The VIU Mariners are in the elite eight of Canadian college basketball, meaning there are only a few more brackets left to win.
Vancouver Island University’s men’s hoops team begins play Thursday (March 16) at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championships in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
The Mariners packed a lot of momentum with them this week as they travelled across the country. The team is coming off its third-straight PacWest championship, it’s undefeated so far in 2017 and it’s bringing a well-rounded roster to nationals.
“I feel like we have a really good mindset,” said Usama Zaid, VIU star and PacWest Player of the Year. “The energy is great in practice. Everybody’s mentally ready and we’re trying to go do big things.”
Montell Lindgren, M’s point guard, said preparations are the same as they would be in any other game week, except that there’s more urgency and intensity.
“We’re a really good team this year; we’re on a winning streak right now,” he said. “I think the only way for us to lose is if we beat ourselves and that’s really tough right now with the focus that we have.”
Zaid said the M’s feel well-prepared and will try to keep doing what’s brought them success – nationals aren’t the time to find a new identity.
“We just want to come out and be the best version of ourselves,” he said.
Matt Kuzminski, Mariners coach, said he and his staff have scouted all the opposing teams, most of all the George Brown Huskies, VIU’s first opponent.
“All the stuff that we’ve prepared for works for most teams we play,” Kuzminski said. “We talk about how to guard certain things and certain coverages for certain matchups and it’ll all hold up … So a lot of it is fine-tuning, trying to make little improvements to our offensive execution and making sure our defensive execution’s on point.”
He said the coaches want to keep the game plan simple for the guys. He wants the Mariners to respect their opponents, but at the same time “play with no fear, play the way we’ve played and try to do the things we do to the best of our abilities.”
The Huskies are led by shooting guard Ajahmo Clarke, the Ontario conference’s career leading scorer, but Kuzminski said the Mariners have elite defenders, including Kaz Kobayashi who will be tasked with a shut-down role.
VIU’s offence will be led by Zaid, recovered from an injury scare last week and good to go. He’s excited for his first experience with CCAA nationals.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m going to try and go have a good time, take everything in, try not to take anything for granted … I don’t want any regrets, so if I play my hardest, leave everything out on the floor, I won’t have any.”
So the M’s go to the big tourney decorated, deep, determined and dialled-in. They feel like they have a squad that can do something special this week. Lindgren said the Mariners have a lot of guys who have played on this stage, and the guys who haven’t, are ready for it.
“This team right here, I don’t know how to explain it, but I’m so confident in these guys…” he said. “It’s all basketball, all about winning.”
GAME ON … The Mariners and Huskies tip off the tournament Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. The game will be webcast at www.ccaa.ca.