Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the hardwood

Quest for the Cup: A closer look at the first round matchups hitting the hardwood

Burlington, Ont. - Let the quest for the Critelli Cup begin. 12 teams are set to hit the hardwood as part of this year's postseason play - including eight on Wednesday night - but only time will tell who will come out on top once the final buzzer sounds on round one.

No. 6 Laurentian Voyageurs (7-16) v. No. 3 Ryerson Rams (17-6)


Pre-Game | This is a contest that features two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the East Division. The Ryerson Rams have been among the top teams in the country all year long, and while they are guaranteed a berth in next month’s national championships, you can bet that the Rams want to earn their spot in the field of eight. They will also be looking to bounce back after a pair of home losses to close out the regular season. On the flip side, the Laurentian Voyageurs squeaked into the postseason despite losing four straight games down the stretch. Hoping to play the role of spoiler in the playoffs, the Voyageurs will lean on their veterans to try and carry them on a lengthy run.

Players to Watch | Simply put, the Voyageurs underachieved this season with the talent and experience that they have on their roster. But the second season gives them another opportunity to turn some heads and make a statement in their third meeting with the Rams in 2019. Fifth-year guard Emily Tinnes (Newmarket, Ont.) is one of the better two-way guards in the league, posting averages of 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game this season while being the only player to start every game for Laurentian. Mackenzie Robinson (Collingwood, Ont.), meanwhile, averaged a team-best 7.5 rebounds per contest to go along with 10.1 points. Up front, Bailey Tabin (Saskatoon, Sask.) will have her hands full with the Rams’ talented forward contingent. Tabin pulled down just six combined rebounds in Laurentian’s two regular season meetings with Ryerson, and that number will need to increase for the Voyageurs to have a chance at the upset win on Wednesday night.

Forward Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.) has had a stellar career at Ryerson. The 6’4’’ forward eclipsed the 1,500-point mark for her career over the final weekend of the regular season, adding to the long list of milestones and records she has achieved over her career. Paska leads the Rams with an average of 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season. In the Rams’ two previous meetings with Laurentian, Paska posted a combined 40 points and 17 rebounds, suggesting she will be a focal point once again on Wednesday. Beyond Paska, however, the Rams have depth and talent up and down their roster. Nine different players averaged at least 4.4 points per game during the regular season while playing in at least 18 games. Guards Marin Scotten (Ottawa, Ont.), Hayley Robertson (Toronto, Ont.), and Cara Tiemens (Newmarket, Ont.) match up well with Laurentian’s backcourt rotation, as all three can impact the game on both ends of the court. Add in a player like Jama Bin-Edward (Waterloo, Ont.), who can go off on any night, and it’s easy to see why the Rams have been a top-10 team all year long.

Season Series | The Rams and Voyageurs have met twice since the New Year, so they are familiar with one another heading into their postseason showdown. Ryerson had Laurentian’s number this season, sweeping the regular season series with a pair of double-digit wins. In both games, the second quarter did the Voyageurs in, with Ryerson finding their groove after a pair of closely-contested opening frames. In their first meeting, the Rams outscored Laurentian 24-17 in the second quarter to guide them to the 87-63 win at home, and in February, a 29-point outburst by the Rams in the second helped pace them to a 15-point win road win.

January 18, 2019 | Laurentian 63 Ryerson 87
February 9, 2019 | Ryerson 83 Laurentian 68

 

No. 5 York Lions (10-13) v. No. 4 Queen’s Gaels (15-8)


Pre-Game | Both the York Lions and the Queen’s Gaels come into their first-round matchup with some momentum at their backs. The Lions picked up a pair of victories over in-town rivals, including a 72-69 win over Ryerson on a buzzer-beating three ball from Lauren Golding (Windsor, Ont.), over the final weekend of the regular season to lock up their spot. As for the Gaels, they extended their winning streak to three games with a pair of wins in Toronto to cap off the year on a high note, and like York, the Tricolour also beat Ryerson to add a top-10 triumph to their resume. Both the Lions and Gaels are trending upwards at the right time, making Wednesday’s clash one filled with intrigue.

Players to Watch | Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, York wasn’t just looking to build momentum, but also secure their spot in the second season. Thanks to a three-ball from Lauren Golding at the buzzer on Friday night that knocked off Ryerson, the Lions were able to check both of those boxes with one dagger. This year, Golding is the only York player averaging double-digit points per game (10.0). With that said, the team does have seven players averaging at least 6.8 points per contest, which is a testament to their balanced roster. Forwards Chante Clarke (Toronto, Ont.) and Megan MacLeod (Niagara Falls, Ont.) are the only two players to have seen the floor in all 23 games for the Lions. A York team at full-strength has its share of talent, and while they have been shaky on the road this season (3-9), they have the balance to shake up the postseason picture if they can keep their current stretch of play intact.

The Queen’s Gaels have enjoyed their share of success on their home floor this season, posting a 9-2 record in Kingston. A big reason for their lofty results has been the play of their version of The Big Four: Marianne Alarie (Sudbury, Ont.), Veronika Lavergne (Ottawa, Ont.), Maddie Morris (Seeley’s Bay, Ont.), and Sophie de Goede (Victoria, B.C.). With Alarie’s 15.8 points per game at the forefront, these four players top the scoring list for the Gaels. Lavergne has been a consistent threat all season long, averaging 12.9 points per game on 50% shooting from the field. While she’s only played 13 games this season, de Goede is one of the league’s top rebounders, averaging 10.3 per contest for the Gaels. With their core group of veterans leading the way on both ends of the court, the Gaels will be looking to build off their road win over Ryerson in their regular season finale and ride that momentum into a deep playoff run and even a spot on the national stage next month.

Season Series | The Gaels and Lions had to wait a fair bit to finish their season series. York hosted Queen’s in the regular season opener back on October 26; a game in which the Gaels would come away with the nine-point victory, 66-57. Alarie went for 26 points and 12 rebounds in the triumph to pace the Gaels. The two teams wouldn’t meet again until February 1 in Kingston, but the result remained the same for Queen’s. Once again, Alarie posted a big night at the Lions’ expense (22 points), and the Gaels had four players score in double-figures in their 80-64 win. York will look to contain Alarie in the third meeting of the season on Wednesday night, but if the first two games have been any indication, that’s something that is much easier said than done.

October 26, 2018 | Queen’s 66 York 57
February 1, 2019 | York 64 Queen’s 80

 

No. 6 Guelph Gryphons (9-15) v. No. 3 Windsor Lancers (17-7)


Pre-Game | Wednesday’s tilt between the visiting Guelph Gryphons and host Windsor Lancers will feature two teams that hit their stride down the stretch to enter the playoffs with plenty of momentum. The Gryphons closed the season with four wins over their final six games to lock down the sixth and final playoff spot in the West, while the Lancers have just two losses to their name since November 30 (13-2). Both teams boast forwards who have carried their teams down the stretch, while a veteran guard for the Lancers will be hope to see her career end with another run at the Critelli Cup.

Players to Watch | When one talks about the Gryphons, the conversation starts with second-year guard Burke Bechard (Dover, Centre, Ont.). Bechard is one of the top young stars in the OUA in just her second season and she impacts the game on both ends of the court on a nightly basis. Bechard leads the team with 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest, and ranking fourth and third in those categories, respectively, in the OUA among eligible players. While Bechard grabs the bulk of the attention, the Gryphons have much more to offer on offence, as five different players averaged double-digit points in the regular season. Skyla Minaker (Sarnia, Ont.) dished out a team-best 3.8 assists per game to go along with 11.8 points as a second-year player, while veterans Ivana Vujadinovic (Burlington, Ont.) and Sarah Holmes (Welland, Ont.) add a healthy dose of experience to the lineup. Guelph is a team that could surprise some folks this postseason if they get flex their full potential, and with four wins over their last six games, the Gryphons, this potent play may very well be peaking at the right time.

With their history of success in the OUA, the Lancers are hoping to ride their strong second-half play to another championship run. Windsor has a roster filled with talent and experience, and both have helped the Lancers secure the third-seed in the West. Carly Steer (Windsor, Ont.), often referred to as the sharp-shooting senior, leads the team with an average of 11.9 points per game on 33.3% shooting from the floor. During the final weekend of the regular season, Steer hit her 227th three-pointer to become the all-time leader in three-pointers made at Windsor. Forward Olivia Osamusali (Brampton, Ont.) has played some of her best basketball of the season down the stretch, posting two double-doubles over her final eight games and narrowly missing two more. Kayah Clarke (Hamilton, Ont.), finally, averaged 11.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game over her 18 regular season appearances.

Season Series | The Lancers and Gryphons met twice in a matter of a few weeks this season and the two teams split their contests with the home side boasting bragging rights in each. Windsor knocked off Guelph back at the end of January by a final of 85-70, thanks to a balanced offensive effort that saw four different players reach double digits. Behind 18 points from Clarke, the Lancers were able to extend their winning streak to five games at the time. In their second meeting – just a few games later – the Gryphons put an end to the Lancers’ winning streak with a five-point win, 79-74. This time, it was Guelph that posted four players in double-figures, led by 21 points from Modupe Okeowo (Cambridge, Ont.). The rubber match should be a good one on Wednesday night, and it seems as though whichever team shows off their scoring depth more (or posts four players in double-digits) will come away victorious.

January 26, 2019 | Guelph 70 Windsor 85
February 8, 2019 | Windsor 74 Guelph 79

 

No. 5 Laurier Golden Hawks (9-15) v. No. 4 Brock Badgers (11-13)


Pre-Game | Despite their loss to Guelph in the regular season finale, the Laurier Golden Hawks secured the fifth-seed in the West Division by way of the tiebreaker. That result has earned them a date with the Brock Badgers in St. Catharines on Wednesday night, a team that has been all sorts of up-and-down over the course of the 2018-19 season. The Badgers have alternated two-game winning streaks with two-game losing streaks over the last four weeks and come into the playoffs on the heels of back-to-back losses on the road against the Lakehead Thunderwolves. Laurier has just two wins over its last seven games, however, so Wednesday night will feature two teams looking to get back to their winning ways when it matters most.

Players to Watch | Coming into the season, the Golden Hawks knew they were going to have to find ways to make up for the production lost with the graduation of their all-time leading scorer in Nicole Morrison. They’ve managed to do so with a by-committee approach. Eight different players averaged more than 3.2 points per game this season, including two players in double-figures atop the list. Jill Condron (Oakville, Ont.) leads the team with an average of 12.8 points on 44.8% shooting. Not far behind is Brianna Iannazzo (Thornhill, Ont.) with 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Rachel Woodburn (Ajax, Ont.) has also done a nice job leading the offence from the point guard position this season, averaging a team-best 3.2 assists per game to only 2.3 turnovers; good for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.4. With a wealth of experience on their roster, the Golden Hawks will look to draw on that when they begin their playoff push against the Badgers.

Guard Melissa Tatti (Welland, Ont.) has ranked among the league’s top scorers and distributors for most of the season. The veteran will carry the Badgers into the postseason with a run at the Critelli Cup on their minds, despite an inconsistent regular season as a team. Over her 24 regular season appearances, Tatti averaged 16.2 points per game (38.5 FG%) and 4.5 assists. She recorded double-digit points in all but two games this season and surpassed the 20-point plateau nine times. Second-year guard Kristin Gallant (Milton, Ont.) built off her strong rookie campaign to post 11.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per contest in her sophomore year to supplement Tatti’s potent production. The pair give the Badgers a formidable tandem in the backcourt, with both players boasting the ability to go off on any given night; something Brock hopes they see in their win-or-go-home contest.

Season Series | The road team has reigned supreme this season between Laurier and Brock, as each team picked up a win away from home in their two meetings. Laurier opened the season with a strong showing against the Badgers, picking up the 12-point win thanks to 15 points apiece from Condron and Skye Johns (Kitchener, Ont.). The teams would have to wait more than two months for the second instalment, but it was worth the wait for the Badgers as they earned a split thanks to a 59-53 win. Centre Courtney McPherson (Welland, Ont.) went for 12 points and 15 rebounds – 10 of which were of the offensive variety – in the win. If the trend keeps up for the road team in the series, that bodes well for Laurier’s chances on Wednesday, but as the playoffs brings with it a clean slate from the regular season, the Badgers are hoping some home-cooking will extend their season.

October 26, 2018 | Laurier 63 Brock 51
January 9, 2019 | Brock 59 Laurier 53