Mariners will look to up their pace of play

Vancouver Island University’s men's basketball team plays two exhibitions in the U.S. this coming weekend (Dec. 16-17).

Vancouver Island University Mariners player Bryson Cox drives the lane during a game against the Capilano Blues earlier this season at the VIU gymnasium.

The VIU Mariners men suffered only two losses this fall, both by slim margins. So in theory, if they’re just a little bit better in the spring, they’re going to be a hard team to beat.

“I think we’ve gotten better week-to-week,” said Matt Kuzminski, Mariners coach.

Vancouver Island University’s basketball teams wrapped up their Pacific Western Athletic Association fall semesters last month, but the M’s men have continued to try to keep sharp with a home exhibition game last week and two more in the U.S. this coming weekend (Dec. 16-17).

The VIU men (4-2) are satisfied where they sit at this point in the season as there has been significant transition with the roster and the lineup.

“There’s been some adjustments; the learning curve has been a little bit steeper than previous years,” the coach said.

“With a lot of the new guys we’ve had, there’s been some adjustments; the learning curve has been a little bit steeper than previous years where we might have had more returning players,” the coach said. “But I really like our progress that we’ve made, the way our guys are coming together as a team.”

Though the Mariners have had a promising start, the coaching staff has identified some potential areas for improvement. Kuzminski said guys need to buy into the idea of ‘gang rebounding,’ with some of the perimeter-type players looking for boards, too, and not leaving it up to the forwards.

“We’re not quite as physical, so we get hurt against teams with a lot of physicality,” the coach said. “So while we continue to improve our strength to the best of our ability during the season, we’re going to need to find ways to … get rebounding.”

On offence, newcomer Usama Zaid has been the story this year with some monster scoring games including a 49-point performance on Remembrance Day. Still, VIU feels that it can do a better job of utilizing its star’s passing ability to get teammates open. The Mariners also want to create offence via more fastbreaks in the second semester.

“We want to increase our pace a little bit and play a little bit faster as far as creating more opportunities in the open court,” Kuzminski said. “I think that goes hand-in-hand with our ability to defend and especially finish possessions with rebounding. It’s really hard to run and create transition opportunities when, say, you’re taking it out of your basket if a team’s scored on you or if you can’t secure a rebound cleanly.”

With VIU just two points out of first place in the PacWest, the team will be able to control how its second half goes. Kuzminski said there’s not much margin for error when playing the conference’s top contenders and said he likes the pressure of a lot of games against good competition.

“The theme right till the end is just keep trying to get better,” he said. “And hopefully we’re in a place where we can compete for a national championship.”

Zaid leads the PacWest win points per game (32.0) and is third in the conference in rebounding (9.0) and fifth in assists (2.5).

Bryson Cox is ninth in the PacWest in scoring (15.3). Jalen Schlegel is 10th in rebounding (6.0) and Montell Lindgren is second in assists (3.4).

GAME ON … The Mariners visit the Warner Pacific College Knights on Friday (Dec. 16) and Concordia University Cavaliers on Saturday in Portland.