Garnet and Grey survive second half onslaught to beat Thunderwolves 68-60
The nationally top-ranked University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s basketball team topped the sixth-ranked Lakehead Thunderwolves at Montpetit Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 27 to advance to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final round.
With not only a spot in Saturday’s OUA final on the line—but also a trip to the U Sports national tournament hanging in the balance—this semifinal was the biggest game in years at Montpetit Hall.
The Gees got off to a hot start in spite of allowing the first basket. The ladies in grey and garnet then got on their horses and went on a 15-point run to take an early 13-point lead in the first quarter. Lakehead would manage to then go on a small five-point swing. The Gees still took the quarter 15-7.
Sarah Besselink sank seven of the 15 points in the quarter, while point guard Brooklyn McAlear-Fanus had four points. For Lakehead, Karissa Kajorinne would score five of her team’s seven points.
The U of O would continue their onslaught in the second quarter as they widened the gap between them and their northern foe. The Gees took advantage of the Thunderwolves’ indiscipline to take a 22-point lead to the dressing room at halftime.
McAlear-Fanus once again proved dominant in the quarter, sinking five baskets for eight points to push her total to 12 on the night. Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu sank six baskets of her own to help her team take a 38-16 lead.
Jon Kreiner, long-time Thunderwolves head coach, later said his team didn’t respond well to the U of O’s game early on.
“I didn’t like our first half. We were a little tense—I thought Ottawa pressured us and we looked uncomfortable,’’ Kreiner said. “In the first half we didn’t look like we belonged. We looked a little scared and tense. At the half, I told the girls today, just go out have some fun because this could be the last time this team plays.”
In the third quarter however, the Thunderwolves would smell blood, and started chipping away at the Gees’ lead, pulling within 11 points and winning the quarter 27-16. This cut the home girls’ lead to a mere 11 points heading into the final quarter. They weren’t done there, bringing it to within five by the end.
After the game, Gee-Gees head coach Andy Sparks talked about the stress felt when Lakehead closed in.
“They did a great job of taking our key scorers out of the game, and we needed our younger kids to take over, and they did, but it took a while,’’ Sparks said. “It was a game that had a lot on the line, and we did have a high stress level. But you can tell with our press offence that our seniors were struggling with the ball at the end, but a learning experience will be better next time.’’
McAlear-Fanus hit an important long two-pointer to keep her team up with less than a second left in the game, giving some insurance to her team.
“It was important because we were kind of stuck in a drought, struggling to capitalize and make it a bigger lead,” McAlear-Fanus said. “But sometimes you see that 10 or eight-point differential. It may sound weird, but it’s a big two-point difference on the court momentum-wise.’’
As for Kreiner, he talked post-game about the importance of this semi-finals appearance for his program.
“It meant a lot to be here. In my 16 years of being here this is the first time we got this far,” Kreiner said. “We’ve really come a long way since we came here earlier this year, although first half may not have looked looked like it, but I’m very proud of the girls.’’
Lefebvre led the way for the Gees with 22, followed up by Besselink and Lefebvre-Okankwu with 10 and 14 respectively.
With the win, the Gee-Gees qualify for the nationals and the Critelli Cup finals, where they will take on the McMaster Marauders.
The Gee-Gees beat McMaster 74-40 at Montpetit Hall in November, and are looking to repeat their performance again.
The OUA final will tip off on March 2 at 4 p.m. in Montpetit Hall. Grab tickets here.