Top two teams in the division ready for a dynamic duel in the Wild West corral

Top two teams in the division ready for a dynamic duel in the Wild West corral

Hamilton, Ont. – Burridge Gymnasium will be dripping with talent this weekend, when the women’s basketball West Division’s top two squads collide in a massive back-to-back in the hammer. The McMaster Marauders will welcome the Lakehead Thunderwolves in this week’s Marquee Matchup, powered by Planters Canada, pitting some of the best individual players and talented units head-to-head with massive implications on the line.

Starting on the individual level, perhaps no player has made her mark on the conference more over the last two seasons than Leashja Grant (Nassau, Bahamas). The 6’2” forward has been as unique and forceful a talent as there is in the OUA since her arrival; monikers she has maintained through the first eight weeks of this season as well. The reigning OUA Player of the Year paces the conference in both scoring (21.4 PPG) and rebounding (12.4 RPG) and has been a big part of Lakehead taking the next step over the past two seasons. Nikki Ylagan (Mississauga, Ont.) and Karissa Kajorinne (Thunder Bay, Ont.) have also provided strong secondary scoring for the T’Wolves during their strong start to the season.

McMaster, meanwhile, also boasts the top-end talent to compete with the best in the country, rostering a number of key players that rank among the conference’s leaders. Sarah Gates (Newmarket, Ont.) ranks fourth in scoring with 16.8 PPG, Linnaea Harper (Newmarket, Ont.) sits third in the OUA with 8.3 rebounds per contest and 4.4 assists per game, and Hilary Hanaka (Hamilton, Ont.) has been lighting it up from downtown to the tune of a second-ranked mark of 45.7 3PT%.

Needless to say, the calibre of players on both sides of the court makes this must-see basketball, but it was those on the latter that buoyed their team to a berth in the Critelli Cup final just a season ago. Ultimately, the Marauders fell to the provincial (and eventual national) champion, Carleton Ravens, by a 75-66 margin, but they proved that they were one of the teams to beat a season ago and have maintained that status once again this season.

This will be the first time the two squads will cross paths this season, but if you rewind once more back to the 2017-18 campaign, it was the Marauders who travelled to Lakehead to grab a pair of wins from their fellow postseason participant. The maroon machine used a balanced attack, totaling four players in double figures, to overcome a massive performance from Grant (26 points, 15 rebounds) in the opener. Mac would repeat this same formula to capture the second half of the back-to-back as well, earning the 10-point edge over last season’s quarterfinalists.

The Thunderwolves will be aiming to turn their fortunes around from last year’s meetings, but will need to flex their offensive and defensive muscle to get the job done against the stout McMaster attack. Luckily for Lakehead, they are quite familiar with success on both ends of the floor, particularly on offence, where they rank fourth in scoring (73.5 PPG). A large part of this success comes from their precision shooting, as the No. 10 squad ranks second in FG% (41.2) and third from beyond the arc (32.0 3PT%). They can also wreak havoc on defence, however, limiting opponents long-distance shooting at top-five clips, while also topping the conference in steals with over 12 per contest.

All of these elements will need to be at their best on the weekend; however, as their opponents have seen similar success this season. McMaster is the second-highest scoring team in the province (77.7 PPG), with lights out shooting all over the floor. Their second-ranked three-point shooting (32.4%), which includes the highest number of makes per game (8.2), will be in tough against the talented Lakehead defenders, but the Marauders will aim to combat that with their top-ranked ball movement (20.2 APG) to earn open looks. The Hamilton squad, like every other team, will be challenged to corral Grant and T’Wolves, but will do so with an OUA-best 4.3 blocks per game and second-ranked 11.8 steals per game in their back pocket, not to mention top-five marks in opponents’ FG% and 3PT%.

Not only do both teams have the players and skill sets to contend, but they have the results to back it up. Both squads check in at 12-2 through the first eight weeks of the season, with McMaster coming in on a six-game winning streak and Lakehead having just had their eight-game streak snapped in their last outing. It’s clear that winning is anything but uncommon for these two squads, but when the Marauders and Thunderwolves tip off on Friday, only one will be able to feel the elation of victory as their push for the playoffs ramps up in a big way.

To catch this clash of the titans on Friday evening, fans can tune in to at 6:00pm or download the corresponding app available on Amazon Fire, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku.