It’s always a special night when the Badgers honour their senior players, but this year’s edition of Seniors Night felt like it meant a little more than in years past. Perhaps it was the fact that this year’s Badgers team is a special one — one that has a real shot at going deep in the playoffs — but more so than that it was the players who were being honoured.
Melissa Tatti and Jessica Morris played their final regular season home game last week against the York Lions (who upset the Badgers during their first game back from the holiday break, but more on that later) in front of a sold-out Bob Davis Gym.
Badgers public address announcer and host of the Niagara Sports Report Rod Mawhood read off the accomplishments of both Tatti and Morris as the two were presented with a framed jersey — numbers 11 and 7, respectively — before head coach Mike Rao spoke about his two seniors in front of the crowd.
Morris, a 5’8 forward from Guelph, joined the Badgers back in 2016 and has played three seasons as a Badger. She has become an integral part of the Badgers team this year, averaging career-highs across the board, including 11.5 points and six rebounds per game, while shooting 40 percent from three. She has set career highs in minutes (38), points (20), rebounds (14) and threes made in a game (four) this season.
Tatti, a 5’4 point guard from Ancaster, joined the Badgers back in 2014 and has played five seasons with the team (taking a one-year hiatus back in 2017-18). She was named an OUA All-Star in 2016 and 2019, and made the All-Rookie team back in 2015. She is a lock to make a third All-Star team this season and will be in the running for MVP. She is currently leading the OUA in points (17.7) and assists (6.9), and will play her 100th career game as a Badger before seasons’ end.
“Jessica Morris is a tremendous girl,” said head coach Mike Rao. “A great basketball player, but a greater person. Tatti, she just comes in and her mark is all over this team. I always call it a blueprint, and that’s the way we play because she created a standard. Hopefully in years to come we can keep it this way.”
“Playing for [Rao] has been awesome,” said Morris. “He’s super encouraging. He encourages everyone to shoot the ball, pass the ball, it’s very team oriented with him. It’s awesome that he encourages all of us to contribute as well.”
After the pre-game ceremonies, the Lions and Badgers honoured the late Kobe Bryant with an 8-second backcourt violation and a 24-second shot clock violation during each teams’ first possession.
The Lions, who beat Brock three weeks earlier, started off hot and led by two at the half. York also sent a bus full of students to cheer on the Lions; for the first half, the small section of roughly 100 York fans drowned out the 400-plus Badger fans in attendance. The Badgers came out strong in the second half, and as the Lions lead quickly evaporated, the Badgers faithful came alive, responding with chants of ‘1-7’ (York’s football team’s record), as they quickly tamed the Lions’ fans
“I don’t really know if there’s two people in the stands or 200,” said Rao on the loud environment. “It’s good that we kept our focus, I had to keep these girls on track because it’s an electric night for the girls. If I go crazy we’re lost, so I just try to keep everyone focused.”
On the court, the Badgers gave the fans something to root for, as for the second-straight game Melissa Tatti scored 30 points as the Badgers cruised to a 73-55 win.
“It’s just so much fun to play in a gym like that and getting the win is super special,” said Tatti on the electric atmosphere. “It’s always fun to play in a gym like that, you don’t want to play in a gym with empty crowds. Especially — well we played [York] for the first game back after Christmas and their football team was all there chirping, so I was like ‘bring them, let’s see now.’”
To further the feud, Lions’ guard Emma Jonas posted a photo of her guarding Tatti on Instagram with the caption, ‘not today sweetie’, prior to the game. The two got into a scuffle in the first half that saw Tatti step over Jonas a la Allen Iverson after fighting for a loose ball. Jonas finished with three points while Tatti dropped 30.
Safe to say that the Tatti and the Badgers won that little back-and-forth.
“Yes we did,” said Tatti.
Not to be overshadowed, Sam Keltos set an OUA single-game record with nine blocks in the game; Keltos finished just shy of a triple-double with eight points and nine rebounds.
“Honestly when we get beat we know we have a little help down low which is nice,” said Tatti. “We didn’t have that last year and we know she has our back.”
“[Sam’s] second half was huge,” said Rao. “I just told her ‘you know we need you. We need you to play big.’ And she did.”
“For a final regular season [home] game that was amazing,” said Morris. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Huge crowd, they brought fans down and it was just such a fun environment to play in and we rose to the occasion tonight.”
The Badgers travelled to Toronto to face the No. 4 Rams on Saturday, falling by a score of 81-66. While the season series ended in a 1-1 tie, Ryerson holds the divisional tiebreaker with a +5 point differential. Brock will travel to Waterloo this weekend to take on the 3-15 Warriors and the 9-10 Laurier Golden Hawks.