As the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) women’s basketball season resumed on Feb 9, so too did the games between the conference’s premier teams. These tilts could serve as a playoff (or even nationals) preview, providing a clearer view of the playoff picture.
The McMaster Marauders and Western Mustangs are two teams contending for playoff spots and looking to make noise in the postseason as well.
The Mustangs women’s team finished top of the OUA regular season back in 2019-20. The Marauder women still have players from their 2019 national title team and remain a contender.
On Nov. 9 in London, the Marauders handed Western their first loss of the season, taking a double-digit lead into the fourth before holding on for the 69-61 victory. In their following game at the Burridge Gym in Hamilton on Nov 12, Western avenged their earlier loss with a 69-59 win.
After a close back-and-forth first half, Western put together a run in the third quarter by hitting threes and pushing the ball in transition. The Marauders fought to chip away at the lead but ultimately couldn’t get close enough to make a comeback.
Here are some talking points from the games and beyond.
Gates continues to score while Marauders build supporting cast
The fourth-year OUA all-star and U Sports All-Canadian has picked up her production right where she left off before the break. She leads the nation in points-per-game (22.8) and showed her prowess against the Mustangs.
Matched up at times against veteran defender Jessica Morris (a transfer from Brock), Gates was able to create her own shot from different parts of the court. She scored from the post, driving inside, on the fast break and from beyond the arc. One of the notable aspects of McMaster’s offence is the ways they’re able to find Gates in scoring positions. She was able to score off cuts to the basket numerous times while also finishing under contact.
One of the X-factors of the season will be the team’s secondary scoring beyond Gates. First-year forward Amy Stinson – from nearby Westdale Secondary School – has emerged as an budding offensive threat.
Much like Gates, Stinson has shown an ability to score from different points of the court – inside, outside from three, cutting to the basket and in transition. On Saturday, she scored a career-high 21 points as well as collecting 16 rebounds and four assists. Stinson and Gates are also the team’s top two rebounders.
At home against Western, veteran post player Clare Sharkey had a solid game with 9 points, 11 rebounds and five assists while guarding Western’s top post players. Going forward, she will be tasked with guarding the top forwards of the OUA.
Point guards Arianne Soriano and Jenna Button have been tasked with running the offence. Two-way shooters Mia Spadafora and Tori Rigas-Didomenico bring experience, a strong defensive presence and an ability to stretch the court. Delaney Bourget also provides a deep shooting presence.
They stepped up on Wednesday in London, as Rigas-Didomenico, Spadafora and Bourget all connected at a high clip from deep. That night, the Marauders out-paced the Mustangs in three-point shooting (29.4 per cent to 17.9) and steals (15 to 6). Their contributions will be vital in how far the Marauders go in the playoffs.
Western’s Emerging Backcourt Fills Void
The Mustangs had a breakthrough season in head coach Nate McKibbon’s first year back in 2019-20, finishing a 19-3 and a whisker away from making the OUA finals and nationals. After bidding farewell to a core of key veterans who helped get them there – Madison Horst, Julia Curran, Elizabeth Leblanc and Rachel Fradgley – the Mustangs returning and incoming players have stepped up.
With the school’s graduate programs (which attracted Leblanc and Fradgley back in 2019-20), Western got two veteran additions in Morris and Ashley Wheeler. Their experience and ability to impact the game on both ends of the court was noticeable as Morris took on the assignment of guarding Gates while Wheeler showed her ability to hit from the midrange several times.
The Mustangs attacked the paint earlier in the first half on Saturday, scoring through drives and post moves through forwards Brett Fischer, Sarah Harvey and Morgan Tamminga.
Similar to 2019-20, Western has strong guard play as well – which was a big part of them blowing the game open. First-year Madalyn Picton and second-year Ariane Saumure helped dictate the pace and flow of the game, pushing the ball in transition, scoring on their own drives and finding teammates for good shots.
First-year guard Avarie Thomas capitalized on their playmaking, hitting four-of-six threes as well as grabbing two steals. It was a career-high for her in points.
That balanced scoring and defence is evident throughout the season with Saumure, Picton and Harvey all averaging double-digit points while Wheeler isn’t far off either. With that level of execution and depth, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Western reach the heights they did in 2019-20 – if not surpass them.
Tough Test Continues for Marauders
Marauders coach Theresa Burns and her side won’t have much time to catch their breath before another home-and-home with an elite opponent. They travel to St. Catharines on Feb. 16 to take on the undefeated, defending OUA champion Brock Badgers before facing off against them at home on Nov. 19
The Badgers are coming off a 77-46 win over Windsor and boast just as much – if not more – of the experience and depth Western has. Leading the way is 2019-20 OUA All-Star Samantha Keltos, who signed a professional contract in Australia (which she will start following the season) as well as new additions Madalyn Weinert, Laurentian transfer Mackenzie Robinson and former Gannon and Humber College guard Ivana Twumasi.
Like the Western games, the Brock matches should provide a good idea of where the Marauders stand in regard to the Critelli Cup picture.
Featured Photo: Kim Ng/Western Athletics