The NBL1 Cobra Women have defeated the Bendigo Braves in stunning fashion to advance to a home preliminary final, riding a spectacular second half performance to defeat the Braves, 85-70 on Friday night.
Facing the 19-1 Braves in Bendigo, the Cobras found themselves in a 13-point hole late in the second period, looking in serious danger of having to return home for an elimination final two days later. But a scintillating stretch by Klara Wischer and Sarah Boothe saw the Cobras come storming back into the game, before running over the Braves late with a phenomenal half of basketball.
Tailing, 29-42 in the final minute of the first half, Wischer connected on back-to-back jumpers – the latter beating the halftime buzzer – to trim the deficit to nine heading into the main break. She kept it going to start the third, opening the period with a three-pointer, before Boothe took charge with three consecutive baskets inside to tie the game. With the Cobras crashing the offensive glass with reckless abandon, Wischer made the Braves pay with another bomb from deep after a pair of offensive rebounds to give Kilsyth it’s first lead of the game at 45-42.
Wischer’s second triple capped an incredible 16-0 run by her and Boothe alone, with the pair now slowing down late as they completely dominated the Braves front court over the final 20 minutes of play. Bendigo would respond the the Cobras blistering run to re-take a two point lead late in the third, but back-to-back threes by Alison Downie and a last second finish by Boothe saw Kilsyth close the period on an 8-0 run, taking a six point lead into the final stanza.
A pair of early buckets in the fourth by Boothe gave the Cobras an 11 point lead, and Lauren Nicholson would make sure they kept their double-digit cushion, scoring eight quick points to keep the Braves at bay. Then it was back to Wischer to deliver a pair of daggers, slicing through the Braves defence for a tough left handed finish inside, before connecting on a heavily contested post fadeaway to clinch an incredible road victory for the Cobras.
Cobras head coach, Sam Woosnam, was thrilled with her team’s response to some early adversity, but remained confident throughout Friday’s game that the Cobras would eventually figure it out on both ends of the floor to take control.
“I was so proud of the way the team responded,” Woosnam said.
“Everyone played a crucial role in securing the win for us, even if it didn’t show on the scoreboard.”
“After a rough first half we came out and played our game in the second. I knew we were in a good spot as we hadn’t played anywhere near our best basketball and we still only nine down (at halftime).”
A well tested coach in tough finals environments, Woosnam’s focus for turning Friday’s game around was a simple one – execute the scout and play through the likes of Wischer, Boothe and Nicholson.
“We just focused on getting back to playing our game and executing our scout, and we asked our “go to” players to really step up or else we would be playing again on Sunday,” Woosnam said of her half time communication.
“Loz (Nicholson), Al (Downie), Boothey (Sarah Boothe) and Wisch (Klara Wischer) kept hitting big shot after big shot and Kara (Tessari) did a great job of leading the team and getting the ball where it needed to be.”
Nicholson returned from a week-long Australian Opals camp in the United States to post a game-high 26 points, adding three assists and four steals in the win. Boothe added another monster double-double, finishing with 21 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and four steals; Wischer’s spectacular second half saw her record 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists; and Downie chipped-in with 123 points and five assists in the win.
The win now sets up a Preliminary Final showdown at home with the Nunawading Spectres on Saturday night, with the winner advancing to the inaugural NBL1 Grand Final. With the Cobras and Spectres splitting their season series – and just a single point deciding the two over both games – Saturday’s do-or-die matchup is set to be an electric battle on home court. And while the Spectres advanced to the Preliminary Final with a pair of huge wins over the weekend, Woosnam remains confident in her team’s current form and ability to advance to a third title game in five years.
“We know we have all the tools to beat these teams and the group is focused on the job we still need to do,” Woosnam said.
“We’ll have a light week on the training track and freshen up for what will no doubt be a classic game against our rivals Nunawading.We hope to see as many of you there as possible and help the girls get over the line.”