Ninety-Four Feet: Which teams can cause a shake-up in the playoff picture?

Ninety-Four Feet: Which teams can cause a shake-up in the playoff picture?

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

Sometimes, the loudest statements you can make are the ones made in silence.

The Ryerson Rams let their play do the talking this past weekend, a time when the local media were in town for a press conference surrounding the upcoming U SPORTS Women’s Basketball National Championships that will be played on the Rams’ home court. A pair of convincing double-digit wins did all the talking for the Rams as they staked their claim as one of the teams to beat this season across the country.

However, they weren’t the only squad that made a statement with key performances over the weekend. Several sleepers have emerged from the chaos in the OUA standings and have their sights set on shaking up the playoff picture as the regular season winds down. One team is now riding a four-game winning streak after a lengthy losing skid, while another welcomed back one of their top scorers after a three-game absence. With several crucial matchups on tap in the coming weeks, anything can truly happen before the OUA Championships roll around.

Here are the top story lines that emerged over the past week from across the women’s basketball landscape in the OUA.

Ryerson makes a loud statement at home

On a weekend where they hosted a media preview event to discuss the upcoming 2019 U SPORTS Women’s Basketball National Championships in March, the Ryerson Rams made sure to put everyone on notice with a pair of dominant performances.

As the host institution for the national event in March, the Rams gain an automatic berth, giving them an opportunity to compete for a national title in front of their home fans. Not content with having the automatic berth, the message from the Rams over the weekend was a simple one – they want to earn their spot and ride a wave of momentum into the championships like everyone else in the country. And if this weekend was any indication, the Rams will be a tough out come championship time.

Over the weekend, the Rams played host to both the Laurentian Voyageurs and Nipissing Lakers in East Division action. Head coach Carly Clarke utilized the bulk of her team’s roster over the two games, rolling out different lineups to keep the Rams’ opponents on their toes on the defensive end and showcasing the confidence she has in her team and their full arsenal of talent.

Ryerson took on Laurentian on Friday night inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre on the night of the media press conference focused around the championships in March. In front of their home crowd and a slew of media, the Rams put on a show in their 87-63 win over the Voyageurs.

Clarke used 12 different players on the night, and 10 of them recorded at least four points. Only Bronwyn Williams (Toronto, Ont.) and Latifah Roach (Montreal, Que.) failed to record a point in the contest. Forward Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.) scored a team-best 13 points to go along with nine rebounds, while guard Hayley Robertson (Toronto, Ont.) finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the win.

The next night was more of the same for the Rams against Nipissing. Ryerson came out of the gates strong to take an early lead after the first quarter and put things on cruise control down the stretch. The Rams outscored the Lakers in each quarter, rolling to the 85-48 win to extend their winning streak to five in the process.

Again, the Rams’ depth was on full display. Eleven of the 12 players who saw the court recorded at least two points, and Williams was the lone player without a point on night. Paska put together another strong performance inside, scoring a game-high 16 points to go along with six rebounds. Marin Scotten (Ottawa, Ont.) narrowly missed a double-double off the bench, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes of action.

Also, off the bench, Emma Fraser (Toronto, Ont.) had 10 points of her own in just 18 minutes of floor time.

The Rams have been among the top teams in the country all season long, and rightfully so. They have one of the deepest rosters in the country, and on both ends of the floor, the Rams are a highly effective and efficient unit that gets everyone involved.

Whether they win the OUA title or not, the Rams are going to be a tough team to face on their home court when the national championships roll around in March.

Which teams can cause a shake-up in the playoff picture?

Now is the time where the contenders really start to separate themselves from the pretenders in the playoff picture. Both divisions seem to have three-team races for first place, but there are a handful of teams who could cause a shake-up in the playoff picture with some upset wins down the stretch. Those teams are commonly referred to as sleepers, and here are three who could fill that role between now and the postseason.

Western Mustangs (5-11; T-6th – West Division)

After a lengthy losing streak, the Mustangs have turned things around and have won four straight games to vault back into the playoff picture with only a few weeks left in the regular season. Wins over the Waterloo Warriors and Guelph Gryphons this past weekend helped the Mustangs extend their streak and moved them into a tie with Guelph for sixth in the West Division. Equipped with one of the league’s more underrated tandems in Laura Graham (Sudbury, Ont.) and Julia Curran (Waterloo, Ont.), the Mustangs have momentum at their backs and that could carry them to some surprising wins down the stretch.

All four of their wins on their current streak have come by single-digit margins, and that shows that they can win the close games when things get tight down the stretch. They held a lead after three quarters in all four of the contests, which also shows their ability to weather the storm and hold onto their cushions when their opponents are launching a comeback effort. Western will have some tough tests ahead of them down the stretch, but they are playing with a high level of confidence and that could help push the them to further success in the final weeks.

Guelph Gryphons (5-11; T-6th – West Division)

When you look at their recent string of games and the fact that they have just one win in their last nine outings, some people may write off the Guelph Gryphons then and there. Sure, they’re 5-11 on the year and have just two wins to their name since they started the season at 3-1, but the Gryphons have enough talent on their roster to mix things up in the playoff picture and put themselves in a position to squeeze back into the postseason. With four players averaging double-digit points per game this season, the Gryphons have a group that can go for a big night at any given moment, and they boast one of the league’s top young stars in second-year guard Burke Bechard (Dover Centre, Ont.).

Bechard leads the Gryphons in points (15.2) and rebounds (7.3) per game, and she’s tied for the team lead with 2.6 assists per contest. She brings a ton to the table on both ends of the floor for the Gryphons and can carry the team on any given night. The Gryphons will need to be more consistent on offence down the stretch if they want to pull an upset or two along the way, but the talent is there for the team to turn some heads before the year is out.

Laurentian Voyageurs (6-10; T-5th – East Division)

They may have earned a split this past weekend over two games in The Six, but the biggest win for the Voyageurs may have come in terms of player personnel in their game against the Toronto Varsity Blues. After missing the previous three games, guard Kayla Deschatelets (Timmins, Ont.) returned to the line-up and posted six points in 25 minutes of action in the 61-44 win over Toronto. Adding Deschatelets back to the mix is a big boost for the Voyageurs as they look to climb in the East Division standings over the final few weeks of the season.

In their weekend series in Toronto, the Voyageurs showed that they have some depth of their own. Mackenzie Robinson (Collingwood, Ont.) went for 23 points against Ryerson on Friday night to lead the team, and they will need more of that down the stretch in 2019. Guard Emily Tinnes (Newmarket, Ont.) brings it on both ends of the floor with each possession and is one of the better guards in the conference that doesn’t get enough attention. Forward Bailey Tabin (Saskatoon, Sask.) gives the team some size up front and that takes some pressure off the guards on the back end. But the Voyageurs go as their guards go, and if they can find their rhythm heading into February, anything can happen for Laurentian.

Angeline Campbell. Remember the name. The first-year guard for Nipissing looks more and more like the real deal with each passing game for Katie Hamilton’s squad.