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VIU Mariners win as college basketball returns to the court

VIU men and women win their games against Langara and Okanagan
VIU Mariners player Tori Odom, left, gets a shot off as Okanagan Coyotes opponent Seth Blundell defends on the play during Saturday’s PacWest game at the Vancouver Island University gym. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Basketball is back on the court at the Vancouver Island University gym, at long last.

The VIU Mariners men’s and women’s b-ball teams played their PacWest home openers this past weekend, Nov. 12-13, in the first meaningful games in a year and a half.

The M’s celebrated with wins all around, as the men defeated the Langara Falcons by a 109-84 score on Friday and then followed up with a 107-98 win against the Okanagan Coyotes. The women won their home opener 77-60 against Langara and then handled Okanagan 86-65 the next day.

Matt Kuzminski, VIU men’s hoops coach, said there was good energy in the gym for the home opener.

“I think the community feels an excitement around this group and there’s probably a level of expectation that we’re going to perform at a high level,” he said.

Kuzminski said guys are bringing individual effort but will still need to better support each other on the court, play with collective toughness and sustain their energy level.

“I think the opening weekend was much like we’ve been so far where we’ve had good stretches but we haven’t been able to put together a full 40 minutes in any of the games…” the coach said.“I know that we have the pieces at both ends of the court to be a great team.”

Jayden Coke, who had a double-double for VIU in Saturday’s win, said his team didn’t play its hardest in that one, but said things were working best when the team was was running the floor in transition, getting back to make defensive stops, and moving, passing and cutting on offence.

“It’s finding guys in key spots on offence, moving the ball. When we move the ball as a team, we’re so amazing,” Coke said.

The home games were special for players who have persevered through the pandemic. Coke said the start of the PacWest season have been his first basketball games in a year and a half and said for some of his teammates, it’s been even longer.

“It’s just so fun to go out and play ball, do something I love to do – for everyone that had the COVID season, too,” he said. It’s just a fun feeling. I love to engage with the fans and I love just being around the team.”

In Friday’s win, Akoi Yuot led VIU with 27 points, Tori Odom had 22 points and 11 assists and Coke scored 20. The next day, Coke had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Richard Henderson added 20 points.

In women’s action, Shayce Johnston scored 19 points in the opener and Amber Lease added 17 points and eight assists. The next afternoon, Johnston scored 21 points and pulled down 15 rebounds, Courtney Buckley scored 19 points and Chloe Scaber scored 14.

GAME ON … The Mariners are home again this coming weekend for back-to-back games against the Capilano Blues. The VIU women (4-0) play at 6 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday and the VIU men (4-0) tipoff at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday.

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