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VIU Mariners tipping off provincials

Nanaimo's college basketball teams both play semifinal games at PacWest championships on Friday (March 2).

The Vancouver Island University basketball teams are highly seeded, highly ranked and highly regarded.

For the men (15-1), they’re also defending champions and haven’t lost a Pacific Western Athletic Association game in three and a half months.

Yet, they don’t expect that any playoff opponent will roll over.

“This is a tough league and we’re not going to expect to win like that,” said Jacob Thom, VIU point guard. “They’re not just going to hand it to us, especially in the playoffs.”

Quite the opposite, in fact, said Mariners coach Tony Bryce.

“You see that extra willingness to sacrifice from teams. The grind-it-out things that maybe some teams won’t do in league, it’s a given come playoff time,” he said. “If you’re not willing to do those little things then you’re going to find yourself in trouble.”

That said, VIU’s regular-season accomplishments certainly count for something. The M’s have a first-round bye, meaning they can sit in the stands and watch Capilano and Langara battle each other today (March 1) in advance of the PacWest semifinals the next day.

“If we play the way we can, I feel like we can beat whoever our opponent is,” said Thom.

Both Cap and Langara are potentially tough opponents but neither can match VIU’s big-game experience.

“We have enough leadership that regardless of the situation, I expect our veterans and our poise and our maturity to be an advantage,” Bryce said.

M's women contend for championship

The Mariners women (14-2)are in a similar position to the men, having also earned a first-round playoff bye.

They’ve defeated every PacWest team at least once, but their likely semifinal matchup Friday (March 2) shapes up to be Capilano, a team the M’s lost to earlier this month.

“We get to see them again now and we’re kind of mad and we want to win…” said Kayla Gromme, VIU point guard.

There will be parity at provincials, so the seedings don’t matter much. Whoever plays the best this weekend will win, said M’s coach Bill McWhinnie, and his players know that, too.

“One or two or three, it doesn’t really matter. There’s always upsets somewhere,” Gromme said.

All the teams are playoff calibre and all the players will be in top shape by this stage of the season. So there will be other factors that determine a champion.

“We have to be mentally tough; we have to be able to play through adversity,” said McWhinnie.

Playoffs require a different mindset, he said, but not a different strategy.

“We can’t change the way we play,” said the coach. “We have to come out and run our offence and pound the ball inside and do all the things we’ve done all season. It doesn’t matter that it’s a playoff game.”

GAME ON … The PacWest championship tournaments will be held in North Vancouver. The M’s women play their first game Friday at 1 p.m. with the men at 8 p.m.