Weekend Preview: Who is hitting the hardwood this weekend?

Photo by Western Mustangs
Photo by Western Mustangs

Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)

Week 10 is upon us in the 2018-19 OUA regular season, and it could be one of the most exciting weeks yet!

All eyes will be on the nation’s capital, as a pair of top-10 games will take place over the two days with the Ryerson Rams on the road. There will be a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball in both games, while each contest could cause a shake-up in the OUA playoff picture as well as the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings by week’s end.

But that’s not the only spot that will feature big-time games this weekend, as the province will showcase several high-caliber matchups with playoff implications. From teams finding their stride at the right time to teams slipping down the standings, there will be a ton of emotion on the court as squads continue to jockey for playoff positioning with only a few weeks left in the regular season.

Two games stand out above the rest this weekend, one from each of the two divisions. Both games could cause some shuffling in the divisional standings at week’s end, and they are the two games you won’t want to miss this weekend across the OUA women’s basketball landscape.

Western Mustangs at Lakehead Thunderwolves - Friday, January 25 & Saturday, January 26

A big weekend series is set to take place up north in Thunder Bay between two teams trending in opposite directions over the past couple of weeks. The red-hot Western Mustangs head north for a pair of games against the high-powered Lakehead Thunderwolves who will be looking to get back on the right track after a recent string of close losses.

Western comes into the weekend having won four straight games to help improve their overall record to 5-11 on the year. After a lengthy losing streak that stretched from October into the 2019 calendar year, the Mustangs have found their groove as of late and will be looking to keep their momentum going against Lakehead. All four of their wins have come by single-digits over the course of their winning streak, but they have been victories, nonetheless. Lakehead will be a stern test for Western, but the visitors are playing their best basketball of the season and are full of confidence heading into the weekend.

The pair of Laura Graham (Sudbury, Ont.) and Maddy Horst (Baden, Ont.) will look to lead the Mustangs to a win over the Thunderwolves, a team that was ranked inside the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings earlier this season. While Horst has played just five games this season for Western, she ranks third on the team with an average of 8.0 points per game on 31.6% shooting from the floor. In her last four games, all of which have come on the Mustangs’ winning streak, Horst is averaging an even 10.0 points per contest and has back-to-back double-digit performances to her name.

On defence, the Mustangs will look to limit the opportunities for the Thunderwolves. As a team, Western allows an average of 69.8 points per game to their opponents this season, while scoring just 53.9 points per game themselves. Western will need a strong performance on both ends of the court if they want to pick up a pair of wins over Lakehead this weekend, and it all starts with the play of both Graham and Horst.

Back at the beginning of the season, Lakehead was the talk of the town. Wins over the likes of the Ryerson Rams and Carleton Ravens vaulted the Thunderwolves into the national spotlight, and after some waiting, they broke into the national ranks for a couple of weeks thanks to their strong play. Now, the Thunderwolves come into their weekend set with Western on the heels of three straight losses, two of which came by a combined six points to the nationally-ranked McMaster Marauders.

Lakehead is led by a three-headed monster that can compete with the best of the best in all of Canada, let alone the OUA. The trio of Leashja Grant (Nassau, Bahamas), Karissa Kajorinne (Thunder Bay, Ont.), and Nikki Ylagan (Mississauga, Ont.) make up the engine that drives Lakehead each night out, and they have been posting some incredible numbers over the course of the season. Arguably the front-runner for the OUA Women’s Basketball Player of the Year award, Grant leads the league with 21.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per contest, and she has 15 double-doubles during the regular season to her name.

Both Kajorinne and Ylagan are averaging 12.8 points per game while shooting above 40% from the floor on the season. Lakehead has talent across their roster, but it starts with their version of the Big Three. Lakehead will keep Western on its toes over the weekend as they look to put an end to the Mustangs’ winning streak while starting their own in the process. The teams square off on both Friday and Saturday night inside CJ Sanders Fieldhouse.

Ryerson Rams at Ottawa Gee-Gees - Friday, January 25th

Whenever you get two of the top teams in the country on the same court, it’s a must-see matchup. That happens twice over the weekend with the Ryerson Rams making the trip to Ottawa for a pair of marquee events that will go a long way in determining the playoff picture in the East Division. On Friday night, the Rams take on the Ottawa Gee-Gees inside Montpetit Hall in a contest that will feature two of the deepest rosters in the country.

Coming into the weekend, the Rams are the highest-ranked team in the OUA in the latest U SPORTS rankings, checking in No. 2 behind only the unbeaten Laval Rouge et Or. A big reason for the Rams’ success this season has been their depth and the confidence that coach Carly Clarke has in her group. Twelve players have seen the court in at least 11 of the team’s 16 games to date, with 10 of those players average double-digit minutes per outing and none of them averaging more than 26.1 minutes. The Rams have options up and down their roster, and regardless of the lineup, the team doesn’t miss a beat.

At the forefront of the attack is forward Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.). The fourth-year forward leads the team with an average of 12.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per contest while shooting 42.6% from the floor. She has missed five games this season, but is one of the better forwards in the OUA and she gives Ryerson a strong presence inside which then opens things up for the guards in the back court. The trio of Hayley Robertson (Toronto, Ont.), Cara Tiemens (Newmarket, Ont.), and Marin Scotten (Ottawa, Ont.) all average between 8.4 and 9.6 points as well as 5.2 and 5.4 rebounds per game this season, further highlighting the depth of this year’s Ryerson women’s basketball team. Then, when you factor in the play of second-year wing Jama Bin-Edward (Waterloo, Ont.), it’s easy to see why the Rams are highly regarded as one of the top teams in all of Canada.

Ryerson brings a five-game winning streak into the weekend in the nation’s capital, and they will look to complete the regular season sweep against the Gee-Gees on Friday before working to earn a split against Carleton on Saturday to cap off the weekend. You can bet that Ottawa will bring their best on their home floor on Friday, and the sixth-ranked Gee-Gees are just as deep as the Rams on both sides of the ball.

Coming into Friday’s showdown with the Rams, the Gee-Gees have revenge on their minds. Ottawa boasts a 14-2 record this season, and one of those losses came against the Rams back on January 6 (the other loss came against Carleton in the first game of the regular season back in October). The Gee-Gees are riding a four-game winning streak of their own into Friday’s tilt with Ryerson and they will be looking for some redemption in front of their home fans.

Ottawa’s starting five may be the best unit in the country. The five regulars who find themselves in the starting lineup make up the Gee-Gees’ top five scorers this season and four of them are averaging double-digit points per game. Second year forward Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu (Gatineau, Que.) leads the team with an average of 13.5 points to go along with 5.8 rebounds per contest on 52.7% shooting from the floor. Lefebvre-Okankwu is one of three first group players shooting better than 50% from the floor. Centre Angela Ribarich (Toronto, Ont.) gives the Gee-Gees a formidable one-two punch in the paint alongside Lefebvre-Okankwu, and Ribarich is averaging 11.1 points to go along with a team-best 7.4 rebounds. Their play inside has made things tough for their opponents all season long, and it will be no different on Friday against Ryerson.

On the back end, the Gee-Gees have a talented back court rotation, one that’s headlined by Amelie Hachey (Drummondville, Que.), Sarah Besselink (Kingston, Ont.), and Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus (Ottawa, Ont.). The three guards give Ottawa their share of production on both ends of the floor while McAlear-Fanus gives the team a strong point guard to run the offence and someone who takes care of the ball while looking to get teammates involved. She averages 5.3 assists to just 2.9 turnovers per game, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8:1.

Like the Rams, Ottawa’s roster is deep, and head coach Andy Sparks has a high level of confidence in his group. No player is averaging more than 29.1 minutes per contest this season, but 12 individuals have seen the court in at least 10 games this season. On Friday night, look for each side to utilize their bench to create different looks on both ends of the floor in an attempt to get a leg up on their opponent in one of the biggest games of the OUA regular season.

This is one you won’t want to miss.

One More to Keep an Eye On: The Guelph Gryphons are on the road to take on the Windsor Lancers on Saturday in another game that features teams trending in opposite directions. The Lancers are coming off a mid-week win over the third-ranked Marauders and are trending upwards in the OUA West Division, while the Gryphons are still searching for any kind of positive momentum after falling off the rails after their strong 3-1 start to the season.

Windsor, Ont.). The pair are the only two Lions who post a double-digit scoring average to this point in the season, with Collins-Samuels leading the way at 11.3 points per game and Golding averaging 10.5 points to go along with a team-best 9.5 rebounds per contest. Golding has emerged as one of the league’s top young forwards, and she has six double-digit scoring games and four double-digit rebounding performances to her name.

Golding, Collins-Samuels, and the rest of the Lions will have their hands full with a talented Ottawa team that has its own share of weapons, both in the paint and on the outside. York will look to come out of the gates strong and try to take the early momentum and ride it to a big win on the road over one of the best teams in Canada.

All season long, the Gee-Gees have been among the top teams in Canada. Since their loss to Carleton in the regular season opener, the Gee-Gees are 12-1 and sit tied atop the East Division with Ryerson at 12-2 on the year. With talent on both sides of the ball and across their entire lineup, the Gee-Gees have proven to be a tough test for every team in the OUA. At home this weekend, the Garnet and Grey will look to keep their winning ways going and stay atop the divisional standings.

Ottawa’s starting group ranks among the best in the country. Three of their five regulars have started all 14 games this season, while leading scorer Brigitte Lefevbre-Okankwu (Gatineau, Que.) has started 12 of 14 games and center Angela Ribarich (Toronto, Ont.) has started all but one game. Lefevbre-Okankwu leads the Gee-Gees with an average of 12.9 points per contest, while all five starters average at least 9.8 points, further highlighting the talent that the starting five possesses. To top it all off, three of the starters are shooting at least 51.9% from the floor on the year.

Their forwards are sound in the paint and effective around the rim, while their guards have the ability to slow things down or speed it up depending on the situation. Simply put, the Ottawa Gee-Gees are loaded with talent in their starting unit.

Brock Badgers at Windsor Lancers – Saturday, January 19th

The playoffs are just around the corner and that puts a higher level of significance on each game from here on out. The Brock Badgers and Windsor Lancers are jockeying for position in the OUA West Division, and the two teams will go head-to-head on Saturday night in a key divisional showdown that could have big playoff implications when the regular season ends. Both the Badgers and Lancers took to the court on Wednesday night this week, yielding different results in the process.

Brock was on the road to take on the Guelph Gryphons on Wednesday. The Badgers had their four-game winning streak snapped by the Gryphons by way of a 77-71 loss. Sitting at 7-8 on the year, the St. Catharines squad currently occupies the fourth spot in the West Division standings and are four points behind the Lancers for third. A win over Windsor on Saturday night would keep Brock within striking distance and give them a boost of positive momentum with the playoff race heating up.

The Badgers are led by one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in the OUA. Veteran guard Melissa Tatti (Welland, Ont.) ranks among the league leaders in both points (17.3) and assists (4.6) per game through 15 contests for the Badgers. When you include exhibition play, Tatti has scored at least 10 points in every game this season. When you factor in the play of Kristin Gallant (Milton, Ont.) and Miranda Smith (Welland, Ont.) in the back court and Courtney McPherson (Welland, Ont.) up front, the Badgers have a talented roster that could make some noise down the stretch.

At the start of the year, Brock limped out of the gates and it looked as though the season was lost before it got rolling. Now, with a recent four-game winning streak fresh in their minds, the Badgers are playing with a heightened level of confidence despite a loss last time out.

After a string of six OUA titles in a seven-year span from 2008-09 through to 2014-15, the Lancers have gone three seasons without a league title to their name. This season, Windsor will be looking to get back into the winner’s circle with a late-season run. They have five wins over their last six contests, and they’re riding a wave of momentum through the second half of the year.

Windsor picked up a mid-week win over the Waterloo Warriors to push their record to 9-6 on the year. As stated above, they sit in third spot in the West Division, four points clear of their opponents on Saturday. The Lancers come into the contest against Brock riding a modest two-game winning streak overall, and they will be looking to push that streak to three with a win over the Badgers at home.

The Lancers won’t blow you away with their offence, but they will frustrate you with their defense at times. Their scoring ranks eighth in the league with an average of 68.3 points per game, while their scoring defence ranks sixth as they hold their opponents to an average of 62.6 points per contest. Kayah Clarke (Hamilton, Ont.) leads the Lancers with 11.9 points per contest on 44.4% shooting from the floor. As a team, Windsor has five players who are averaging at least 7.9 points per game. One of those players is Tyra Blizzard (Ottawa, Ont.) who is averaging 7.9 points predominately off the bench.

Windsor and Brock meet twice within a span of three weeks, and both games will go a long way in determining the OUA playoff picture. Saturday will be the first instalment in the season series, and it’ll be a game that you won’t want to miss.