The Perth Redbacks women might have lost in the preliminary final on Saturday night but it’s a season they deserve to be proud of just for reaching that point.
The Redbacks women were looking to take a leap forward in 2021 having missed the SBL playoffs in 2019 and the West Coast Classic final four in 2020, and without question, they did that.
They finished the regular season in third position on the NBL1 West table to earn a finals doubles chance, which they took advantage of on Friday night following a tough qualifying final loss to the Joondalup Wolves the previous week.
It was a hard-fought contest and the Cockburn Cougars threw everything at it in the semi-final battle on Friday night at Belmont Oasis, but with Makailah Dyer brilliant, the Redbacks prevailed 74-70.
That saw them advance to the preliminary final on Saturday night against Willetton at Willetton Basketball Stadium with a spot in the first-ever NBL1 West Grand Final on the line.
It didn’t quite go to plan with the regular-season champion Tigers winning 90-65 but it doesn’t change the fact that the Redbacks should be proud of the season and of the club with Perth the only association with both teams reaching the preliminary finals.
Going back to Friday night, Jessie Edwards threatened to be a match-winner again for Cockburn putting up eight points in the first quarter but the Redbacks managed to do enough to narrowly lead 16-15 after one.
It was all the Redbacks, though, in the second period with Makailah Dyer catching fire with nine of the team’s 23 points on the way to opening up a handy 39-26 half-time edge.
Nobody informed Cockburn they were out of the contest, though, and by the time Taylah Simmons connected on a pair of free-throws just before three quarter-time, it was back to being just a three-point ball game.
Molly Matthews then connected from beyond the arc for the Cougars to tie the scores to start the fourth quarter before a three-point play from Edwards soon after.
The Redbacks needed to dig deep and it was Dyer and Maddie Allen who refused to let them lose. The star duo combined for 16 of their team’s 18 fourth quarter points.
After trailing 63-62 with four minutes to go, Dyer hit a jumper for the Redbacks to put them back in front before she found Allen inside to stretch the lead. Dyer then scored again in response to Edwards hitting up the other end for Cockburn.
Then the biggest shot of the night was a three-point bomb from Dyer with a minute on the clock to put up the Redbacks by six before they went on to win 74-70.
It was a tremendous contest in the end with the seasons of both clubs on the line, but the Redbacks held firm to book in a preliminary final battle with the Tigers.
Makailah Dyer was outstanding for the Redbacks by putting up 36 points, four rebounds and three assists while Maddie Allen battled hard to contribute in all areas with 10 points, 12 boards, eight assists and two blocked shots.
Bri Bailey connected on 3 of 7 from three-point range for 13 points, four rebounds and three assists with Shenae Hartree contributing six points and five boards, and Raya Thompson five points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Then on Saturday night, Willetton worked their way on top during the first quarter before going on a 10-0 run punctuated by triples from Sophie Maines and Hayley Winter to lead 23-9, and then 25-13 by quarter-time.
With Makailah Dyer scoring 12 points on her own in the second quarter for the Redbacks, they were able to stay at least in touch to a degree leading into half-time where the Tigers were leading 50-35.
The Tigers quickly blew the game wide open to start the second half, though, beginning with a pair of three-pointers to Desiree Kelley. When Emma Gandini soon hit from deep too, the lead was out to 24.
There would be no Redbacks comeback with Willetton ending up putting up 33 points to 17 for the third quarter to lead 83-52 by three quarter-time, and win 90-65.
It was a tough night for the Redbacks against tough opposition after they had to battle so hard the previous night to overcome the Cougars just to reach the preliminary final.
Makailah Dyer had played 40 minutes the night before and Maddie Allen, Bri Bailey, Raya Thompson and Jess Jakens all over 30 minutes, and that didn’t help against the fresh, deep and talented Tigers.
Dyer had another strong night for Perth, though, putting up 28 points, four rebounds and two assists while shooting 8/16 from the field, 4/9 from downtown and 8/8 from the foul line.
Jakens finished with nine points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals, Thompson six points, three boards, three assists and two steals, and Allen six points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and three assists.