THERE were always going to be ‘what if’ scenarios after Ballarat Rush fell four points short of a South East Australian Basketball League women’s conference title.
What if Auslec Rush’s one per centers were tipped more in their favour? Or, what if Rush managed to get that basket they needed in the dying minutes?
However, what really matter was that when Knox panicked it went to its most experienced players – both Women’s National Basketball League championship players – in Australian Opal Kelly Wilson and WNBL all-star Gabe Richards to hold steady under fire.
There was little give in this final and Knox was two points up when the final buzzer sounded to claim the south crown and SEABL championship match spot against Bendigo next week.
Richards went to the line and converted two free throws in an extra jab to Rush.
Rush coach Peter Cunningham said he had nothing but pride for the way his players fought out the game.
Both teams missed chances but Knox just had the edge on the scoreboard when it counted.
“We fought so hard when they had control and got back in with heart,” Cunningham said.
“I’m disappointed, not for myself, but for the playing group after we got to seven in front – but of course Knox was not going to let go.”
In a stunning fightback, Rush scored 14-points straight to open the final quarter and snatch a seven-point lead by halfway through the term.
Seven points was the largest margin of the match – Knox had it at three-quarter-time and Rush pushed out that far in the fourth.
To Cunningham it was a narrow edge – effectively only two baskets.
Knox tightened its defence.
A rare Richards three-pointer with less than three minutes on the clock cut Rush’s lead to two and sparked Knox momentum.
Rush knew all it had to do was push inside for a clear shot.
That clear shot was hard to find under pressure. The game tightened as play wore on.
Knox scored about 14 points from Rush turnovers in the first half. That was slashed to two points from turnovers in the second.
Nya Mason formed a thrilling duel attacking Richards offensively and putting up 17 points as Rush’s top scorer.
Rush young guns Sophie Alexander and Abbey Wehrung added spark off the bench.
Wehrung, 17, stood her ground taking on the experienced Wilson while Alexander completed some impressive passages of play and added pressure by getting her hands to the ball.
Kate Willey was tough and hard, pulling in 10 defensive rebounds and scoring 10 points.
Alice Kunek (11 points) was solid and captain Kristy Rinaldi cool under fire.
Rush shared the work load, while Knox relied on Richards (30 points), Wilson (18 points, 10 assists) and emerging star Rebecca Allen (14 points, 12 rebounds) with others in supportive roles.
The Raiders have been the team to beat all season and in the end, showed they had the experience to settle.