Weekend Preview: Who is hitting the hardwood this weekend?

Photo by Laurentian Voyageurs
Photo by Laurentian Voyageurs

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

With two weeks left in the regular season, the playoff picture has continued to clear up.

The top four teams in each division have secured their respective postseason berths, leaving only two spots left to be filled on either side. Given the way the standings look entering the weekend, one can likely predict the final teams to advance to the playoffs, but as we know all too well in the sporting world, anything can happen on any given night.

Over the weekend, there are several intriguing contests on tap that could greatly impact the seedings before the season is over. Teams are right on the heels of one another in terms of points, with many either tied or just a couple apart; a notion that puts a premium on wins down the stretch. Losses could see you slip from a first-round bye into a first-round contest, while wins could see you guarantee a quarterfinal appearance. But before we get to the finish line, the penultimate week must hit the hardwood.

Here are three games that could have big playoff implications before the season is over and done with from across the OUA landscape.

Windsor Lancers at Guelph Gryphons - Friday, February 8th

Over the next two weeks, every game and every point will have an increased level of significance for teams battling for a playoff spot, and Friday’s tilt between the Windsor Lancers and Guelph Gryphons will have that vibe to it. The Gryphons come into the weekend alone in sixth place in the West Division, but are just two points ahead of three teams who are nipping at their heels for the final playoff spot in the division. Friday’s contest could be a first round preview if the standings remain the way they are, with Windsor in third and Guelph in sixth.

The Lancers come into the weekend as one of the hottest teams in the entire conference. Having won seven straight games to push their record to 14-6 overall, the Lancers are looking more and more like a top contender for the OUA title with each passing game. A slow start has been all but forgotten with their current winning streak, and the Lancers have hit their stride at the right time. Windsor has picked apart the bottom half of the West Division over their winning streak to build momentum and confidence ahead of the playoffs, and that could help them pick up some upset wins against the higher seeds once the quest for the Critelli Cup ramps up.

Windsor and Guelph last met just two weeks ago, back on January 26 in Windsor. The Lancers picked up the 15-point win, 85-70, to extend their winning streak to five games at the time. After falling behind after the first quarter, Windsor used a big second frame to take a lead into the break and they would build on it over the course of the second half. Kayah Clarke (Hamilton, Ont.) led the Lancers with 18 points in the win, while Samantha Gucciardi (Vaughan, Ont.) added 17 points and five rebounds off the bench. On Friday, the Lancers will go for the regular season sweep over the Gryphons to keep their winning streak alive.

Over the last couple of weeks, the pair of Eve Uwayesu (Ottawa, Ont.) and Olivia Osamusali (Brampton, Ont.) have been playing some of their best basketball of the season. Against the Brock Badgers back on February 1, Uwayesu flirted with a triple-double in Windsor’s 71-66 win, posting 20 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Osamusali has two double-doubles in her last four games, and she has recorded double-digit points in each of those four games to help pace the offence. Add in veteran guard Carly Steer (Windsor, Ont.), and the Lancers have a talented group that is peaking at the right time and could turn some heads come the postseason.

The Gryphons are in full control of their playoff chances with two weeks left on the ledger in the 2018-19 regular season. Two points ahead of three teams all tied with 10 points, the equation is simple for Guelph: win and you’re in. Guelph has an uphill battle, as three of their final four regular season opponents, including Windsor, sit above them in the standings. However, three of the four games on the schedule will be played on Guelph’s home floor, giving the Gryphons home-court advantage when it matters most.

Guelph comes into the weekend with just one win in their last five contests; all of which came on the road, and only two wins since they started the season with a 3-1 record. Their last win came last weekend in a split against the Algoma Thunderbirds in Sault Ste. Marie. On February 1, Guelph took a big lead after the first half to seize control of the contest, only to see the Thunderbirds make things interesting in the third by holding the Gryphons to just eight points in the frame. In the end, Guelph came away with the 79-70 win over the Thunderbirds thanks in part to 14 points and 11 rebounds from second-year guard Burke Bechard (Dover Centre, Ont.).

Bechard is one of four Gryphons to average double-digit points this season. She leads the team in both scoring (15.4 PPG) and rebounding (8.3 RPG) and has emerged as one of the league’s brightest stars with her consistent play on both ends of the court this season. Guard Skyla Minaker (Sarnia, Ont.) is averaging a team-high 2.9 assists per game to go along with 11.6 points per contest. Add in Sarah Holmes (Welland, Ont.) and Ivana Vujadinovic (Burlington, Ont.) to the mix and the Gryphons have a talented group. Their offence has been keeping them in games, but Guelph will need to shore things up on the defensive end if they want to make a run to secure a spot in the post-season.

Western Mustangs at Brock Badgers - Saturday, February 9th

Thursday night’s outcome between the Brock Badgers and Waterloo Warriors took a bit of intrigue away from Saturday’s contest between the Badgers and the visiting Western Mustangs, but the contest could go a long way in determining the playoff picture. The last two spots in the West Division are up for grabs, and the Mustangs are one of the teams vying for the sixth and final spot over the final two weeks of the season.

It’s been an interesting season so far for the Mustangs to say the least. They split their first two games of the year, dropping their opener against Guelph before picking up a win over the Laurier Golden Hawks. From there, they dropped 10 straight games, a losing streak that continued into the New Year. Four straight wins, all inside Alumni Hall, followed and helped Western make some noise in the West Division. The noise quickly faded as Western now enters Saturday’s game against Brock having lost their last four contests to fall back into a tie for seventh-place with 10 points in the division.

Western and Brock met back on January 5 in London, and the Badgers picked up a 70-57 win to extend the Mustangs’ losing streak to double digits at the time. A big factor into the down year for the Mustangs has been the fact that they haven’t been operating at 100% for most of the season. Julia Curran (Waterloo, Ont.) has played just five games, while Maddy Horst (Baden, Ont.) has seen the court in just nine games. In fact, first-year wing Melanie Cloutier (Sudbury, Ont.) is the only player to have seen action in all 20 games to this point in the season.

Fourth-year guard Laura Graham (Sudbury, Ont.) has been doing what she can all season long to keep the Mustangs competitive on both ends of the floor. In 18 games, all of which have been starts, the 5’8’’ guard leads the team with 12.7 points and 2.6 assists per game while also pulling down 3.9 rebounds. Both Curran (10.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG) and Horst (10.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG) have posted strong numbers in limited action for Head Coach Brian Cheng. The biggest question around the Mustangs is what would have happened if they were at full health all year long. Hindsight is 20/20, but the Mustangs are still in position to secure a playoff spot down the stretch, and it all starts with a strong showing against the Badgers.

Brock comes into Saturday’s contest against the Mustangs breathing a little bit easier thanks to their win over Waterloo on Thursday night. With the victory, the Badgers secured a playoff spot and are now in a position to secure a home playoff game in the first round. Brock sits in fourth place after 21 games and are currently six up on the looming Laurier squad. The Golden Hawks have one game in-hand which could bring them to within four points if they’re able to pick up a win, but with the playoff spot solidified, a load is definitely lifted off the Badgers’ shoulders in the final two weeks of the year.

Waterloo and Brock were supposed to meet on Wednesday night, but a winter storm and dangerous road conditions saw the game postponed by a day. In the win over Waterloo, the Badgers took a 28-9 lead after the opening quarter and never looked back, cruising to the 74-47 victory in front of their home crowd. Four different Badgers reached double-figures in the win, while 10 of the 12 players who took to the court recorded at least two points in a balanced effort. Kristin Gallant (Milton, Ont.) led all scorers with 14 points on the night to go along with five rebounds, two assists, and three steals in just 16 minutes of court time.

Saturday is also Senior’s Night for the Badgers, and it marks the final regular season home game for Melissa Tatti (Welland, Ont.). Tatti has had herself a strong career with the Badgers, and she’s been the driving force for the team in 2018-19. This season, Tatti is averaging 16.5 points and 4.6 assists per game, both of which are team-high marks. She’s also played an average of 38.4 minutes per contest to lead the league. Gallant (10.9 PPG) is the only other player for Brock to average double-digit points per game this season, but they do have six players averaging at least 5.5 points per contest. As a team, the Badgers have held opponents to an average of 64.1 points per contest, which is an impressive number, but they’re only scoring an average of 63.4 points themselves. A bigger presence on offence could help the Badgers surprise some teams come playoff time if they can advance to the quarterfinals.

Ryerson Rams at Laurentian Voyageurs - Saturday, February 9th

Saturday night brings forth a potential playoff preview when the Ryerson Rams visit the Laurentian Voyageurs in a key East Division battle. While the top four teams in the division have secured themselves a playoff spot, there are still plenty of scenarios that could play out over the next two weeks that to shake up the potential playoff pairings.

As the hosts of the U SPORTS Women’s Basketball National Championships in March, the Rams are guaranteed one of the eight spots in the tournament, regardless of how they finish in the OUA playoffs. The team would much rather earn their spot with a deep playoff run as opposed to having their spot handed to them, and they are in a prime position to make a run at the league title. Ryerson sits in third place in the division with 30 points, tied with the Carleton Ravens with identical 15-4 records. With one win over Laurentian already in the books, Ryerson will aim for the regular season sweep on Saturday when the two teams meet inside Ben F. Avery Gymnasium.

Back on January 18, the Rams cruised past the Voyageurs on a night where the team hosted a media preview event for the upcoming national finale. Ryerson picked up the 87-63 win thanks to a balanced attack that saw Head Coach Carly Clarke use her full roster. What followed were two losses in the nation’s capital that dropped the Rams from the top spot in the division and sent them sliding down – ever so slightly – the national rankings. Still, Ryerson is one of the top teams in the country and they will look to build on their win over the Toronto Varsity Blues from last weekend with a win against Laurentian.

Up and down their roster, the Rams are full of talent. Veteran forward Sofia Paska (Etobicoke, Ont.) has been a consistent force in the paint for the Rams all season long. The 6’4’’ forward is averaging a team-best 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while averaging under 26.0 minutes per contest. In fact, nobody on the team is averaging more than 26.5 minutes per game this season (Marin Scotten, Ottawa, Ont.). The balance that the Rams possess on both sides of the ball is well-documented, and the confidence that Clarke has in her team is on another level. Ryerson can roll out different lineups and the team will not skip a beat on either end of the court. Against a Laurentian team that is now back to full health, the Rams will look to continue building positive momentum on the road.

Coming into the weekend, Laurentian currently occupies the sixth and final playoff spot in the East Division with 14 points. They sit six points ahead of the Varsity Blues, and the two programs meet on Friday night to kick off the weekend for both programs. A win over U of T on Friday would secure a playoff spot for the Voyageurs ahead of their matchup with the Rams, but Saturday could very well be a first round preview if the standings stay the way they are now.

The last time that the Voyageurs took on the Rams, Laurentian was without one of their top players in guard Kayla Deschatelets (Timmins, Ont.). Now operating at full strength, the northern squad enters the weekend on the heels of a win over the Nipissing Lakers in their most recent outing. Four different players scored in double figures in the 75-64 win, including Deschatelets who went for a game-high 22 points. The Voyageurs have just two wins in their last six games, but they will be looking to put forth a strong showing on their home court over the weekend to secure a playoff spot and show what this team can do when fully healthy.

Laurentian’s back court rotation is one of the more underrated units in the league. Fifth-year guard Emily Tinnes (Newmarket, Ont.) has played a strong two-way game all season long for the Voyageurs. She leads the team in scoring with an average of 14.1 points per game. Tinnes is also tied for the team lead with 3.2 assists per game while also pulling down 3.9 rebounds per contest. Add in Mackenzie Robinson (Collingwood, Ont.) to the mix and her 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game averages, and it’s easy to see the impact that the three guards have on the team.