Crunch time for 'Wolves

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Thunderwolves forward Yoosrie Salhia attempts a free throw during practice Thursday at Lakehead University’s C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
(Sandi Krasowski)
Thunderwolves forward Yoosrie Salhia attempts a free throw during practice Thursday at Lakehead University’s C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse. (Sandi Krasowski)

The streaking Lakehead Thunderwolves returned to the Canadian university men’s basketball top 10 for the first time in almost two and a half months on Tuesday.
Next step: Staying there. The Windsor Lancers, LU’s final OUA regular season opponent at home, will provide that opportunity today and Saturday at C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse as they try to stop the Thunderwolves’ season-high six-game win streak.
“I think we’re playing our best ball of the season so far, whether or not we’re peaking or not I don’t know,” Thunderwolves coach Scott Morrison said Thursday.
“It’s easier to get to this position than to stay at this point. We’ll find out how well we’ve improved real soon starting (today).”
No. 4 Windsor (14-3) and 10th-ranked Lakehead (12-5) hold the top two spots (and first-round playoff byes) in the OUA West division with two weeks to go in the regular season. The worst the Thunderwolves can finish is third, which would mean a division quarter-final game at home.
As far as Morrison is concerned, a post-season mentality has already begun in practice.
“I’d say shorter, more intense the last couple of weeks,” he said of recent sessions. “Just trying to use less time on the guys’ bodies out there in practice.”
Morrison said the Lancers (winners of seven straight) like to bang inside with their big forwards over the 6-foot-8 mark like Lien Phillips, the team’s leading scorer.
With Brendan King (lower body) still on the sidelines, the job of inside work will once again fall to senior centre Yoosrie Salhia, who is roughly three to four inches shorter than Windsor’s front court.
The Toronto native, coming off an injury-riddled 2012 season, has come back healthier, hauling down double digits in rebounds in his last four outings, while averaging 13 points per game this season — good for second-best on the squad.
“He’s got timing and heart,” Morrison said of Salhia. “He uses that and the best of his abilities. . . . Yoos has certainly been able to get it done over time.”
The weekend series features teams in the conference’s top five in both offence and defence. The difference, besides the Lancers’ two-game cushion on the Thunderwolves, is their ability to take big leads and keep them.
“They’re beating teams pretty good,” Morrison said. “It’s tough to get film of a game where they’re fighting down the stretch. Tough team to come back against.”
The women’s team (7-10) is in tougher today as they continue to fight for a playoff berth. Their Lancer counterparts (17-0) are two-time national champions and currently ranked No. 1 in Canada.
“When you play a team like this you have to hope many things go well for you,” Lakehead coach Jon Kreiner said in a release. “We will need to work our hardest and play with great energy from the tip-off.”
Kreiner’s team holds a one-game lead in the win column over the Guelph Gryphons for the sixth and final playoff spot in the division.

Notes: Game times both nights are 6 p.m. (women) and 8 p.m. (men). . . . Lakehead’s leading scorer Ryan Thomson has averaged 20 points over the last four games. . . . The Lancers have reached the playoffs the last six years with their best finish coming in a 2009 loss in the OUA final. . . . Graduating seniors Salhia, Greg Carter, Matt Schmidt, Joseph Jones and Ben Johnson will be honoured before Saturday’s game. Carolyn Fragale will be the women’s team lone senior being honoured.