Vikes crowned Canada West champs, head to CIS Final Eight

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Photo from the CW semifinal. Photo by Sarah Allan (Photo editor)

The Vikes beat the U of A Golden Bears to earn their berth in the CW Final Four. Photo by Sarah Allan (Photo editor)

They didn’t do it the easy way, but the UVic Men’s Basketball team showed their class as they won their first Canada West gold medal since 2006 with a tight 70-67 victory against the University of Saskatchewan.

The game was defined by massive shifts in momentum and scoring, with both teams squandering 10-point leads on various occasions. The Vikes’ went unpunished however, and were able to hold on and head to the national championships.

The Vikes booked their ticket to the Canada West final with a dominating performance against the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, starting well and keeping up the pace with no lapses in concentration.

The team took an early lead and never relinquished. Guard/forward Mackenzie Roth lead the Vikes with 19 points, though CW MVP Chris McLaughlin was not far behind with 17 points.

UVic was cautious heading into the game, as they were winless versus Saskatchewan in two regular season matches and one preseason match. Despite this, the Vikes stayed in control for much of the first quarter, with the score tied at 20 heading into the second. However, any caution was thrown to wind at that point, and the Vikes stormed ahead with a 41-27 lead. As earlier in the season, McLaughlin was dominant in the defensive end, at one point making four defensive rebounds in just five minutes.

The Vikes’ premature championship dreams were rudely interrupted by a rallying Saskatchewan, and the Huskies outscored the Vikes 22-5 in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. Down by 10 points, the Huskies’ Grant Sitton brought his team back into the game with several free throws and a dunk. The Vikes weren’t out of the game, but they weren’t ahead either. Down by four points with just 10 minutes to go, they would need an impressive final stretch.

With UVic anxious to pull ahead, and with the Huskies just as anxious to make sure that didn’t happen, the fourth quarter was an incredibly tense affair. The Huskies upped their advantage after a full two minutes with no scoring, but Marcus Tibbs and Chris McLaughlin stepped forward and turned the game on its head. With 11 of the Vikes’ final 14 points, both players erased the seven-point deficit and won the game for UVic.

Tibbs was on hand to sink the game-winning basket with just 21 seconds left, and with it he gave the Vikes their first Canada West gold in six years—despite the fact that the Vikes have made it to the Canada West final for the past three years running. The win means that the Vikes will head to the CIS Championship as the number four seed, with their first match against the Dalhousie Tigers on March 12 in Toronto.

McLaughlin, playing in his final Canada West game with the Vikes, also netted 12 points against Saskatchewan, though the game undoubtedly belonged to point guard Marcus Tibbs. The fourth-year scored an impressive 25 points—his second highest points total all season.

This is the Vikes’ third time attending the CIS Championship in as many years, though they have not met Dalhousie previously. The Tigers finished with a 10-10 record in the Atlantic University Sport regular season before also beating a Huskies team (the St. Mary Huskies) in the AUS final after overtime. The Tigers, ranked fifth, will look to rely on Kashrell Lawrence, who led the team with 31 points during the game and was named on the AUS first-team all stars.

The Vikes play the Tigers on Thursday, March 12, and the game is available to stream at en.cis-sic.ca. You can visit the CIS Championship website here.

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