When it was announced that OUA leading scorer Kira Cornelissen was going to miss Brock’s matchup against Ryerson back on January 27, the Badgers season began to look unfavourable. With the playoffs around the corner, Cornelissen was listed with a concussion, meaning her return to the starting lineup was unlikely for the weeks to come.
The Badgers would drop their game against the Rams, but have since been able to win three straight without their star forward. However, things began to get worse for Brock on the health front, as guard Allie Columbus went down with a knee injury against Waterloo last week. Columbus’ return this season is unclear.
With the two injured, the Badgers are down to seven healthy players, or who are at least healthy enough to play. More importantly, the Badgers two starting point guards are starting to play their best basketball of the season at the right time.
Bridget Atkinson, who missed all of preseason, has been one of the best guards in Ontario over the last little stretch. Along with Melissa Tatti turning her season around, the Badgers have two of the best point guards in the OUA at this moment. What has been the cause of the two playing much better since the calendar turned to 2017?
“We didn’t have [Atkinson] until our second league game,” said head coach Ashley MacSporran. “I think the experience of playing together has changed both of them. They are both very comfortable now with each other.”
The improvement for both guards showed specifically in Brock’s win against Waterloo, when the Warriors cut the Badgers lead down to four with 5:16 left in the game. Atkinson reentered at the 4:49 mark and proceeded to hit a jump shot to lead the Badgers on to a 8-2 run, which included a Tatti three. The two would score 11 of the Badgers’ final 15 points, as Atkinson would lead Brock with 24 points, seven rebounds and three blocks; while Tatti added 12 points, six assists and four steals.
On Saturday, the Badgers upset the Laurier Golden Hawks 72-67, to extend their win streak to a season-high three games. Atkinson would pick up a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while collecting six assists. Tatti would add 12 points again, along with eight assists and four steals. Baelie Campbell, the team’s fourth leading scorer, led the way with 19 points.
Since Brock’s game against Queen’s on Jan. 20, when the Badgers almost upset the only U Sports undefeated team, Atkinson is averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks. During that same stretch Tatti has averaged (she missed one game against York) 16 points, five assists and 3.6 steals.
MacSporran explained Atkinson’s game as a “banger”, saying she is capable of scoring even when getting dragged down and fouled. The coach also said the third year guard can shoot the three, but she doesn’t have to (Atkinson averages 0.3 three’s per game). The coach continued saying that with Tatti being able to pop off the dribble allows the two guards to play well together.
As a team, the Badgers win streak has moved them from the 11th seed to the ninth seed, if the playoffs were to start today. The Badgers can move up as high as the seventh seed, but that would require them to win their remaining three games and Ottawa to lose out, which is highly unlikely.
At this point, it looks like Brock will be playing divisional opponent Lakehead in the first round, but the question remains to be who will be the home team.
“I think we are playing our best basketball right now,” said MacSporran. “We are knocking on the door and thinking about climbing up the ladder.”
Last year the Badgers lost out on home court in the first round of the playoffs after a late season loss to Guelph. The Gryphons would then host the Badgers in the opening round, ultimately beat the Badgers — so to say the Badgers need home court for the first round is an understatement.
This season, the Badgers played Lakehead twice on the road, winning the first game 92-84 and losing the second matchup 71-47.
In terms of Cornelissen, MacSporran hopes to get the forward back for the final games of the season.
“It was nice to see her in the team room today and she was upstairs watching,” said MacSporran about Cornelissen following the Waterloo game. “She’s had to be alone and sitting in the dark. Hopefully before our last few games she’ll be ready to go.”
If the Badgers can get Cornelissen back ahead of the playoffs, they’re a team that could upset one of the higher ranked teams in the later rounds.
The Badgers will close out their home schedule on Jan. 10 against the 2-14 Algoma Thunderbirds. They’ll close their season out on the road versus 6-10 Western and 13-3 Windsor in a couple weeks.