It’s been a tough year for the Lakehead Thunderwolves. After going 36-12 over the past two seasons — including 20-4 last year — the T-Wolves dropped to a dismal 1-7 after getting blown out two nights in a row by the Badgers.
The drop off is largely due to the graduation of Leashja Grant, who won back-to-back OUA MVP awards in each of the past two seasons. Grant led the OUA in scoring and rebounding in those two seasons, putting up 20.6 and 12.5 last year and 22.3 and 14.1 the year prior. It’s tough to fill those numbers no matter who you are.
The Badgers, who lost to Lakehead by 37 and 33 last season, returned the favour this time around, winning the first game of the back-to-back 68-51 and the second, 72-39. The Badgers held Lakehead to three single-digit scoring quarters over the weekend.
“We made a couple of adjustments, but nothing major,” said Rao. “We just did a couple things to stop them — all our changes are defensive switches, so we just adjusted there and it worked out for us. I really like the fact that we gave up six points in the third quarter [of game one], that really propelled us.”
The T-Wolves’ best player, sophomore point guard Sofia Lluch, scored 10 points in the first half, but the Spaniard was held to just three points and no made field goals in the second half, an adjustment head coach Mike Rao said was a big discussion point during the halftime break.
“We just put a little bit more ball pressure on [Lluch] and we denied a little bit of the entry into the high post which freed her up. We denied the initial set, that’s what we were looking at. We were guarding her pretty well but it was too much off-ball movement for us and so we stopped it at its beginning. We made it harder and harder for them to get the ball to where they wanted to find her.”
Melissa Tatti once again filled up the stat sheet, recording 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and five steals. Kristin Gallant added 16 points and six rebounds while Jessica Morris scored 15 points and hauled down a career-high 14 rebounds en route to the win.
The Badgers once again had a big offensive third quarter, scoring 24 points while hitting six threes in the frame. The Badgers have scored 141 third quarter points this year, over 20 more than their next highest total.
Game two saw the Badgers defence go up a notch, holding the Thunderwolves to a ghastly 39 points on just 26.8 percent shooting. A large part of that had to do with the woeful shooting performance of T-Wolves guard Nikki Ylagan, who jacked up 39 shots over the weekend, converting on just eight of them including 6-28 from deep to bring her season shooting percentage to just 19.8. Lluch was held to just one point off 0-5 shooting.
“I think everyone is rotating really well,” said fourth-year wing Jessica Morris. “Our keys on defence are hands up and tipping passes and I think the rookies really stepped up in the second half when they got their minutes.”
Morris led the Badgers on offence, putting up 17 points in the first half off of an extremely efficient 5-7 shooting night, including 4-5 from deep en route to a career-high 19 points. That number would’ve been much higher had the game not been a blowout, as the starters rested up on the bench for a majority of the second half.
“[The Thunderwolves] were playing a type of zone defence and for a shooter that is your favourite thing to see,” said Morris. “My teammates were finding me in the right spots all night, I give them all the credit.”
The leap Morris has made has been one the Badgers desperately needed, as last year opposing teams would double Tatti and force the other players to score, a strategy that worked out more times than not.
“I had a lot of injuries last year that hindered my athleticism and this year I’m feeling quicker, bouncier and I’m using that on the court,” said Morris.
The Badgers will travel to frigid North Bay to take on the 2-5 Nipissing Lakers on Friday before facing the 5-3 Laurier Golden Hawks in Waterloo on Saturday. Their next home game comes on January 11 at the Meridian Centre.