THUNDER BAY – The outcome of Saturday night’s non-conference game between the Lakehead Thunderwolves and the visiting Algoma Thunderbirds was never really in doubt.
Five minutes in and the Wolves had burst out to a 17-0 lead and they didn’t look back, cruising to a 78-38 win in their 2021-22 pre-season home-court debut.
It was largely on the backs of their posts, veteran Mariah MacFarlane of Marathon, Ont. and Spanish import Eva Guilera, who combined for 23 points and 13 boards, giving Lakehead another weapon to help take the pressure off guards Sofia Lluch and Tiffany Reynolds.
Getting the ball inside was part of a readjustment of the game plan put in place by coach Jon Kreiner, after his team suffered a pair of lopsided losses earlier this month to the University of Manitoba Bisons on the road.
The Thunderwolves ignored their post players in those two games, looking to attack too much with their guards. Ball movement was key.
“Every time coach Dave (McCallum) recorded us moving the ball three times or more, we had a shot quality of 75 per cent or better, which is relatable to school – 75 per cent is pretty good,” Kreiner said.
“We have to go through our posts. I think Eva, she’s a first-year player and she has a lot to learn, but she’s going to be terrific.
“She’s got a lot to work on. Mariah can shoot the ball, but the two of them are very inexperienced, even though Mariah’s in her fourth year, this is really only her second year.”
Reynolds, who tied Lluch with a game-high 14 points, said adding more dimension to the Thunderwolves offence means the opposition can’t cheat on the perimeter, they have to be wary of the threat down low.
This opens things up for everyone, the fourth-year guard said.
“We’re a guard-strong team, most of our players are guards. But our posts help us so much because they can relieve pressure. If (other teams) want to trap the guards, well, there’s our post, ready to hit down every shot, grab every rebound and work as hard as they can every single time,” Reynolds said.
That’s great news for Lluch, whose court sense was always good, but seemed next-level against the Thunderbirds, bringing what she learned last season playing professionally in Spain to the OUA court.
Lluch was only credited with a single assist, but make no mistake, the offense moves on her will and it was evident on Saturday night.
“It taught me to be more patient and to slow the game down a little bit more and must play the game,” Lluch said of the lessons learned overseas.
The Thunderwolves led 47-15 at the half, allowing Kreiner to utilize his entire bench, giving big minutes to newcomers like Ally Burke, who started and finished with seven points, five boards, two assists and two steals. Guilera was good for 10 and seven, while MacFarlane wound up with 13 points and six rebounds.
Overall, LU’s shooting wasn’t great, just 27-for-67, but they out-rebounded Algoma 44 to 25 and had nine steals.
Thunder Bay’s Kerya Gallo nailed a three-pointer in the second half, while fellow former Westgate Tiger Allison Read had two points. Algoma’s Megan Looney, who played for LU in 2019-20, had four points. The Thunder Bay connection continued behind the bench, where former Lakehead star Karissa Kajorinne is an assistant coach.
The two teams square off again on Sunday at 11 a.m.