Anglia Ruskin University Women were crowned the NBL Division One Women’s Playoff winners having beaten league champions Essex Blades in the 66-67 in Manchester on Sunday.
Ruskin started the season losing their first eight games and staring at the very real proposition of relegation. They finished the season as Playoff Winners.
Christina Baiocco’s charges have been in incredible form since the start of 2018, losing just four times to secure the seventh seed in the playoffs. They upset the second seed Southwark Pride away in London before dispatching with Oxford Brookes University at home in the tightly fought semifinal victory.
Anglia Ruskin came up against an Essex Blades side who had lost just one league fixture all season and who was heavily tipped to win the playoff final in Manchester.
ARU were on the backfoot all game as the Essex Blades, with League MVP Cat Lutz, controlled the game from the opening minutes building and extending an early lead. Essex did well at creating opportunities to score from range as ARU locked down the paint.
Anglia Ruskin did a good job putting pressure on the Blades in the paint, with Hulme pulling down a game-high 9 total rebounds but trailed at the end of the opening quarter 21-18.
Ruskin traded baskets with Essex in a low scoring second quarter which saw the Blades push out their lead out to 10 points, heading in at half time 39-29.
Quarter three started poorly for Ruskin as the Blades rushed out to a game-high 16 point lead. ARU would bring the gap back down to 7 points, thanks to keeping their cool from the foul line, punishing the Blades for fouling them.
As the game entered its final term Essex and ARU traded baskets as the Blades edged out their lead to 8 points before the captain Maddaloni drained a three-pointer to cut the gap. Ruskin had multiple efforts to close the gap below three points in the final minutes, but resolute defending from Essex kept ARU at bay.
Lutz opened up a six-point gap with just over a minute and a half left in the final before Maddaloni drained another clutch three-pointer to half the gap. It looked again like it was too little too late, however, as the Blades forced a number of stops. With 34 seconds remaining Talva, excellent all year made one of two free throws, to close the gap to two points, but once again it looked like Essex had done enough to take the win as they attacked the Ruskin basket.
With the ball in the hands of the league’s best player Lutz and just seconds left on the clock it looked over for ARU but her shot missed and Jazmin Gyulai pulled down the rebound and dribbled up the court at breakneck speed and spectacularly scored a layup despite being fouled as she went up for the shot. That foul sent Gyulai, one of the breakout stars of the ARU side, to the foul line and she made no mistake scoring the biggest free throw of her career to give ARU a one-point lead with six seconds remaining.
The Blades called a timeout to set a play to save their season and advance the ball up court, but ARU would stand firm with Katrin Hulme, the final MVP, rejecting Lutz and gathering the rebound to seal Ruskin’s impossible victory.
Ruskin Women’s Head Coach Christina Baiocco was delighted with the team’s performance and recognised the hard work of the whole season. “This is a result of what we have done in every practice for the last eight months. We have worked hard in every game to improve ourselves and make adjustments in order to keep growing.” On Hulme’s MVP award “we’re very happy that Kat has been recognised as the MVP but this game was about every player’s contribution throughout this game and every other.”