Marquee match Saturday at the Jack

By Jon Roe

Here come the Thunderbirds. Number one in the country. Unbeaten at 11-0 so far in this men’s basketball season. Runners-up at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship last season. The team that knocked the Dinos out of the tournament. The team the Dinos beat to take the conference title last year. The team that knocked the Dinos off at home in the Canada West final four the year before.

To say there’s a lot of history there would be an understatement. So it would to say that this game isn’t anticipated. But that’s Saturday and the Dinos still have a capable University of Victoria Vikes team to take on Friday.

Head coach Dan Vanhooren is confident that his veteran squad won’t look past the Vikes to what is the marquee match-up of the regular season.

“We need to play Vic first,” says Vanhooren. “That certainly could be a challenge for our players, or maybe an inexperienced team, but we have some experienced guys and they know not to look past Victoria. If they do look past Victoria, then we’ll lose on Friday night.”

“I think we have a good group of guys who know we have to focus on the first game,” agrees fifth-year Robbie Sihota. “I don’t think it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

The Vikes currently sit at 7-4, third in the Pacific Division, and play a tight defensive style. They’re second in the conference in points-allowed per game, behind only the T-Birds. And the Dinos are coming off a narrow home-loss to the hated University of Alberta Golden Bears last weekend.

Anyone can beat anyone on a given night in men’s basketball in the CIS, as Vanhooren insisted, but as long as the team learned from last weekend, he’s confident they will be able to stay focused on the remaining games, as they come up on the schedule.

“All the games right now leading up to the playoffs are simply process games in doing that,” says Vanhooren. “As long as our kids stay focused on that concept, then the outcomes aren’t nearly as important as getting the little things done within the game itself. If we can keep on that, then our task will become simpler and simpler and we’ll peak at the right time.”

But with all that being said, the T-Birds and the Dinos are likely to meet again in an important game in the future. They are the two top scoring teams in the conference. And their recent history suggests that regardless of what’s on the line, it’ll be an exciting game from wire-to-wire.

It’s the Dinos big men versus the perimeter play of the T-Birds. The Dinos top guys versus a deep, rotating bench for the T-Birds. And it’s the Dinos four starters who return from that national semi-final loss maybe with a little bit of bad blood left from that meeting in Ottawa.

All this noise about UBC is a lot easier for the Dinos fifth man in the starting line-up Jarred Ogungbemi-Jackson to shut out. As a rookie, it’s all new to him and he’s just soaking it in.

“I’m trying to learn from the veteran guys what to expect from the bigger games,” he says. “You’re talking about UBC being a more of a hatred game, I don’t see it that way. I see every team as a challenge and us trying to win.”

And that’s probably the right attitude to take: one game at a time. But here are the Thunderbirds, the number one team in the country. Saturday night could be special.

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