Anglia Ruskin University overcame a spirited Nottingham Trent University, 90-80, to clinch their first-ever WNBL Cup title at the University of Essex on Sunday afternoon.
The two sides had done battle the weekend previous in Nottingham with the hosts being victorious by a ten-point margin, having set the tone in the first half before weathering a significant fightback from the midlands outfit.
Sunday’s final had a similar feel with Anglia Ruskin started the game the hotter of the two sides. MVP winner Madeline Homoly put in an early bid for the aware and helped build a platform for victory thanks to an incredible 10 points in the opening period, supported by scoring from Jazmin Gyulai and Noa Sanchez-Marquez.
Homoly’s old teammate from their hometown of Kansas City, NTU’s Arielle Jackson, was the focal point for Louis Waghorn’s squad as they tried to keep the gap to below ten points, which they did, ending the period down 24-16.
Anglia Ruskin did a great job sharing the points in the second quarter as they extended their lead out 46 points by halftime, holding NTU to just 29. Michael Hanson-Morris’ side is notable in its flexibility in scoring and its tenacity in defending and this was evident all game. ARU made at least three blocks during the ball game and went to the deck multiple times on hustle plays to ensure they came up with the basketball and left Essex with the Cup.
The third period started great for ARU with Katrin Hulme, at her imperious best, opening the scoring with a three-point-play as Ruskin looked to extend their lead over an NTU side that was ready to make a comeback. The third period was an exhibition of offence getting the best of defence, as NTU edged it 23-22 thanks the Vicky Gray and Jackson’s scoring touch.
It could have been a comfortable final quarter for ARU but NTU still had a fire in their hearts and two eyes on the Cup and came back at the Cambridge club in a big way. Emily Arshamian set the tone for NTU with a bucket to bring the gap down to 16. Noa Sanchez-Marquez replied to restore the cushion, but it would be heavy work for ARU as Hulme incredibly collected four fouls in the quarter and Homoly flirted with foul trouble sitting on 3 fouls, allowing Nottingham a chance back into the game.
Gray and Jackson combined for six points before the American cancelled out a Gyulai triple, to get the gap down to 11 with 7:33 left in the contest.
The squads traded buckets but another run from Waghorn’s outfit saw the game in single digits with just under 3 minutes to play.
Out of a Nottingham timeout, Homoly scored a lay-up, but the next two minutes would be tense for ARU as they sent their opposition to the foul line repeatedly. Lady Luck shined on ARU on this day, the freebies weren’t dropping and ARU were able to see out the final minute to take home their first-ever WNBL Cup Title.
Winning coach Michael Hanson-Morris, in his typical manner, is already getting set for next weekend’s home league clash with Bristol, “It’s great to get over the line, we made hard work of it, but we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to come out of here and be better next week, we’ve got a tough Bristol game.” The play-caller continued, “It’s a relief because we’ve been talking about this since August quietly behind the scenes, that this is one of the aims for this group and now we’ve done it!”
Louis Waghorn was able to take many positives from the game, despite the defeat for the newly-promoted club. “They did great second half… it’s a massive achievement for us to be in the final and what I liked about it is that the girls, they just never gave up, that’s all I can ever ask of them, and we gave it everything we could.” When discussing Jackson’s performance Waghorn made clear that her star guard helped life the team with her attitude. “She wasn’t ready to lay down and die and everyone feeds off of that. We are a very good team and everybody helps each other and gets behind each other and that’s why it’s so nice.”
Anglia Ruskin host Bristol Academy Flyers next Saturday 8th February, you can watch it Live with commentary from Darren Paul Foulkes and Ashlea Smith on FocusHoops.com and Facebook Live.