BOTH Perth Redbacks teams headed to Lakeside Recreation Centre with a chance to play finals in the West Coast Classic and whilst that didn’t quite eventuate, it shouldn’t take away from the terrific positives to come from the competition.
It was a thrilling finish to both the men’s and women’s West Coast Classic competitions with plenty left to be decided still coming into the final round.
The Redbacks were at the forefront of that with the women’s team a chance to play finals if they could beat the Lakeside Lightning while the men were guaranteed of a top four position not only with a win, but even with a loss of less than 14 points.
So the stage was set for a fascinating Saturday night and starting with the women’s game, both the Lightning and Redbacks could only break into the top four should the Cockburn Cougars upset the Perry Lakes Hawks at the same time.
That didn’t quite happen so that ended the finals prospects of both teams but the game didn’t go to plan for the Redbacks either with the Lightning claiming the 74-40 victory.
It was then time for the men’s clash and the Redbacks would be guaranteed playing finals with a win or a loss of fewer than 14 points, while the Lightning would need to win by at least 14 points to book their own playoff spot.
So everything was up for grabs but as the game wore on the Lightning pulled away and then led by 15, and held on for the 84-69 win to book in a finals spot at the expense of the Redbacks in the most dramatic of fashions.
The game promised to be a cracker coming into it with the potential of a finals spot on the line and with both teams having strong line-up with a couple of veterans with WNBL experience, and then a good band of youngsters gaining in experience.
The Redbacks should have been fresh off the bye as well and ready to fire while the Lightning had to bounce back from losses last weekend to the Wolves and Senators, but it was Lakeside who were unstoppable from the outset at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Courtney Mansfield got things flowing for the Lightning with the game’s first five points before Ash Isenbarger got in on the act with the next five in between one free-throw for the Redbacks from Maddie Allen.
Allen also hit Perth’s first field goal shortly after but there was no let up from the Lightning and Kyrah Daniels hit a jumper for the 12-3 start which was 16-3 when Isenbarger also nailed a pull-up jumper.
Mia Jacobs made it 18-3 with a pair of free-throws, Courtney Beavis did the same to make it 20-3 and then Daniels scored again for 22-3 just before quarter-time.
The game was effectively over already but this was a frustrated Redbacks outfit where nothing would go right. They might have been justified in feeling on the wrong end of some of the calls throughout the night too, but that didn’t account for the scoreline ultimately.
After Daniels nailed a triple and Ellyce Ironmonger scored inside, Lakeside led 29-9 which Courtney Green soon made 31-9.
Lakeside would go into the half-time break leading 45-15 and desperately hoping Cockburn could find a way to beat Perry Lakes.
Daniels then opened the second half converting a three-point play for the Lightning and the lead ballooned to 51-17 when Ironmonger hit from downtown.
Mansfield hit another and-one to make the lead 37 and Mia Jacobs nailed another triple to make it 40.
The Lightning’s lead was still 39 by three quarter-tim and did get to 41 early in the fourth when Isenbarger scored all too easily inside.
From there Lakeside cruised to the 74-40 victory to farewell their home fans in 2020.
Lakeside didn’t quite set it alight shooting going at 25/60 at 41 per cent from the floor and 7/28 at 25 per cent from three-point land.
But the Redbacks saved their worst shooting for last going at 14/73 at 19 per cent, 5/28 at 17 per cent from beyond the arc and 7/18 at 38 per cent from the free-throw line.
There wasn’t much to write home about from a Redbacks perspective with Maddie Allen growing frustrated but still finishing with four points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
Bri Bailey scored eight points for the Redbacks, Sarah Allen seven (three rebounds, two assists), Ella Thornton-Elliott seven (two steals), Jess Jakens six (three assists), Chanah Crugnale four (six rebounds) and Shenae Hartree three (six rebounds).
There were exciting match ups all over the floor between the exciting Lightning and Redbacks teams, but none better than in the shooting guard spot and Marshall Nelson and Jack Isenbarger both opened the contest hitting three-pointers.
Nelson soon hit a second and when Kyden Edman who was starting for the injured Tevin Jackson, the Redbacks led early 12-10. That became 17-12 when Nelson drained another triple before he delivered the most amazing of blocked shots flying in from nowhere to deny Jay Bowie.
But Andrew Ferguson and Michael Vigor then combined to help Lakeside to a 25-20 lead by the end of one.
Ezra Nikora hit a three to steady the Redbacks early in the second period and then Edman hit his second from downtown and the margin was just three.
Nikora hit again from three-point land and scores were tied with the Redbacks going to have the momentum and lead of 39-37 by the half-time break.
The Redbacks were back on top by six midway through the third quarter when Nelson drained another three ball, but Isenbarger answered with a three and Lakeside was about to make their move.
Bowie started to turn his night around with another three too before he finished twice inside in no time having scored, then stole the ball and scored again to put the Lightning up two heading towards quarter-time.
Bowie added four points more before the break too and Lakeside was up 63-57.
Ben Lee nailed two big shots from three-point territory to start the fourth term to help Lakeside to a 14-point lead as they completed a run of 18 straight points either side of three quarter-time to go from down four to up 14.
It was then a matter of the margin with both teams knowing the magical number for the Lightning to advance at the expense of the Redbacks was 14.
The Lightning led by 19 when Nick Palleschi scored and were still up 19 a couple of more occasions, and still by 18 before Nelson hit a three for the Redbacks and Joel Wagner scored inside.
That cut it back to 13 and meant the Redbacks were back in fourth spot. But Isenbarger scored again for Lakeside to make it a 15-point game and that’s where it stayed until the Lightning had possession from the side out of a timeout with no shot clock left.
They couldn’t get the ball inbounds though. The Redbacks forced the turnover and then it was their ball and all they had to do was score and fourth position was theirs.
They got a good look too with a drive and dish to Nikora, but he couldn’t knock down his third triple of the night and the Lightning won by 15 and booked in a finals spot.
Redbacks coach CJ Jackson was actually happy with the look they got on the last play to give themselves a chance.
“Ezra had been knocking down shots too relatively for the whole game so I think for us to drive and dish like we did, and have that shot wide open, well I think at the end of the day it was a great shot that we created. It just didn’t come off,” Jackson said.
“The play was for a wide open shot too and that’s what we got. That’s why we try to tell the players when they are training that when you train you shoot shots like you are in a game every single shot.
“You have to make sure, and this is for all the youth out there, you might only get one shot in a game so when you train you have to make sure you are ready to make that one shot count.”
Redbacks coach CJ Jackson was far from happy with what his Redbacks produced after half-time with their season on the line.
“I feel that we did well defensively in the first half, I felt that we let ourselves down in the second half defensively, though, and we did some not so smart things as far as making fouls,” Jackson said.
“That didn’t allow us to set our defence up and we made some stupid fouls, and I didn’t think we sprinted back on defence as much as we did in the first half. To be honest I think we shot ourselves in the foot quite a few times in the second half which led to them building that lead.
“The captain actually said in the huddle that we need to hold these guys on this possession because they needed to win by 14 points to go ahead of us.
“But when it came down to it, even at that we probably should have fouled on that play and made them take the ball out of bounds again rather than get a shot. That’s the sort of thing we need to learn from and be smarter at.”
Marshall Nelson finished his outstanding West Coast Classic with another 27 points and seven rebounds for the Redbacks but his nine turnovers and four fouls did hurt. He shot 5/11 from three-point land, though, and his block on Jay Bowie was phenomenal.
Caleb White added 14 points and four rebounds for the Redbacks, Kyden Edman 11 points, four rebounds and three assists on 3/5 from long-range, Joel Wagner nine points, nine assists, five rebounds and five assists, and Ezra Nikora six points and three boards.
Jackson didn’t make it a focus pre-game of what the Redbacks needed to reach the finals, he just wanted to let them go out and play, let the cards fall where they may and then ultimately he’ll judge the group on their West Coast Classic campaigns as he plans for 2021.
“We never talked before the game about where we were at. I think most players knew we were in third but I don’t think players really knew what we had to do to secure fourth spot,” Jackson said.
“To be honest, during this whole cup, we never went over no video and never scouted or anything, we just let the boys go out and play because of the situation. We just wanted them to play and see what we have, and we can build on that for next year.
“I know this is a great comp and I think the competition was fantastic, and it allowed players and teams to actually see where they were at with their local talent. That’s what I feel.
“Now some of the local talent did well and some of the local talent still needs to learn where they’re at as far as understanding where they sit in the context of the league. But that’s what this was for.”