Contributed by: Tyler Bennett / College Court Report Canada (@CCR_Canada)
Christmas has come and gone, as has the 2018 calendar year. With that, 2019 is now in full swing, and it’s time to turn our attention back to the hardwood.
While some teams took to the court for exhibition tournaments over the holiday break, most enjoyed time away with friends and family. Now that we’re back, however, the first weekend of the second semester could go a long way in helping to determine the playoff picture come the end of February, as several marquee games and some of the league’s top players headline the slate over the three days.
It's going to be a busy weekend in the city of Toronto as the top three teams in the East Division are all in action inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Two of the top players in the conference take to the court in Guelph in what should be a great battle in the West Division. Some of the league’s underrated scorers will look to continue to turn some heads as the new year gets underway, while teams outside of the playoff picture will look to pick up some important wins to get themselves back in a postseason spot.
Here are four of this weekend’s matchups to keep an eye on as OUA basketball gets rolling in 2019!
Queen’s Gaels @ Laurentian Voyageurs (1/4/19 @ 6:00pm EST)
One team currently occupies a spot in the postseason, while the other is on the outside looking. One team boasts one of the league’s top scorers that doesn’t grab the headlines as much as she should, while the other program has one of the better tandems that don’t get their share of attention either. On Friday night, the Queen’s Gaels head on the road to take on the Laurentian Voyageurs in the opening game of the second half for both teams.
Despite their separation in the standings, Friday should provide a stern test for both the Gaels and Voyageurs. The Gaels closed out 2018 with a record of 7-3 and are just four points out of first place in the East Division. A loss in their final game of the first semester sent Queen’s into the break on a negative note, but they will look to bounce back early in 2019 with a win over Laurentian. To mirror the Gaels, the Voyageurs sit at just 3-7 on the year but they closed out the fall semester with a win to pick up a boost of momentum ahead of the holidays.
Veteran guard Marianna Alarie has had herself quite the season for the Gaels through 10 games, but the level of attention on a provincial scale hasn’t matched her production levels. She has six games with at least 22 points in league play this season, and her 20.8 points per game average ranks second in the league overall, trailing only Leashja Grant of the Lakehead Thunderwolves. Apart from a six-point performance to close out 2018, Alarie has been one of the most consistent offensive performers this season. Up front, the presence of Maddie Morris (7.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) takes some pressure off Alarie and the guards, allowing them to have more freedom on offence.
For Laurentian, the pair of Emily Tinnes and Kayla Deschatelets are the engines that make the team go on a nightly basis. Both have started all 10 games for the Voyageurs this season and they both rank one-two in terms of points and assists per game for Laurentian. Tinnes leads the team with 17.1 points to go along with 3.2 assists per game. Deschatelets leads the team with 3.6 assists per game, which pairs well with her 14.8 points per contest. The duo account for just shy of 50% of the team’s scoring average on a nightly basis. If the Voyageurs want to make a second half run and get into the postseason, they will need their supporting cast to step up and take on bigger roles down the stretch.
Lakehead Thunderwolves @ Guelph Gryphons (1/5/19 @ 6:00pm EST)
It’s always a must-see game when you get two of the best players in the OUA on the same court, and that’s the scenario in Guelph on Saturday night when the Guelph Gryphons host the Lakehead Thunderwolves to kick off the second half of the year both teams. Both teams are in the playoff picture in the West Division after the first half of the season, and a win would help move either team a step closer to securing a spot in the postseason.
Lakehead has taken the league and country by storm with their strong start to the season. A pair of top-10 wins highlight their 9-1 start to the season, and they closed out the fall semester on a five-game winning streak. They have the longest current streak in the West Division and they will look to make it six straight victories with a road win over the Gryphons. As for Guelph, they will be looking to bounce back after limping to the holiday break. Having lost their last three games, the Gryphons sit at 4-6 on the year and are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the division with eight points. A win on their home floor over a top-caliber team like the Thunderwolves would go a long way for their confidence moving forward.
For the Thunderwolves, fifth-year forward Leashja Grant has grabbed a ton of headlines this season, and rightfully so. She leads the league in scoring (22.3 PPG) and rebounding (12.7 RPG) and has been a huge part of the hot start for Lakehead. While Grant’s numbers stand out above the rest, Lakehead is more than just a one-trick pony. In the backcourt, the pair of Nikki Ylagan (13.0 PPG, 39.0% 3PT) and Karissa Kajorinne (12.4 PPG, 33.8% 3PT) give the Thunderwolves offensive weapons from beyond the arc to help take some attention away from the paint. All three players put up double-digit scoring averages despite playing less than 29 minutes per night. Impressive.
Not to be outdone, the Gryphons have their own star in Burke Bechard. The second-year guard leads the Gryphons in scoring with an average of 15.0 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the floor. She also leads the team in rebounding (6.7 RPG), while ranking second in terms of assists per game (2.1). Bechard is one of three players to have started all 10 games this season, joining veterans Sarah Holmes (13.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and Ivana Vujadinovic (11.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG) in the starting lineup each night out. The Gryphons have their share of experience on the roster, along with youth, and that balance could serve them well down the stretch. However, they need to pick up some wins early in 2019 to secure a spot in the playoffs, and what better way to kick off the term than with a win over arguably the team to beat in the division.
Carleton Ravens @ Ryerson Rams (1/5/19 @ 2:00pm EST)
Saturday afternoon in Toronto will be one of the hottest tickets all season long in the OUA. Before the battle of undefeated teams on the men’s side of things, another top-10 battle will take place inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre in women’s basketball. The Ryerson Rams will host the Carleton Ravens in a contest that will surely shake things up in the East Division as the second semester gets rolling on the hardwood.
The Ravens came into the year as the defending national champions for the first time in school history, and while their record is considerably different than it was a year ago at this point in the year, they are still considered a top contender to win it all. At 8-2 through the holiday break, the Ravens have more regular season losses this year than the previous two seasons combined, but they’re just two points out of first in the division. As for the Rams, they are looking to bounce back from a loss in their 2018 finale that brought an end to their winning streak. At 9-1, the Rams are in a tie for top spot in the division after 10 games.
Carleton will be led into Saturday’s action by a trio of players who are all shooting above 37% from the floor and have averaged double-digit points per game over the first half of the season. Forward Alyssa Cerino leads the group of on both fronts, averaging 13.1 points on 41.7% shooting from the floor. In the backcourt, Madison Reid (12.4 PPG, 37.3% FG) and Nicole Gilmore (10.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 41.6% FG) give the Ravens a solid guard presence on both ends of the floor. While their offence is only averaging a shade above 65 points per game, the name of the game once again has been defence for Carleton. The Ravens are holding their opponents to just 52.4 points per contest, but will have their hands full with a Ryerson offence that averages over 74 points themselves this season.
The 2018-19 edition of the Rams may be one of the more balanced teams in the OUA. Through 10 games, they have nine players who are averaging between 4.6 and 11.6 points per game. Eight of those nine players have made at least nine appearances this season, further showcasing their depth and the level of confidence that the coaching staff has in the group. Forwards Jama Bin-Edward and Bronwyn Williams have led the way for the Rams through the holiday break. Williams ranks second on the team in both scoring (10.6 PPG) and rebounding (6.1 RPG), while Bin-Edward leads Ryerson with 11.6 points per game. With three of their top four scorers having at least one year of eligibility left after this season, the Rams are a team that could not only win it all this year, but also defend it in 2019-20. A win over Carleton would certainly cement that they are one of the top contenders in the country this season and would do wonders for their confidence as they look to start another lengthy winning streak.
Ottawa Gee-Gees @ Ryerson Rams (1/6/19 @ 2:00pm EST)
If the weekend wasn’t challenging enough for the Rams, a day after taking on the defending national champions, they welcome the top team in the East Division to town. The Ottawa Gee-Gees come to Toronto for a matinee showdown on what should be a second straight day of exciting basketball inside the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
The Gee-Gees will take a 9-1 record into the weekend ahead of their matchups with the Toronto Varsity Blues and the Rams. After a season-opening loss to Carleton, the Gee-Gees have since rattled off nine straight wins to take top spot in the East Division. They will be looking to extend their streak to double digits with impressive showings in Toronto, but they will need their star players to put forth their best efforts in order to emerge victorious.
Ottawa’s starting five may be the most balanced in the country. All five of their regulars average at least 10.0 points per game while averaging 28.3 minutes per game or fewer. Then, their regulars off the bench average anywhere between 4.2 and 5.5 points per game to give the team some strong production in limited minutes. Point guard Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus is one of the league’s top facilitators, averaging a team-high 5.5 assists to go along with 11.5 points per game. McAlear-Fanus can run the offence at a high clip, but she also possesses a strong offensive game herself. Angela Ribarich (10.6 PPG, 1.8 BPG) also gives Ottawa a noteworthy presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, helping to keep teams honest in their schemes inside.