Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)
The holiday break is in the books and teams were back on the hardwood across the OUA this past weekend.
It marked the first weekend of the 2019 calendar year, and if it was any indication of how the rest of the year would play out on basketball courts across the province, it’s going to be one heck of a playoff push. From a historic weekend for the Nipissing Lakers to a pair of top-10 battles in The Six, the weekend that was had a bit of everything for basketball fans.
Instead of becoming a bit clearer, the 2019 playoff picture actually became even more distorted after further log jams were created across both divisions. A three-way tie for first place headlines the race in the East Division, while the Lakehead Thunderwolves now occupy the top spot by themselves in the West after a pair of wins on the road. To learn more about how we got there, however, here are the top story lines that you may have missed from the weekend’s action.
Nipissing Lakers pick up their first two-win weekend in program history
The first weekend of 2019 proved to be a historic one for Head Coach Katie Hamilton and the Nipissing Lakers.
Coming into the weekend, the Lakers had a record of 1-9 on the year. They suffered a 63-39 loss to the Windsor Lancers in their final game of the fall semester to send them into the break in last place in the East Division. When the New Year rolled around, Nipissing was back on their home floor as they continued their six-game home stand. The second semester provided the Lakers with a fresh start after a shaky fall term, and they made sure to kick things off on the right foot.
When the final buzzer sounded on Saturday, the Lakers had their first two-win weekend in program history after victories over the York Lions and Queen’s Gaels.
In the first semester, the Lakers scored at least 60 points just three times, posting a record of 1-2 in those games. On Friday night against the visiting Lions, they topped the mark for the fourth time and picked up their second win of the season as a result. Nipissing used a strong team effort on both ends of the floor to win 65-61.
Things looked bleak for the Lakers after the first half, as York had built an 11-point lead after the opening 20 minutes, 35-24. Instead of conceding the contest, the Lakers continued to fight, and they managed to trim the deficit to just two points ahead of the final frame. From there, Nipissing completed the comeback in the fourth quarter to come away victorious.
With 6:40 to play in the game, a layup from Natalie Martinez (London, Ont.) gave the Lakers a 53-52 lead. They would stretch their lead to as many as seven points down the stretch, and York would not hold another lead the rest of the way. Angeline Campbell (Brampton, Ont.) led the way with a team-high 18 points and five assists in the win, while Jamie Soffer (Kanata, Ont.) chipped in with 10 points.
The next night, the Lakers played host to one of the league’s top teams in the Queen’s Gaels. Fresh off their win the previous night, the Lakers built off their performance and delivered another impressive showing on both ends of the court.
Much like they did on Friday night, Nipissing fell behind in the first quarter. In the second frame, the Lakers held the Gaels to just eight points to take a slim 32-30 lead into the break. Nipissing built on their lead over the course of the second half, and they held Queen’s to single-digit points again in the fourth quarter (six) to help finish off a perfect weekend with the 61-48 victory.
Once again, Campbell led the way for the Lakers on offence, posting 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. Soffer just missed a double-double, finishing the night with eight points and 10 rebounds. Guard Michaela Branker (Ottawa, Ont.) chipped in with 16 points of her own in the win.
After a slow start to the year, the Lakers have now won three of their last four games and are riding a wave of momentum into the second half of the season. But after passing a pair of stern tests this past weekend, things don’t get any easier for the Lakers. They close out their home stand this coming weekend with games against the nationally-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens.
Can the Brock Badgers make a run in the West?
With just how crowded the standings are in the OUA through the first week of 2019, nothing can be ruled out until the playoffs are over and done with. The second half of the season provides a fresh start for many teams in the country, and one team that could surprise some and turn plenty of heads are the Brock Badgers.
Currently occupying the fourth spot in the West Division, the Badgers are a team that could be a tough out come playoff time if they are able to secure themselves a spot in the coming weeks. The Badgers boast one of the league’s most underrated players in Melissa Tatti (Welland, Ont.), and that alone could lead to some upsets down the road.
Tatti ranks among the leaders in the OUA in several key statistical categories. She sits third in the league with an average of 18.0 points per game over her 12 contests this season. Tatti ranks second in total assists (58), first in total steals (66), third in total points (216), first in minutes played (478), and first in minutes per game (39.8). Tatti does it all for the Badgers on both ends of the floor, proving that she is one of the league’s top stars without the consistent spotlight to go with it.
But the Badgers have more talent than just Tatti. Second year guard Kristin Gallant (Milton, Ont.) was named an OUA All-Star in 2017-18 as a first-year student-athlete. This season, Gallant is averaging 9.6 points per game on 40.2% shooting from the floor over 11 appearances. Gallant is also posting an average of 3.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per night out to give the Badgers another strong presence on both ends of the court.
Up front, forwards Courtney McPherson (Welland, Ont.; 7.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and Baelie Campbell (Halifax, NS; 6.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG) give the Badgers a strong presence in the paint and on the glass on both ends of the court. The Badgers have players who can impact the game for a full ninety-four feet on a nightly basis, and that could carry them on a run over the course of the second semester.
Brock kicked off 2019 with an impressive road win over the Western Mustangs on Saturday night, extending their winning streak to a modest two games with a 70-57 decision inside Alumni Hall. Brock held the Mustangs to just eight points in the second quarter to take a nine-point lead into the break, and that helped carry the visitors to the 13-point win.
Tatti led all scorers on the night with 14 points, while Meagan Charbonneau (Pointe Claire, QC) recorded 13 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
The Badgers now sit at 5-7 on the season and find themselves alone in fourth place in the West. While their next four games come on the road, the Badgers have some winnable contests ahead that could help them climb the standings should they find themselves on the right side of the final score when all is said and done.
If Brock can continue to build some momentum on their current five-game road swing and rack up points, there’s no telling what this team could do in the postseason if given the chance. They face an uphill climb given the teams ahead of them in the standings in both divisions, but anything is possible in today’s university basketball.
Carleton drops Ryerson in top-10 battle, 78-70
The first weekend of 2019 featured one of the more anticipated matchups of the season in Toronto, seeing a top-10 battle between two of the top teams in all of Canada, let alone the OUA.
The Ryerson Rams played host to the defending national champion Carleton Ravens inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre in a showdown that lived up to the hype, and then some. Both teams came into the game with national championship aspirations, and while one team had to come away with another loss on their record, both teams still have the same year-end goal for 2019.
Carleton took a five-point lead into the half at 35-30, and they came out of the locker room looking to build their lead even further. The home side had other plans, however, and they flipped the script on the Ravens to start the second half. Ryerson outscored the visitors by 10 points to take a five-point lead of their own into the final frame, 52-47.
As the back-and-forth game continued into the fourth quarter, the Ravens utilized their depth to fight back against the Rams in front of a sold-out crowd to come away victorious. Carleton put up 31 points in the final frame to just 18 points for Ryerson, and the Ravens fought their way to a 78-70 road victory.
The win pushed the Ravens’ win streak to three games at the time, while the loss was the second straight for Ryerson. The Rams would end their losing streak with an eight-point win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Sunday, while the Ravens knocked off the Toronto Varsity Blues on Sunday to cap off a perfect weekend in T.O.
Carleton posted four players in double-figures in the win. Madison Reid (Carleton Place, Ont.) put together an impressive two-way performance on the night, recording 20 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals to lead the way for the Ravens. Nicole Gilmore (Hamilton, Ont.) chipped in with 19 points, while Alyssa Cerino (Stoney Creek, Ont.) and Cynthia Dupont (Coaticook, QC) added 15 points apiece in the win.
On the night, the five starters for the Ravens accounted for 75 of the team’s 78 points.
Jama Bin-Edward (Waterloo, Ont.) led the way for the Rams with a strong two-way effort of her own. She went for 20 points, three rebounds, two assists, and four steals to pace a Rams’ attack that saw four players also reach double-digit scoring. Hayley Robertson (Toronto, Ont.; 15 points, eight rebounds) and Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.; 10 points, nine rebounds) both narrowly missed double-doubles.
As a team, the Rams shot just 16.7% (3-of-18) from three-point range in the loss.
At week’s end, there are now three teams tied atop the East Division at 10-2. The Rams and Ravens are joined by Ottawa in a three-way tie for top spot in the division as the playoff race continues to heat up across the OUA. Time will tell how it all plays out, but buckle up for what will be an exciting ride to Banner Season in March.