It was a memorable night on Friday at Belmont Oasis for the Perth Redbacks as the club honoured Len Vlahov in style with strong women’s and men’s West Coast Classic victories.
It is now an annual tradition for the first home game of any season to be the Len Vlahov Tribute Game and while it’s a lot later into 2020 than any of us anticipated, that occasion came on Friday night at Belmont Oasis against the Cockburn Cougars.
The night got underway with a seesaw battle in the women’s contest but the Redbacks finished strongly with 30 points to 13 in the fourth quarter to win 87-71.
Then in the men’s match to follow the Redbacks put on quite the show for the healthy crowd in attendance to put up 42 points in the first quarter on the way to a commanding 112-76 triumph.
The Redbacks women came into the game after massively contrasting results in the opening round of the West Coast Classic with a 36-point loss to the Joondalup Wolves backed up by a 33-point win against the Mandurah Magic.
It proved to be the ultimate seesaw contest throughout the evening with the Redbacks grabbing the first piece of momentum with Maddie Allen scoring to give them a 20-12 lead just before quarter-time.
Jess Jakens ensured the home team still led 22-15 by quarter-time and then Sarah Allen hit a three to make it a 10-point margin, which remained at nine midway through the second period with a triple from Shenae Hartree.
Cockburn was working back into the contest, though, and by the time Tahlia Fejo banked in a three on the half-time buzzer the Redbacks were only up two.
Tia Morgan hit from deep to open the second half to give Cockburn the lead to start the second half and then Jodee Sontay extended that advantage to four.
Morgan again connected from beyond the arc and suddenly the Cougars led by seven before another Redbacks turnover and a Kirsty Pitcher layup.
This time it was the Redbacks’ turn to comeback from being eight down and when 16-year-old Brooke Malone nailed a floater, it was again just a two-point game late in the third period.
Briana Bailey made a three to close the quarter to bring Perth back within a point and then the Redbacks turned on the afterburners in the fourth period. They piled on 30 points to 13 to end up with the 87-71 win over the Cougars.
Redbacks coach Craig Allen was happy with what his team did right on the night, but saw plenty that didn’t go to plan as he searches for consistency early in the West Coast Classic.
“As I said to the girls after the game, the good was good and the bad was really bad as well, and that’s something that we have to change as a group. You want to be consistent with your execution and your performances, but we were very much up and down,” Allen said.
“We were out by 10 early twice but gave it back to them both times, and then were down by 10 and were back up. To run out the last quarter like we did was really positive but there are lots of things to learn and to build on.”
Jess Jakens was the star on the night and received the Len Vlahov Memorial Trophy afterwards for putting up 24 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals on shooting 10/15 from the field.
Shenae Hartree showed what an exciting future she has with 22 points and seven rebounds with Maddie Allen contributing 18 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.
Denielle Lipscombe added 11 points and four assists too for the Redbacks.
The first home game of every season for the Redbacks is in tribute of Len Vlahov and as a result Allen was delighted to celebrate the occasion with his late wife Eva in attendance to make the presentation post-match.
“It does mean a lot, absolutely, it very much does. The Vlahov family is synonymous with basketball in WA and for the many years that I’ve been involved in basketball, the Vlahovs have been around,” Allen said.
“And it’s special for the club, it really is and I think the club does really well in representing and acknowledging that. I think for us as a group it’s really nice to get a win in that scenario.”
Meanwhile, the Redbacks men had an up and down opening weekend in the West Coast Classic losing on Friday to the Joondalup Wolves before beating the Mandurah Magic 24 hours later while the Cougars lost first up to the Rockingham Flames.
With the SBL’s all-time assists leader Joel Wagner running the ship and Tevin Jackson and Caleb White out on the wings with all the athleticism in the world, and then the scoring ability of Marshall Nelson, it was quite a show they were able to put on especially in the first half.
The Redbacks piled on 42 points in the opening quarter topped off with a Nelson three on the buzzer two metres beyond the arc.
The Redbacks would end up dominating the rest of the game and ended up leading by as much as 47 points before eventually winning 112-76.
The Redbacks went on to shoot 41/79 from the field at 51 per cent and 12/29 from deep at 41 per cent.
Caleb White ended up with 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists on remarkably efficient shooting of 10/14 from the floor and 4/5 from deep while playing only 26 minutes.
Marshall Nelson also put up 28 points, six rebounds and six assists for Perth on 9/16 shooting with 3/6 from three-point territory.
Tevin Jackson showed his all-round game with 14 points, eight rebounds, five steals and two assists including a couple of massive slams, including a thunderous putback dunk.
Joel Wagner might not have scored but had six assists including a wonderful alley-oop pass to Caleb White who finished in style while Neema Kazemi put up 14 points and six boards.
Dennis Tawhiti stood tall for 10 points inside for Perth too with Michael Riley scoring eight points.
Coach CJ Jackson was coaching his first home game at Belmont Oasis upon returning to the Redbacks as they played the Len Vlahov Tribute Game as tradition.
He liked a lot of what he saw from his team in response to last week.
“What I’m happy with is the improvement from last week to this week because we got an education last Friday night at the Joondalup game,” Jackson said.
“They are just such a far talented team with multiple championship players on their team. We turned it around this week and it started with our training on Tuesday night, and it just carried on into tonight’s game. I was really happy with the improvement of all the players.”
The Redbacks back up by heading to Bendat Basketball Centre to play the Perry Lakes Hawks on Saturday night with the women’s match at 6pm and men’s at 8pm.
The Hawks women were thumped by the Lakeside Lightning on Friday, but with match ups like WNBL bigs Maddie Allen up against Nat Burton to look forward, Redbacks coach Craig Allen is looking forward to it.
“I love that Maddie-Nat Burton match up. It will be exciting to watch and it will be exciting to just let it go, see what happens and that play with it. That is exciting, absolutely,” Allen said.
“It will be a way different game than this one. We have to be on our measure to be competitive and look to execute our stuff. There are some really interesting match ups as well but again we go in young, we go in exciting and we go into play.”
The men’s clash is then a homecoming of sorts for both CJ and Tevin Jackson, which CJ can’t wait for.
“I think I’m going back to one of the clubs that I loved as well and it’s most recent one,” Jackson said.
“It’s going to be good to see so many familiar faces and I feel like it might get a little bit heated at times because if I’m a player, OK I just left the Hawks and I’m at the Redbacks now and I want to show you what I’ve got.
“So I think it might get a little heated in that sense, but at the end of the day we have no ill-feelings towards the Hawks and we have nothing but love for the Hawks. But it’s a homecoming so I think it’s going to be great to go back in front of all the people at Bendat.
“I know there’s going to be a warm embrace and it will be great to be in front of them again, and I’m sure the game will be a great spectacle to see how we go against them. I’m going to be really happy with all of that.”