Anglia Ruskin University Rhinos were at their dominant best, despite being “banged up” heading into the tie as they beat Sevenoaks Suns II 75-50 in the WNBL Division One.
ARU entered the contest missing one of their top players Jasmine Gyulai as she picked up a knock in the double-header against Bristol last weekend but were down their captain Marianna Maddaloni midway through the opening quarter as she had a game-ending knee injury.
The Suns were also missing some key individuals, as well as their head coach with WBBL Coach of the Year Len Busch stepping up and coaching a very young Suns team, with two under 16’s, and only one player over the age of 21.
The first quarter was a back and forth affair with Katie Bennett scoring eight of her teams 14 points, as the captain impressed with scoring from outside and at the line, forcing the Rhinos into an early zone defence. Izabel Halasz impressed for ARU with her shooting from outside scoring back to back threes from either side of the court to help give ARU a lead that they wouldn’t lose.
The second quarter was one of absolute domination as Anglia Ruskin held the visitors to just three points, a made two from Bennett and a free throw from Asha Andrews as the hosts dominated on the scoreboard and the glass. Najha Treadwell and experienced forward Barbara Palacios-Gonzalez took over the scoring for ARU whilst Kasha Neininger cleaned up on the boards to give the hosts a 23-3 advantage in the third quarter and lead 41-17 at the half.
With the game all but in the bag, ARU just needed to manage the second half, and Matt Harber’s side did just that, trading baskets with the visitors but never in any danger of losing their considerable advantage.
The Suns were led in the second half more by Liv Partridge but Katie Bennett was a constant threat that needed locking down. Partridge impressed with her shooting from range whilst Bennett was able to score from inside and out, often drawing the double team such is her talent at such a young age.
The Suns edged Q3 14-13 after a solid start by ARU the visitors rallied and closed out the period with seven unanswered points.
The final term was a mere formality won by ARU 21-19 to round off an entertaining, if one-sided, game of basketball. Neininger picked up her double-double as did Treadwell whilst Palacios-Gonzalez and Nadege Talva both bagged 20 points in the win. Anglia Ruskin won the board battle by an astonishing 54-23.
Bennett scored 18 for the Suns and Partridge 14 plus 7 rebounds which showed off the talent of the young players against the much more experienced opposition. The Suns hung with and were equal to the Rhinos at times in the game and at full strength there is no telling how exciting this team can be.
ARU Head Coach Matt Harber was pleased with the victory,”We had moments where we played really well and some moments where we struggled, I’m pretty pleased. The team is deep and with some of the knocks and bruises we have at the moment we have to use the depth of the roster.”
On Maddaloni’s condition”We’ll see how things play out in the next 48 hours.”
Kasha Neininger post-game was quick to talk about the team over her own performance. “I never check the score… a wins a win.” When asked about the key to the victory, “The defence was working, when the defence is working the offence is much easier. We didn’t plan that (the zone), but it was working better for us against this team.”
Neininger is enjoying her hoops this season and trust is the key.”We trust each other and we trust Matt and whatever he ask us we always do.”
Len Busch was able to take positives from the loss “The kids fought hard, we’re very very young, we had a couple of U16 girls most the rest were U18, they did a good job.”
On ARU’s defensive set “We struggled against their zone, I’m happy we forced them to play it but not happy with how we played against it.”
When asked about Liv Partridge’s game Len Busch was keen to look to the future “Liv is a good player for her age (U18), she’s very aggressive offensively, we’re hoping to get her to the next level offensively to be a facilitator for people around her. She played hard, she did okay.”
ARU are on the road in Ipswich next weekend whilst the Suns will host the Southwark Pride.