The Gee-Gees home opening ceremonies were a success. Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum
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Vets Lefebvre-Okankwu, De Iulio, and Ribarich lead team in 87-50 win

The University of Ottawa women’s basketball opened up their regular season schedule on Friday night against the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks. 

The Golden Hawks, wearing their road purple’s for the second time this season, entered play with a 1-1 record after dropping their last game on the road to the University of Windsor Lancers 79-60. Laurier defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in their season opener at home in Waterloo 52-50. 

Wearing the home greys for the first time this season, the Gee-Gees looked to get the machine going again after a strong 2018-19 campaign. The Gee-Gees were OUA finalists last season and finished fourth at the USports championships last spring in Toronto.

Angela Ribarich scored the first point of the season for the Gees. The 6-5 centre was fouled in the Laurier key early and scored on her second of two free-throw attempts.

Gee-Gees rookie Natsuki Szczokin scored her first three-pointer moments later, giving Ottawa an early 5-0 lead. Laurier’s Rachel Woodburn opened up the score for the Golden Hawks with a jump shot to make it 5-2.

Both teams then exchanged points, with the Gee-Gees progressively losing ground till the Golden Hawks got within one point of the home team with about four minutes left in the quarter. That, however, would be the closest the Golden Hawks got to the Gee-Gees in this game, as Szczokin was fouled a minute later. She sank both her free throws and put Ottawa back on the right track.

The Gees took control of the quarter after that, scoring the majority of the points to go on a nice 14-8 run.

At the end of the first quarter, the Gee-Gees led 24-17. Bridgitte Lefebvre-Okankwu had eight points in the quarter while teammates Ribarich and Szczokin had five each. 

For Laurier, Tayania Siwek-Smith, Rachel Woodburn and Kate Moran had four each, Moran also had three offensive rebounds.

The second quarter saw Laurier cut into Ottawa’s first-quarter lead early, at one point even outscoring the Gees’ 11-7. For Laurier Woodburn was instrumental in that early quarter drive scoring five points while Moran and Siwek-Smith each had two points

But the Gee’s bared down late in the quarter and regained control of the game going on a nice sixth point drive thanks to Ribarich and Alana Renon to take the quarter 13-11 and to take a 37-28 lead to the half.

Ribarich had four points in the second quarter while both Melina De Iulio and Tyra Blizzard saw some playtime and scored their first points of the season. De Iulio had two offensive rebounds, pushing her game total to three. 

Head coach Andy Sparks had this to say about his young players after the game. 

“Natsuki is an outstanding first year for us, I think she’s gonna have a great season as long as we can keep her healthy and work hard,” said Sparks. “I thought Melina De lulio was great, she’s just a second-year for us, she didn’t play many minutes last year but she’s a good player for us now, a lot of different weapons with this group.” 

For Laurier, Woodburn led the team after two quarters with nine points. 

In spite of leading at the half, Sparks didn’t mince words about his team’s first-half performance

“I don’t think we were great in the first half, I thought we were a bit tentative, we had a lot of transition opportunities we didn’t take advantage of,” said Sparks. 

Coming back from the half, the Gee-Gees started dominating the girls in purple, taking advantage of a number of mistakes to widen their lead by 12 in the quarter.

Brooklynn McAlear-Fanus, silent to this point, had a good start to the half, scoring four points from the get-go. Her teammate Lefebvre-Okankwu matched her a couple of minutes later and Maia Timmons had a jump shot to kickstart the Ottawa offence.

It was a truly dominant, more confident Ottawa team that took to the court in the third quarter, as they grabbed a commanding 61-40 lead.

Brooklyn McAlear-Fanus had a strong third quarter with five points, while Lefebvre-Okankwu built on her dominant performance by adding six points for 16 on the night.

For Laurier, Moran was the only player to score more than once in the quarter, with two jump shots in the quarter. 

In the fourth quarter, the Gee-Gees were in a class of their own. The girls in gray outscored their opponents 26-10 to take the game 87-50.

Lefebvre-Okankwu led all Gee-Gees players in points with 18 on the night. After the game, she talked about the impact her teammates had on her performance.

Sparks was also a lot more satisfied with his team’s second-half performance

“In the second half, we started getting the tempo we wanted to have,” said Sparks. “We have very good athletes and this group is fun.”

The Gee-Gees will be back in action on Saturday when they face the University of Waterloo at Montpetit gym. Waterloo is 0-2, losing to Carleton at the Raven’s Nest on Friday night 74-45.   

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