014 action did not fall in their favour. The Vikes were beaten twice at home on Jan. 10 and 11, with a rough 73-45 loss to Saskatchewan, followed by a 64-54 defeat to Alberta.

UVic is still well in contention for top spot in the Pacific division despite the losses; their 7-5 mark sees them just one game back of the first-place UFV Cascades. With a playoff spot looking assured, the Vikes will focus the rest of their season on locking up a top seed, while entering the playoffs on a hot streak.

Though they got away from their game plan this past weekend, Evans stresses that defense is key to the team’s success. “We’ve been putting a major focus on defense in practice. We know that if we want to get to playoffs and nationals, we have to hold teams below 60 points.”

The Vikes will have a chance to get back in the win column on Jan. 17 and 18, as they also make the trip to Prince George for a doubleheader against UNBC (4-8)

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