THUNDER BAY – The Lakehead Thunderwolves drive for the OUA women’s basketball playoffs is alive and well.
The team still has work to do, and will have to win at least one game next weekend on the road against a McMaster Marauders squad that’s racked up six straight win.
But the T-Wolves took care of business at home on Saturday night to give themselves a chance, pulling away in the fourth quarter to dispatch the pesky one-win Ontario Tech Ridgebacks 56-46 and pulled into a four-way tie for the 12th and final playoff spot.
Lakehead, Laurentian, Toronto and York each enter the final weekend of regular-season play at 5-15. The Thunderwolves hold the tiebreaker against York, having beaten them in both meetings this season. However, Toronto and Laurentian have the tiebreaker lead over Lakehead, the Varsity Blues because of point differential in their two matchups, which the teams split, and the Voyageurs, for beating LU 61-51 to open the second half of the season.
“Our main focus tonight was we wanted to win it for our seniors. It’s their last time on the court. Yeah, the playoff run is still there, but that was the main focus. I feel we played harder, and more as a team, when everybody’s on the same page and we do it for each other,” said guard Kirpa Brar, who led the way with 20 points, including six in the fourth quarter.
The team bid farewell to forward Claire Wiersema and injured guard Alexia Giroux, who dressed but did not play in Saturday’s home finale.
Wiersema finished with five points in her last home-court appearance at the Thunderdrome, and the Kingston, Ont. native said it was an emotional night.
“It’s bittersweet. I’m so sad to be done and gone, but I loved it here. The fans were great, the team was great. I’ll miss the girls, but I won’t be far, so I’ll try to help out and I’ll be the one in the crowd now,” Wiersema said.
First, she added, the team has a little work to do.
“It’s huge. We had a big game from Kirpa. We had everyone step up where we needed to be. It’s a huge win and it’s so great to be in a playoff run, still. We’ve just got to keep pushing.”
A night after missing all 17-three-point attempts, Paula Lopez ended the slide in a hurry, burying one from beyond the arc that erased an early 2-0 Ontario Tech lead. The teams swapped the lead four times in the opening quarter, LU emerging with a 15-12 lead at the break.
Twice they grabbed an eight-point advantage in the second quarter, the first on an Eva Guilera hook shot in the paint.
The Ridgebacks roared back before the buzzer and cut the Lakehead lead to 26-24 at the half, Cobourg, Ont.’s Marie Stasiuk hitting a pair of free throws with eight seconds to go in the half. She finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
There were five lead changes in the third quarter including an own-basket by UOIT, the points credited to Brar.
Lakehead took the lead for good in the fourth on a corner three by second-year forward Sara Azzolini, stating an 8-0 run that pushed their advantage to 46-340 before Stasiuk ended it, hitting one of two from the charity stripe.
Rookie Kelly-Anne Coulombe and Brar hit back-to-back buckets and Whalen added a third, off a steal by Brar, stretching LU’s lead to 52-41.
“Absolutely, we’ve got a chance,” said Thunderwolves coach Hugo Boisvert. “We’re quite banged up right now. We’ll see how many bodies we can get for next weekend and who we’ll have available, but yeah, we’re in the hunt.”