AS soon as the wrong offence was run to start Game 1 of the quarter finals last Saturday night, Rockingham Flames coach Ryan Petrik knew his team was in trouble but he’s put it back on his imports Taneisha Harrison and D’Lesha Lloyd to bounce back against the Mandurah Magic.
The Flames produced a strong regular season in the Women’s SBL to finish in third position with a 16-6 record as they pulled off a strong turnaround from a rebuilding year in 2017.
Much of Petrik’s faith for what Rockingham was capable of was based on what Harrison and Lloyd would be able to provide the team, which is why he was willing to play the first part of 2018 without them.
A fill-in visit from hometown girl Darcee Garbin ensured their absence wasn’t felt too heavily and with Maddie Allen outstanding as the form big across the Women’s SBL earning herself a WNBL contract at the Perth Lynx, all signs were positive coming into the playoffs for the Flames.
Lloyd and Harrison had arrived to form an impressive trio alongside Allen where combined with the solid role players who developed during the challenging 2017 season, Petrik was feeling good about their chances even without playmaking veteran Jacinta Bourne.
He only had to look down the other end of the floor at the Magic who were without Carly Boag and Bree Klasztorny to realise that there were no excuses on a personnel front coming into the series, but there was no way for him to predict what was to come last Saturday night at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
From the very first play of the game, Petrik’s Flames ran a play the total opposite way that it was meant and from then, he knew it was going to be a long night.
It only continued to get worse and despite being the third seed against the six-ranked Magic, they looked every bit the team that finished 2017 at the foot of the SBL standings rather than a championship contender.
The numbers were horrific with the Flames shooting 27 per cent from the field, 16 per cent from beyond the arc and then having 20 turnovers on just nine assists.
The end result was a 24-point defeat on their home floor meaning they must win in Mandurah this Friday night to force a deciding Game 3 back at home on Saturday.
For Petrik, he knew early on that his team wasn’t switched on and when their offence doesn’t flow, it’s been a trend for it to lead to bad things.
“This is year 10 for me with the team now so the one thing I’ve learned again and again and again is that if your offence goes to rubbish, and this even happened on our championship-winning teams, then for whatever reason it affects everything else,” Petrik said.
“When you are making shots, you’re flying around on defence and everything works. But if your offence isn’t clicking then everything goes bad. That’s essentially what happened. If you aren’t making shots, it’s always been infectious to us. It shouldn’t be but it has always been the case.”
While Petrik is happy with the young players developing at Rockingham and expected big things from Allen coming into 2018 and for Bourne to see out the season to provide that veteran leadership, there’s no hiding that much of planning revolved around Harrison and Lloyd.
He went to great lengths to find the exact two imports he wanted and he expected them to not only fire in the regular season to help the Flames finish near the pointy end of the table, but to deliver come finals time.
It’s fair to say that didn’t happen last Saturday night with the pair combining to shoot 7/36 from the field, 2/14 from three-point range and scoring 17 points to go with 13 rebounds and eight turnovers.
Compared with what Magic pair Anita Brown and Regina Palusna delivered, that only further rubbed salt into the wound for Petrik and he knows that nothing but starring performances from the pair twice this weekend is required for them to advance to the semi finals.
“We know they care. They always want to get up more shots before games and there are times when they do that where they don’t look like missing a shot, and they make everything. Then they get out there in a game like that and they can’t hit the side of a barn,” Petrik said.
“They’ll come back, or you’d certainly hope they would, but there’s no question about how much they care. They both turned down the chance to go home in the off-season to come here and they haven’t seen their family for however long.
“So we know they care and they are not going to be at all impressed with what they did in this game. But we weren’t just bad because of those two even though they are clearly the icing. For us to only score 48 points, they are normally going to go better than 7/36 to see us score a lot more than that.”
It’s hard to imagine a Flames team looking so careless with the ball and so lost on offence had Jacinta Bourne been present like Petrik had planned his 2018 season around, but there’s nothing he can do about it now and no point making excuses.
“We are missing her obviously, as you can see by this result, but we desperately try to be a no excuses program and have done from day one,” he said.
“It’s unfair to the team who won to bring up excuses and it’s not relevant, the reality is Mandurah is missing Boag and that’s a bigger piece and you can go through with Willetton missing Harper, Joondalup missing Amos and so on.
“Every team except the top three seems like they are missing one of their superstars so not having her hurts us, but everyone has the same issue and we just have to get on with it.”
Going back a week and Petrik was happy with the regular season the Flames put together and he was actually pleased to finish in third position. Even though he did expect that given the quality of players Rockingham recruited with Allen, Lloyd and Harrison.
“I was reasonably happy with the regular season but it was just hard because we could never get any kind of continuity,” Petrik said.
“We felt like once we got some, someone went out and when you only have your imports for a certain number of weeks, which we choose to do, then you are desperate for some kind of four, five or six games of having everyone available to get a real look. But we just could never get that and to finish third we were ecstatic with. But to serve that up in Game 1 we were very unhappy with.
“We did expect to finish top three and that might sound weird, but that’s what we thought we were capable of by bringing in some pretty handy pieces. To add an Opal for the first six games of the year and then the imports we brought in means we should finish top three and we did.
“That was a pass mark and generally any program that makes a big jump adds someone pretty important. You can talk about depth and rotations and everyone having a role all you want, but the reality is that you are only as good as your best players are.
“If you have good players, you should be a good team and if you’re not, then something is really wrong. We added handy pieces this year, therefore, expected to be good.”