History was made Sunday in the Arena Birmingham as the Nottingham Wildcats won their first final at the sixth attempt, thanks to their 70-66 win over the Caledonia Pride.
From the opening moments it was a closely fought contest with the lead being exchanged between the sides throughout. The first twenty minutes of play was just edged by the Wildcats 39-33 to take them into the break.
The billed clash between the Ashley Harris and Trisha Oakes certainly lived up to expectation in with the better of it going to Harris, who was instrumental for her team, scoring a game-high 19 points on her way to the Finals MVP award.
The Wildcats were at their best with Harris on the floor, but, when she picked up two early fouls the Scottish outfit took full advantage getting back on terms and taking a lead early in the second quarter. Oakes was key for the Pride, but their standout plays came from Reynolds and Lewis.
Onayssa “Nana” Sbahi was a standout player all game long, recording a massive 9 assists in the opening 20 minutes. Sbahi would finish with 14 assists on her way to a winners trophy and a commendation in the MVP discussion.
The second half started with the two sides going at each other, both putting points of the board. The Wildcats got themselves a 3 points advantage which was wiped out by a three-pointer from Hannah Robb which forced Nottingham’s head coach Dave Greenaway into calling a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Wildcats had three great looks at the basket but none of them would drop.
It wasn’t all lost, though, in customary style Harris forced her way to the line and made it count, dropping both free throws to get her side the lead, an advantage Lovett would soon double.
Caledonia struggled to score in the third quarter which and it took a Bert Sengers timeout to change this.
Rosana Reynolds scored the best basket in the third quarter ducking, cutting and diving her way under the basket before finishing with the soft touch to tie the game at 48. It would be moments before Harris restored her team to the lead, yet again.
The Final quarter started in the same way the previous one had ended, with both sides exchanging points. Coach Greenaway benched Harris early in the final term after being scored on in the paint by Oakes, to settle her down and allow her chance to regain her composure. In Harris’ absence, the Wildcats pushed their game to another level.
Lana Doran had the defensive play of the day with a hard clean block which gained her side possession and brought the arena to its feet. Doran backed up her excellent defensive game with a gorgeous bucket, an inside bank shot off the glass to get the lead to four before Nana drove hard in the lane and finished with an equally nice reverse layup off the glass.
Despite the hard work of the Pride, the Wildcats upped the lead to six thanks to a great move baseline from Lana Doran with 1:24 to go. Lovett sent Robb to the line to shoot two with 50 seconds to play, and Robb made no mistake in closing the gap down to four points.
Pride, with fouls spare, chose to use them and a turnover after a great move from Nana forced Prior was forced into her final personal foul stopping Robb on the run. With Prior out of the game, Robb made no mistake again closing the gap to just one possession, two points, with 24.5 seconds to play.
The Wildcats bench had their hearts in their mouths during their final possession of the game. Nana, sensibly, held the ball for the first 14 seconds of the shot clock before putting up a three attempt. Nana was fortunate that one of her Wildcat teammates was able to grab the rebound as with over 10 seconds to play and a two-point gap Pride could easily have sent the game to overtime.
After grabbing the board Lovett was fouled and went to the line. She was perfect scoring both. Pride had seconds left to make something incredible happen but with 0.6 to go Lewis lost the handle and Nottingham were finally champions.
On the day the best team won, but it was incredibly close and a great advertisement for the Women’s game in this country with over 5,500 people taking in the contest. Nottingham is not getting carried away with themselves, but Coach Greenaway does see this as an opportunity to kick on and take their game to another level. He is also looking forward to not having to answer questions about not having won a final.