Staff Writers, Saturday, 19 March 2011.
West Coast Fever shattered Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel’s hopes of a first win on Australian soil with a pulsating come-from-behind 50-47 victory in Perth today. Sitting on just one win apiece, both teams were desperate for a positive result and played accordingly. There was no quarter given in an entertaining and top-notch exhibition.
Fever fought back from a slow start, returning to the court just 30 hours after their last match, and two recent heavy losses. Finding her feet, lofty goalshoot Caitlin Bassett provided the polish to get the home team over the line, maintaining unwavering accuracy under the hoop in a tense and tight run to the finish line. She finished with an impressive 39 goals from 41 attempts for a 95 percent accuracy rate.
Steel made the best of starts, the return of import Natasha Chokljat for just her second ANZ Championship outing after recovering from a pre-season calf injury, helped the visitors’ transfer seamlessly through court on attack.
With the imposing figure of Susan Fuhrmann not included in the home team’s starting line-up, Steel shooters, the 1.94m Daneka Wipiiti in particular, and Paula Griffin enjoyed a dream start under the post. Struggling to breach the well-oiled zonal defence employed by the Steel, where in-form defender Leana de Bruin cleaned up the scraps, stalled the progress of quality ball towards the key target of Bassett.
Steel stretched out to a seven-goal lead before Fever delivered a strong finish to the quarter. Showing more resource on defence and getting a better supply of ball to Bassett, who returned a clean sheet for the quarter, narrowed the gap as Steel went to the first break with a 15-12 lead.
With Wipiiti proving unstoppable under the hoop, Steel pulled away again on the resumption before Fever made their traditional fightback to stay in touch. Momentum swung back and forth before the home team hit a purple patch which provided a much-needed injection of confidence, so evidently missing in recent matches. With the passion back, Fever sparked into life. Energetic little goal attack Leah Shoard and Shae Bolton provided the drive on attack while the well-positioned Bassett produced the finishing touches under the hoop.
The team also added more starch defensively, creating pressure and the ability to rattle the Steel. In a complete turnaround, Fever stormed into halftime with a 29-26 lead. Steel rung the changes for the second half with Wendy Frew taking over from Chokljat, who is being eased back in, and the surprise appearance of former Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic shooter Jodi Brown coming on at goal attack for Griffin, just seven weeks after the birth of her second child.
It took the changes time to settle as momentum stayed with Fever who just kept their noses in front. Once settled, the experience of Brown, a former Silver Fern, paid dividends as she provided a claming influence on attack. The visitors refused to go away, staying well within touching distance in an evenly-fought third quarter. The towering Fuhrmann was introduced with five minutes of the quarter remaining with a view to keeping Wipiiti in check. With turnovers by both teams kept to a minimum, an exciting finale was guaranteed as the Fever headed into the last break leading 40-38.
It proved a thrilling and bruising run home after Steel regained the lead with 10 minutes to go, the teams battling goal-for-goal down the home straight as fortunes continued to swing leaving the outcome in doubt until the very end.