Vikes overpowered by top-seeded Ottawa at CIS Final Eight

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Fresh off an impressive showing in the Canada West playoffs, the Vikes headed to Ottawa last weekend looking to end UVic’s men’s basketball title drought. The school’s last national championship came in 1997.

The tournament got off to a great start for the fourth-seeded Vikes, as they were able to put their nationwide top-ranked defense on display in a 63-54 win over the McGill Redmen on March 7.

Defense certainly didn’t look to be the name of the game in the opening quarter, however, as a flurry of sunk shots saw McGill lead 20-15 after 10 minutes. The Vikes turned to textbook defense in the second and third quarters, allowing an impressive nine and four points in the respective frames. A push by the Redmen in the fourth came too late to overcome the suffocating defense of the middle frames.

Playing in his final games with UVic, senior forward Terrell Evans had a double-double performance with 19 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs. He also had a game-high four steals. Evans’ strong play, along with that of his teammates, echoed pre-tournament statements by the Canada West First Team All-Star that UVic deserved to be seen as a contender.

“It isn’t a fluke,” said Evans of the Vikes’ success heading into the championship. “It’s the ability for everyone to step up and do their part.”

Now off to the CIS Final Four, the Vikes were scheduled to face the top-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees, who had cruised past the Saskatchewan Huskies 94-73 in their quarterfinal game. This would be a monumental task, in no way aided by the momentum Ottawa was riding after knocking off perennial powerhouse Carleton Ravens in the Ontario University Athletics final just a week earlier.

The Vikes once again struggled with their first-quarter defense, digging themselves an 11-23 hole after one quarter. Quickly realizing even their defense would not be able to shut down the explosive Gee-Gees, UVic was forced to pick up their offensive game to have a chance of battling back.

They were able to do just that, cutting the lead to three in the third quarter and two in the fourth, both times courtesy of the deep ball from third-year point guard Marcus Tibbs. Yet, each time Victoria got close, the host side was able to go on a run of their own to stop the bleeding. Forced to take fouls in the final minute, Ottawa knocked down the Vikes’ free throws to clinch the 78-70 win.

It was a bitter loss to swallow for the Vikes, especially for seniors Evans and forward Ryan Erikson, who see their collegiate careers draw to a close. The Vikes will be forced to replay the first quarter in their minds, a frame that on this rare occasion was indeed the deciding factor.

UVic would get another game on Sunday, the third-place game against their Canada West rivals from the University of Alberta, who had topped UVic in the Canada West finals. The Vikes almost found themselves run out of the building after 10 minutes, trailing 25-4 after one. While they won the last three quarters, the disastrous first frame was far too much to overcome en route to a 61-53 loss.

With Alberta getting the best of UVic for a second time in a week, the Vikes settled for a year-end finish of fourth in the nation. Despite ending on a losing note, it was no doubt an impressive finish for the Victoria squad, and a significant improvement on last year’s first-round exit from the tournament.

The Vikes may not have left Ottawa with any team hardware, but fourth-year centre Chris McLaughlin took home an individual win in the R.W. Pugh Fair Play Award. This adds to an impressive Canada West trophy haul for the Vikes, which saw third-year guard Reiner Theil win Defensive Player of the Year. Head coach Craig Beaucamp won Coach of the Year, while McLaughlin also received Second Team All-Star honours.

The hotly contested final between capital sides Ottawa and Carleton was close throughout, but ultimately saw the Ravens pull away in the final frame for the 79-67 win. This is the 10th CIS championship for Carleton, all of which have come in the past 12 seasons as the school asserts itself as a Canadian basketball dynasty. Senior forward Tyson Hinz, who had a game-high 30 points in the final, was awarded tournament MVP and named to the tournament All-Star team along with teammate and fellow forward Thomas Scrubb.

The Vikes will hit the reset button and look to climb to the top of the rankings next season.