THE Rockingham Flames haven’t lost a game for a long time and when Tayah Burrows continues to show she’s ready to run the show at WNBL level even before turning 19, there’s plenty for young coach Keegan Crawford to like.
The Flames women remain undefeated in the West Coast Classic after beating the Lakeside Lightning 75-54 at Lakeside Recreation Centre on Friday night on the back of the work running the point by Burrows, and a dominant finish to the contest.
Burrows did play a key role last year in the Flames winning the SBL championship but she was from at her peak coming off a broken arm and bout of glandular fever which had stunted her development for a time.
But now that she has had a good run of health so far in 2020, she has started the West Coast Classic in stunning form as the starting point guard on the Flames and that has come on the back of her signing to be part of the full roster with the Perth Lynx in the WNBL for the 2020/21 campaign.
While she received good help from Christina Boag, Ariana Hetherington and Paris Duffield and then the band of young, inexperienced players, ultimately it was Burrows the difference and she is still yet to even turn 19 years of age.
She finished the night with 26 points, six assists and five rebounds while just playing at another level. Her poise, skill and execution is remarkable to watch, and her aggression to get to the rack on the back of a lightning quick first step was a delight. She hit 12/13 from the foul line.
Keegan Crawford is already an SBL championship winning coach despite still not having spent a full season in charge, but he can’t speak more highly of what he’s seeing from Burrows on the back of the work she’s put in.
“For Tayah in the last six months after she was a massive part of our championship team coming off a broken arm, glandular fever and all of that, to now be one of the best guards in the league is amazing,” Crawford said.
“I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to work her out and see her working in the off-season and that’s not to say everyone else doesn’t work hard, but her improvement from six months ago is astronomical. She earned that new Lynx contract.”
Crawford still finds it remarkable to think that Burrows is able to do what she is doing given the hurdles she’s overcome the last couple of years, and has no doubt she’s ready to make her mark this upcoming season at Lynx too.
“Every player’s goal ultimately is to play in the WNBL but for someone like her she has played so many roles on so many different teams,” Crawford said.
“Coming through the country system with the state squads she was probably asked to do a lot and then last year on our team with Ciabba, Darcee and everyone else we had, she had a lot of help even though we liked her having the ball in her hands.
“But now, Tayah is a senior on our team at almost 19 years of age and that is massive for her. Her being able to play like a senior when she is 19 is crazy, but we need her to because we have six or seven other girls under the age of 18.”
It was always set to be a tremendous game on Friday night between the Lightning and Flames with the last two SBL championship winners yet to taste defeat in the West Coast Classic.
The Flames led 5-2 early after a Tayah Burrows three-point play but Ash Isenbarger soon took over and gave the Lightning the 13-9 edge by quarter-time.
Lakeside’s lead then grew to 17-9 to start the second quarter and then the lead was nine when Ellyce Ironmonger knocked down a three.
The Lightning went into half-time still leading 34-28 and then the home team responded to Rockingham briefly taking the lead to be up five late in the third period thanks to Courtney Mansfield, and to still lead by one at three quarter-time.
It was then all Rockingham in the fourth quarter and it was at the defensive end they picked things up. Time after time the Flames defender was a step ahead of their Lightning opponent, got into position and while bowled over, earned an offensive foul.
That frustrated the Lightning and they ended up having no answers with the Flames outstanding to improve to 3-0 for the West Coast Classic with 25 points to six for the quarter, and to win 75-54.
Crawford was delighted to see the defensive performance pick up especially on the rebounding end given the fact they could count on their size last year with Darcee Garbin and Maddie Allen, but that’s anything but the case right now.
“The big thing for us is that we have a really, really young group and most of the squad is playing state league for the first time so we are just trying to focus on one or two key areas,” Crawford said.
“Anyone can watch us and think that we aren’t doing anything complex offensively or a whole lot of three-four way switching stuff that we would have in previous years, but we’re just trying to be good at one or two things.
“One of those things that we haven’t been good at is rebounding, but especially offensively. We gave up 21 o-boards again tonight in the first three quarters but then only one in the fourth.
“Again if we are going to pride ourselves on defence which we are trying to do, we have to reward ourselves by picking up the board. We weren’t doing that over the first three quarters and then when we did it in the fourth, we actually got stops.”
On top of the performance of Burrows for the Flames, Paris Duffield had 12 points, four rebounds and three steals, Christina Boag 12 points and six boards, and Ariana Hetherington 10 points, eight boards, three assists and two steals.
But then it’s the young brigade that Crawford is especially excited about with Ashlyn Lee finishing with four points, Chloe Napolitano three, Zahli-Rose Jolly three and Sarah McGowan two to go with five rebounds.
“We do have Chris, Tayah and children really if you take out Ari and Paris. Ari again is only 21 but is a senior and Paris has been fantastic for us,” Crawford said.
“She’s bounced around a couple of clubs and has been here for a couple of years, and she’s experienced but this is her first real chance to get real SBL minutes where she is held accountable with a bigger role.
“But for us with all these kids, we have a lot of players who have been train-on players but now they are getting to play like Chloe Napolitano, Zali Jolly and Lily Fitzgerald, and now the decisions they make have accountability behind them. It’s way different playing 15 minutes to 30 seconds.
“I’m enjoying it from the side of just having people that wouldn’t have had a shot before, and giving them an opportunity. When the SBL season was cancelled we were super deflated, but coming back for the West Coast Classic we had nine girls decommit for a bunch of reasons.
“But when we play games like this and the girls are so engaged it makes it worthwhile and it’s really interesting to see where we were with that championship team and where we are now.”
There is still a lot to like with what Lakeside is doing under first-year coach Steve Bezant despite the way the game panned out in the fourth quarter on Friday night.
Ellyce Ironmonger finished with 13 points and six rebounds, Ash Isenbarger 12 points, 14 rebounds and three assists, Courtney Mansfield 11 points, four boards and two assists, Abbie Ironmonger seven points, four assists and four rebounds, and Jae Flynn five points, three boards and three assists.
The Flames now look to remain undefeated when hosting the East Perth Eagles at Mike Barnett Sports Complex on Saturday night.
Crawford sees it as a good chance for the younger players to again learn how to back up for the first real time in their basketball lives during this West Coast Classic.
“We have another double-header next week as well and we did have one earlier in the season with a Friday night trip to Bunbury, but it’s good,” Crawford said.
“Most of our squad’s basketball has been about waking up on Sunday morning for WABL and waiting a week to play again. Chris, Tayah, Paris, Ari and maybe Ashyln Lee are the only ones who have ever had to play more than once a week so that was the big post-game message for us.
“We were stoked about the win but Tayah played 30-plus minutes, here’s what you have to do to recover and the same for everyone else. It’s part of being a semi-professional athletes where we are trying to get the most out of them.”
The Lightning also have a double-header this weekend and now travel to Ray Owen Sports Centre to take on the Kalamunda Eastern Suns on Saturday night.
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – WOMEN
Perth Redbacks 77 defeated Willetton Tigers 66
East Perth Eagles 47 lost to Cockburn Cougars 66
Lakeside Lightning 54 lost to Rockingham Flames 72
Mandurah Magic v Joondalup Wolves – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 5.00pm
South West Slammers v Perry Lakes Hawks – Eaton Recreation Centre 5.00pm
Rockingham Flames v East Perth Eagles – Mike Barnett Sports Complex 6.00pm
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v Lakeside Lightning – Ray Owen Sports Centre 6.30pm