When the CIS men's basketball playoff berths were set, you bet the University of Winnipeg Wesmen were hungry to learn they'd jet off to Victoria.
Sure, they'd rather have won just one or two more games during their 14-8 season to earn a home playoff series instead. But the Wesmen have wanted another crack at the University of Victoria ever since the Vikes knocked them out in the 2013 Canada West semifinal. In the wake of that loss, the Wesmen finished last year's campaign with the conference's bronze medal, and a score they hoped to settle.
'We're all excited to go play against the team that put us out last year. When they put us out in the final four, we were all thinking, we want to play Vic. So we got what we asked for'
-- Steven Wesley
So now, with their Canada West quarter-final series set for Victoria this weekend, the Wesmen will get their chance.
"We're all excited to go play against the team that put us out last year," fifth-year forward Steven Wesley said on Wednesday. "When they put us out in the final four, we were all thinking, we want to play Vic. So we got what we asked for."
But oh, you know that old thing about being careful what you ask for. The Wesmen will fly to Victoria this week as the decided underdogs in the quarter-final fight. Victoria is ranked number four in all of Canada; the Wesmen, not in the top 10.
The two teams faced each other earlier this season, when the Vikes bested the Wesmen 77-66, though the Winnipeg squad was without guard Travis Krahn, who broke his foot. But coach Mike Raimbault thought his team was in it until the end.
"All the things that they do, they've been doing since pre-season," fifth-year guard Andrew Cunningham said. "They're good at it now. But now that we know what they're doing and we're prepared for it, we got a whole week to prep for them, and we'll be ready to deal with it.
This time in the playoffs, the Wesmen will get at least two cracks at getting past the Vikes, as the best-of-three series starts on Friday night.
As Cunningham said, the Wesmen have a game plan in place: play hard, gobble up the rebounds, try to throw some wrenches into Victoria's tight game. But really, this is a team that went 19-3 through the season while giving up an average of just 60.2 points per game -- the lowest in the entire CIS.
Offensively, the teams are a closer match: Winnipeg racked up an average of 75 points per game this season, with Victoria just a hair above them in the rankings at 75.9. So the key for the Wesmen will be to bust through the Vikes' fortress.
"The tempo that they play really is a defensive-focus tempo and they want to keep the game a little bit more lower-scoring," Raimbault said. "At times, that's a little contradictive to the way we want to play. So we gotta make sure that the pace of the game is a little bit in our favour and sometimes a little frenetic and chaotic. We think that will be not only exciting, but beneficial for us."
This time, they will have Krahn back on the court. The Winkler product and fourth-year player made his return against Saskatchewan earlier this month, and though the foot still felt a little soft last week he thinks it's ready to go.
"I barely notice it in practice, which is great," Krahn said. "I'm back healthy at the right time, hopefully I can give (Andrew Cunningham) and Steven (Wesley) their best fifth year and play my heart out for them."