THE South West Slammers produced their best performance of the season to make a statement about their abilities and they did so on their longest trip to beat the league-leading Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena on Saturday night.
The Slammers might have entered Saturday night’s game at 5-7 but first-year coach Nathan Grover had put together a team that had played better than that record suggests made up of imports Makailah Dyer and Brittni Montgomery, experienced trio Courtney Bayliss, Kate Fielding and Bianca Donovan with a stunningly young bench.
The challenge up against the top-of-the-table Lady Wolfpack at HBF Arena on Saturday night, though, was a significant one and it was a game up for grabs at half-time with the Wolves narrowly leading 33-32.
But the Slammers then turned up their pressure defensively and hit some big shots in the third quarter for likely their best period of the season. They then withstood an inevitable fight back from the Wolfpack in the fourth quarter to hold off the home team and come away with the 80-69 victory.
It always was going to be a game with plenty of intrigue too given current Wolves guard Mikayla Pirini was teammates with Donovan and Dyer at the Perth Redbacks last season where Charles Nix was coach.
Georgia Denehey was also playing her first game against the Slammers since joining the Wolfpack. And throughout the evening the feeling was obvious between the teams but that only ended up adding to the drama in a contest that could very well be repeated come playoff time.
The game both presented the Slammers biggest challenge of the season up against a Joondalup team on top-of-the-table even without Perth Lynx WNBL star Kayla Steindl, but it also provided an opportunity to make a statement of what they are capable of.
The Slammers then started well to lead 22-16 on Saturday night at HBF Arena by quarter-time, but then Brittni Montgomery got in foul trouble leaving Cian Parsons to have to step up significantly and go to battle against experienced inside Wolves pair Amy Kidner and Amber Land.
The Wolfpack did work their way on top in the second quarter and went into the half-time break narrowly leading 33-32.
But it was an inspired Slammers outfit that came out after half-time and it all started with Montgomery sitting on the bench with the three fouls.
Throughout the third quarter, the Slammers would go on a 9-0 run and two separate 7-0 runs while their defensive pressure went up a gear and forced the Wolves to be under the pump getting into their offence.
In the end, the Wolves had just 10 points and six turnovers for the third period with the Slammers scoring 25 points themselves to turn that one-point half-time deficit into a 14-point three quarter-time advantage.
South West’s lead then grew to 16 when Cian Parsons scored to open the fourth quarter. Joondalup was always going to hit back but in the end couldn’t get any closer than nine points during the last term and the Slammers steadied to by 11 points.
The win improves the Slammers to 6-7 on the season to consolidate themselves in the top eight while the Wolves are now 11-3 having suffered their first loss on the home floor for 2019.
Slammers coach Nathan Grover was delighted that the win was on the back of his team’s defensive performance.
“I’ve always said that the Slammers basketball theme has to be for our defence to translate into offence. When we are flat on defence, we don’t play good offence,” Grover said.
“I know when we are up and about that we focus and we get through our offences really, really well. We just knew that getting some stops here and there would get us that little bit of momentum.
“Georgia did come out and hit a couple of threes but whereas in the past we might have panicked and made some silly choices, we just kept our heads and knew what we needed to do. We did a good job there late getting to the free-throw line and sealing the game.”
Courtney Bayliss hit some massive shots for the Slammers to be instrumental in the victory finishing with 26 points and nine rebounds including nailing 6/13 from three-point territory.
Makailah Dyer continued her hot form too with another 24 points, seven rebounds and two assists on 8/15 shooting from the field and 7/11 from the foul line.
Brittni Montgomery was restricted to 25 minutes because of foul trouble but still had 12 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists while Kate Fielding contributed 10 points, eight assists and five boards, and Bianca Donovan six points, four rebounds and four assists.
Grover knows that it is a significant win for the Slammers to go to Joondalup and claim the victory.
“It’s a huge win for us momentum-wise. We were confident coming in and we knew there was a lot at stake for us after we’ve had quite a few gettable games for us this year go begging already,” Grover said.
“This was really important for us to come out and get this win to make a bit of a statement. It also keeps us in that top eight and cements us in it that little bit further. It builds a bit of a gap for us on the ninth and 10th teams, and bridges that gap to the top four as well.
“We knew that they would come out strong and even at half-time we said they’d come out firing. We knew they would have a lot of focus on Mak who was getting away from them a little bit, and that was allowing us to get those open shots.
“Then particularly at the three quarter-time break, we said that that if they allow Mak to get a little bit free which is when Baylo got her shots off. We knew that the pressure would come at us but we withstood it really well even with having girls in foul trouble and Brittni off the floor.
“I thought Beige and Cian really stepped up defensively for us and did a really good job on Land, and we kept Kidner relatively quiet and they were the two big keys for us particularly with their rebounding.
“That was a really big focus for us and they did really well when they came on the floor. That allowed us to get back into the floor and get through our offences, get some shots up and when we hit those shots I think it took the wind out of their sails a little bit too.”
Up against her former team for the first time, Georgia Denehey had her best performance for the Lady Wolfpack finishing with 18 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Amber Land also finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Wolves with Amy Kidner producing 10 points and nine boards, Mikayla Pirini nine points, two rebounds and two steals, Chelsea Belcher nine points, three assists and three steals, and Isabelle Miotti eight points and five boards.
WOMEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 12
Kalamunda Eastern Suns 77 defeated Scarboro Toyota Perry Lakes Hawks 62
Texture WA Perth Redbacks 83 lost to Lakeside Lightning 88
Cachet Homes Mandurah Magic 60 defeated Round 1 Fitness Cockburn Cougars 57
Schweigen East Perth Eagles 72 lost to Bethanie Warwick Senators 109
Class 1 Orthodontics Rockingham Flames 69 lost to Willetton Tigers 75
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 69 lost to Print Sync South West Slammers 80
MONDAY – ALL-STAR GAME
Australian All-Stars 103 defeated World All-Stars 72