The first Canada West conference title game in program history for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen men's basketball squad didn't go as planned for the Prairie team.
The University of Victoria Vikes made six of their 15 three-pointers in the opening quarter, en route to defeating the Wesmen 95-80 in front of a sold-out crowd at CARSA Performance Gym on Friday night in the B.C. capital.
Victoria, which successfully defended the Canada West crown it won last March, was led by the Canada West player of the year Diego Maffia's 20-point, nine-assist effort.
Fellow Vikes guards Renoldo Robinson and Elias Ralph both finished with 18 points, while forward Dominick Oliveri was a monster on the glass, collecting 22 rebounds to go along with 14 points in helping Victoria pull away in the fourth quarter to claim its 17th conference championship banner.
"I thought that they were great. They played well, they executed. They made shots and I thought they were really organized and played well," Wesmen head coach Mike Raimbault said.
Six-foot-nine forward Mikhail Mikhailov opened the scoring for the Wesmen in the opening minute, but that proved to be the only lead of the game for Winnipeg. Mikhailov finished with a team-high 22 points, while adding five rebounds.
Guards Shawn Maranan and Alberto Gordo added 17 and 14 points, respectively, for the Wesmen.
Winnipeg's "a really tough team and answered us punch-for-punch over the first three quarters," Vikes head coach Craig Beaucamp said. "I thought we were resilient and kept playing at the same rate the whole way through. We got a couple stops in the second that really led to the separation."
Fresh off a pair of thrilling playoff victories over provincial rivals, including a triple-overtime thriller over the Brandon University Bobcats in the quarter-finals, the Wesmen simply could not take down Victoria, which was ranked No. 1 in the pre-season conference coaches poll and finished the regular season as the top team.
The Vikes also defeated the Wesmen twice in regular season action in Victoria last November.
Winnipeg entered the season ranked eighth among Canada West teams, but finished conference playoffs with a silver medal.
"We've got a great young group and they're working week by week to try to improve, and this is a great experience for us to be in a game like this, and it will be valuable for us in the future," Raimbault said.
That future starts next week for the Wesmen with the university's first trip to men's basketball nationals since 1994.
"It's huge for us. It's the first time that our university will be attending nationals in 30 years, so we're excited about that challenge and looking forward to that opportunity as well," Raimbault said.
The eight-team U Sports men's basketball national championship runs from March 10 to 12 at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Winnipeg and Victoria will know their quarter-final opponents on Sunday.