Critelli Cup Final Four spots on the line Saturday, live on OUA.tv

Critelli Cup Final Four spots on the line Saturday, live on OUA.tv

BURLINGTON, Ont. - With the top teams in the conference set to face off, here are a couple keys to victory and players to watch as the #QuestfortheCup continues.  Fans can watch all the action from the Critelli Cup playoffs streaming live on OUA.tv.

No. 9 Lakehead Thunderwolves vs. No. 1 Queen's Gaels

After knocking off Brock on the road Wednesday, the road to the Critelli Cup doesn't get any easier for Lakehead on Saturday.  As underdogs (or maybe underwolves is more appropriate), they'll have to take down the top-seeded Gaels to keep their season alive.

Lakehead's run and gun style offence is most effective when they're successfully moving the ball as witnessed this year by their 16.4 assists per game.  Averaging 66.7 points during the regular season, the Thunderwolves are a shoot first type of team that finished inside the top five in both field goal (69.9) and three-point attempts (20.1).

For them to think about shocking Queen's, Lakehead will need to get Bridget O'Reilly (Seaforth, Ont.) going quickly.  The team's leading scorer, O'Reilly averages around 11.2 points per game.  However, she committed 52 personal fouls in 18 games this season and will need to stay on the court and off the bench if Lakehead is going to advance.

In just her first season in the league, Nikki Ylagan (Mississauga, Ont.) finished third on the Thunderwolves with 10.3 points per game.  As one of the best young shooters, Ylagan made 46 three-pointers this season, the fourth-highest total in the OUA.

Queen's hasn't captured the OUA championship banner since 2001 but as the top ranked team in the Critelli Cup playoffs, that streak could very well be coming to an end.

Like their fellow top seeds, the Gaels are a deep, well-rounded team that can not only fill the basket but frustrate their opposition.  Queen's averaged 73.7 points, while limiting their opponents to just 56.2 against.

On offence, a key for the Gaels this year (and likely on Saturday) will be getting to the charity stripe, as they averaged more free throw attempts this year than any other team.  Despite shooting just 66.8 percent, Queen's added 13.8 points per game from the line.

The Gaels are one of the best rebounding team in the conference (if not the country), recording 18.5 of their 47 rebounds per game while swarming the opposition's basket.

You can't talk about Queen's and rebounding without mentioning fifth-year senior Robyn Pearson (Toronto, Ont.).  In 18 games, Pearson ranked third in OUA after averaging 10.2 rebounds.  She's one of only five players this season to average a double-double after recording 10.1 points per game.

One of the deepest teams in the conference, the Gaels possess several weapons every time they step out onto the court, including fifth-year veteran guard Emily Hazlett (Fredericton, NB).  The shifty Hazlett is the catalyst of the high-powered Gaels attack as witnessed by her 78 assists this season.

In their only meeting of the regular season, despite missing Pearson, Queen's defeated the Thunderwolves 68-61 after they limited them to just 2-of-21 three-pointers.

 

No. 7 Laurier Golden Hawks vs. No. 2 Carleton Ravens

Following their highest point total in playoff history, the Golden Hawks soar into the Ravens' Nest on Saturday looking to upset the second-seeded Carleton Ravens.

As one of the top offences in the province, the Golden Hawks averaged 68.8 points per game, the fourth highest mark in OUA and are coming off a game that saw them drop a program best 86 points on the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. 

But it might not necessarily be their offence that has the high flying Hawks off to Ottawa but more so their ability to ground the opposition.  Laurier finished the year in the top five in several defensive categories, including: block per game (4.3) and opponents' field goal percentage (34.3).

Fifth-year veterans Kaitlyn Schenck (Kitchener, Ont.) and Nicole Morrison (Hamilton, Ont.) will surely have the Hawks ready to fly come Saturday.  Schenck averaged 15.4 points per game, the fourth highest mark in the conference, while Morrison sits a close second at 14.9.

Schenck and Morrison aren't afraid to go to the tough areas of the court as only Ryerson's Paska was fouled more time this season.  With 163 of the Hawks points coming at the line, Carleton will need to avoid getting themselves into early foul trouble.

Still in search of their first OUA women's title in program history, the Ravens have played like this year a team possessed.  After dropping their opening game of the season in shocking fashion on the road to Algoma, Carleton has rattled off 18 straight wins heading into Saturday.

The Ravens are the best defensive team in the province, leading OUA in both points per game allowed (51.1) and opponents' field goal percentage (31.2).  As a team, Carleton also ranks first in the conference in blocks (5.2).

They finished the regular season fifth in team scoring, trailing their opponents on Saturday by just 0.6 points per game.

After missing the final two games of the regular season, the Ravens will wait with bated breath as fourth-year forward Heather Lindsay (Ottawa, Ont.) will be a game-time decision.  Lindsay not only led the OUA with 10.8 rebounds per game, but she also shot a league-high 55.8 percent from the field.

If Lindsay isn't able to go, the Ravens will look to leading scorer Catherine Traer (Chelsea, Que.) to pick up some of the slack offensively.  Traer averaged 14.6 points per game in her first season with the Ravens after previously playing for the rival Gee-Gees.

The Ravens beat the Golden Hawks 71-60 earlier this year but it was Laurier that has had the last laugh in the playoffs.  Back in 2014, Laurier beat Carleton in double overtime to win the OUA bronze medal and advance to the national championship.

 

No. 11 Western Mustangs vs. No. 3 McMaster Marauders

Coming off the biggest upset of the playoffs (so far), the Western Mustangs will once again head out on the road as they'll travel to the "Steel City" Saturday for a showdown with the McMaster Marauders.

It's clear that the Mustangs have put a difficult regular season behind them and in the Critelli Cup playoffs anything can happen.  As one of the most patient teams in the OUA, the Mustangs average just 56.7 shots per game, the lowest amount by any team still in the playoffs.

Once again this season, Mackenize Puklicz (London, Ont.) was an absolute workhorse for her hometown Mustangs, playing a league-high 668 minutes during the regular season.  Despite the load, Puklicz ranked fifth in the conference, averaging 15.3 points per game.

Another player who must play a critical role if Western wishes to upset the Marauders is sophomore sensation Julia Curran (Waterloo, Ont.).  A season after being named OUA Rookie of the Year, she finished second on the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game which ranked her just outside the conference top 10.

In their opening round game, the Mustangs stampeded into Montpetit Hall and shocked the No. 6 uOttawa Gee-Gees 66-60.  Puklicz had a game high 21 points and 10 rebounds in the victory.

Coming off one of the best regular seasons in program history, the Marauders will now change gears as they look to win their first OUA title since 2008.

The high-flying Marauders led the province in several key offensive categories this year, including: points per game (78.6) and field goal percentage (40.5).  The Marauders fired away from downtown without mercy this year, finishing first in both three pointers made (8.5) and attempted (26.2) per game.

One of the best players in the country, Danielle Boaigo (Hamilton, Ont.) would like nothing more than to bring the Critelli Cup back to Hamilton in her fifth and final season .  Appearing in all 19 games this year, Boiago finished second in the conference with 19.1 points game and inside the top 10 in rebounding, averaging 7 boards.

However, Boiago isn't the other player Western will need to find an answer for as they'll also have to try and contain third-year forward Linnaea Harper (Newmarket, Ont.).  Harper finished second behind Boiago in team scoring, averaging 12.6 points.

For the Mustangs to be successful, they'll need to have a short memory as the Marauders thumped them 92-40 in London to close out the regular season just one week ago.

 

No. 5 Ryerson Rams vs. No. 4 Windsor Lancers

Looking to defend their first Critelli Cup title in program history, the Ryerson Rams path back to the OUA Final Four will have to run through the perennial powerhouse Windsor Lancers on Saturday.

It was another strong season at both ends of the court for the Rams as they ranked sixth in the conference in both points per game (68.1) and points per game allowed (57.8).  Ryerson also averaged 47.4 total rebounds per game to lead the conference. Possessing one of the best defensive lineups in the country, the Rams finished second in OUA with a 32.2 opponents' field goal percentage.

It was another outstanding season for Ryerson forward Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.) who continues to develop into one of the most dominant players in the country.  In just her third season, Paska averaged 18.5 points and 10.4 rebounds while starting all 19 games for the Rams. 

The Ryerson roster received quite the boost before the season when OUA all-star Kellie Ring (Ottawa, Ont.) joined the team after spending the past four seasons in Ottawa.  The shifty playmaker didn't miss a step with her new team, finishing third in OUA with 81 assists and in the top 10 in league scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game.

Ryerson cruised past the crosstown rival York Lions 78-52 in Wednesday's opening round game.

After seeing their streak of three straight OUA titles come to an end last year, the Lancers will be looking for revenge on Saturday.

Much like their opponents, Windsor is one of the most balanced teams in the OUA ranking third in both points per game (73.5) and points per game allowed (55.7).  Saturday's contest will surely be decided in a battle on the boards as the Lancers were the fifth ranked team in the province, pulling down 40.3 rebounds per game.

If there's a player in the league that can contain Paska, its fourth-year Lancers forward Emily Prevost (Montreal, Que.).  No one had more boards this season than Prevost who led OUA in both offensive (73) and defensive (135) rebounds.  Prevost was also the Lancers top scorer, finishing in the top 10 with 14.5 points per game.

Beyond Prevost, the Lancers lineup features several players with game-changing abilities, including fellow fourth-year forward Cheyanne Roger (Etobicoke, Ont.).  There isn't a player in OUA that can protect the basket as well as Roger as she led the league this season with 41 blocks, eight more than the next closet player.

In their only meeting of the regular season, the Rams beat the Lancers in Toronto 59-55.  Ring had a massive game with 21 point and 15 rebounds, while Prevost countered for the Lancers with 15 points and nine boards.