THUNDER BAY – SPORTS – Lakehead’s #7 nationally-ranked women’s basketball team returns to the Thunderdome at 7 pm this Saturday, when they will host the Guelph Gryphons in the second round of the OUA playoffs. Guelph, the 6th seed in the OUA West, upset the 3rd seed Windsor Lancers in Windsor on Wednesday night, knocking the Lancers out of the playoffs 62-59.
“Guelph played very well in their upset over Windsor in round one of the OUA playoffs,” Thunderwolves head coach Jon Kreiner says. “Guelph makes it very tough on teams with their tough, aggressive style on defence and they really push the tempo on offence.”
The Gryphons finished the regular season 9-15, averaging 71.2 points per game as a team, good for sixth in the province. In their final ten games, however, Guelph averaged 74.8 points per game, nearly on par with Lakehead’s season average.
The right to host was earned by the Thunderwolves by virtue of their going 20-4 regular season. The two squads faced off at the beginning of January in the first action of the second half of the season with Guelph acting as host. Lakehead won both games by a combined 13 points, below their typical margin of victory.
“There are very few teams that took as many shots as we did in the regular season and Guelph is one of them,” Kreiner says. “They hold you off balance with varying defensive styles and they play as hard as anyone in the country.”
Lakehead enters the weekend as the favourite, riding an eight-game win streak, a +343 season scoring differential, the second-best shooting percentages in the province—41.3 from the floor, including 32.7 from deep—and a defence that averages the most steals per game in Ontario. Still, the Gryphons versatile offence could cause problems for the home team.
“Guelph is a very well balanced team on offence as all five of their starters average double figures,” Kreiner says. “Burke Bechard is their toughest scorer and is an amazing rebounder for her size. All of their starters can shoot the 3 ball, are good rebounders, and play without fear.”
The Thunderwolves will look to seniors Leashja Grant and Karissa Kajorinne to lead the team past Guelph. Grant enters the playoffs leading the province in scoring and rebounding, averaging 20.8 points and 12.4 rebounds per game. Those numbers also place her fourth in the country in scoring, and second in rebounding. Kajorinne currently nets 13.5 points per game. Lakehead will also look to guard Nikki Ylagan, who averages 12.6 points and 2.1 steals per game. Between Grant, Kajorinne, and Ylagan, the Thunderwolves average 6 steals per game.
Last year’s playoffs saw the Gryphons lose in the first round to the Western Mustangs, while the Thunderwolves went 1-1, falling to Windsor in the second round. Saturday’s game presents a chance for the Lakehead team to advance to the OUA Critelli Cup semi-final for the first time in four years. With an average of 76.8 points per game in the last ten, winning by an average of 20.7 points in that span, the Thunderwolves certainly are hot at the right time.
“We will need to play tough, disciplined defence, handle their pressure, and play with composure for 40 minutes,” Kreiner says.
The game begins at 7 pm and will be available via webcast courtesy of OUA.tv