Thunder Bay, Ont. – Two of the best women’s basketball teams in the province are going toe-to-toe this weekend, with each side eyeing the top spot in their respective divisions. The second-place Queen’s Gaels (East) and Lakehead Thunderwolves (West) will meet in Thunder Bay for this week’s OUA Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada, for what will not only be a clash of two of best squads, but some of the best players hitting the hardwood in Ontario.
Outside of a loss to Windsor, Queen’s has played winning basketball this season to the tune of a 6-1 record and current four-game winning streak. Similarly, Lakehead has also seen the loss column just once this season; a blemish that came this past weekend at Ottawa against the Gee-Gees. But while both sides are entering the contest as two of the top contenders in the conference, it is the T’Wolves who are carrying the momentum of perhaps the biggest win of the season to date, as the last time Lakehead took the court, they managed to do something that no OUA team has done since the start of the 2016-17 season – defeat the Carleton Ravens.
Despite dropping their first of two tilts in the nation’s capital the day before, the T’Wolves took care of business in the Ravens’ Nest to come away with the 56-52 victory and put an end to the black birds’ 47-game in-conference winning streak. In typical fashion, the team relied heavily on reigning OUA Player of the Year, Leashja Grant (Nassau, Bahamas), who penned a masterpiece for the giant-slayers on Saturday to further cement herself as one of the nation’s truly elite on the court.
Grant has been a force once again this season to find herself among the conference leaders in several categories. She ranks third in the OUA in scoring, pouring in 20.0 points per game, while also crashing the boards at a top-ranked pace of 12.8 per contest – marks that were epitomized in her 30-point, 24-rebound effort against the reigning Bronze Baby winners. While these numbers are enough to make anyone’s jaw drop, Grant doesn’t do it alone. A dynamic running mate has emerged among the Lakehead squad this season, as they have received valuable contributions from Nikki Ylagan (Mississauga, Ont.) as well.
The third-year guard has also been among the OUA’s top point-producers this year, putting in an average of 16.0 PPG through six games (7th in OUA) to help solidify the team’s third-ranked total of 76.0 points per game. Ylagan has contributed offensively thanks to her success across the floor, shooting over 47% from the floor, 42% from beyond the arc, and nearly 86% from the charity stripe. While her free throw shooting is not indicative of the T’Wolves as a whole, her other marks reflect the shooting prowess of the northern squad, who rank in the top-five in both field goal percentage and three-point shooting.
The team’s potent shooting has put opposing defences on alert and it will be no different for the Gaels on Friday. Thankfully for Queen’s, their defence is among the best in the OUA, limiting teams to just 57.9 points per contest. They are able to maintain this fourth-ranked mark as a result of a total team approach that limits teams to just 35.9% from the field and 25.0% from deep. They are also able to get in the passing lanes, picking up 10.9 steals per game, and protect the paint with an average of 3.6 blocks. Finally, they are among the best at hitting the glass, with a +9.7 margin in that category, thanks in large part to the province’s No. 2 rebounder, Maddie Morris (Seeley’s Bay, Ont.), who pulls down 9.9 per game.
The Tricolour can compete on more than just the defensive end, as the team ranks fifth in the conference with 74.1 points per game. Chief among the team’s scorers is Marianne Alarie (Sudbury, Ont.), who comes in as the OUA’s best in that category. Her 22.7 PPG have helped Queen’s boast a formidable attack on both sides of the ball, which includes a collective shooting effort of nearly 40% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc. Part of the reason the team is able to achieve such lofty success shooting the ball is their impressive ball movement, as Emma Ritcey’s (Orillia, Ont.) 4.7 assists per game pace the team’s second-ranked average of over 17 per contest.
Like the Gaels, Lakehead will counter their opponents’ attack with a defensive effort that limits squads in many facets of the game. The T’Wolves swarm the opposition to the tune of just 60.0 points per game against, minimizing their shooting percentages to just 34.4 from the field (4th in OUA) and 24.6 from three (2nd in OUA). They also add on a third-ranked mark of 12 steals per game, showing that they are a force defensively just about anywhere on the court.
Certainly, both sides have shown their ability to not only compete, but do so amongst the best in the business. With strengths on both ends of the floor and game-changers suiting up for both sides, these marquee matchup participants will each have their sights set on a win.
It will be Lakehead welcoming the Gaels to the CJ Sanders Fieldhouse in Thunder Bay for the meeting, which will take place on Friday, November 23 at 6:00pm. Fans can catch the game live on oua.tv or via the oua.tv app available on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.