Ipswich into Playoff Final in chase of historic double

Ipswich Basketball 75-72 Nottingham Trent University

WNBL Division 1 Playoff Semi-Final

Copleston Sports Centre

Ipswich punched their ticket to the WNBL1 Playoff Final with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Nottingham Trent University on Saturday in front of a limited but raucous crowd at Copleston Sports Centre.

Following the easing of restrictions last week, Ipswich were able to welcome families of players and coaching staff for just the second time this season, and the crowd of 30 roared on their team as the 1st-seeded hosts fought back from an eight-point half-time deficit.

Welham willed the team to victory with a 20 point second half (Photo: Pavel Kricka)

The game started in up-tempo fashion, with Danielle Cazey’s put-back layup capping a 20-20 first quarter. But hot outside shooting from NTU guards Brahe Ashton and Evi Dekker put the visitors on top by the end of the second quarter, 40-32, as Ipswich’s offense stumbled.

IBC Head Coach Nick Drane rallied his troops at half-time and the impact was immediate. Captain and leading scorer Harriet Welham, who was held to seven points in the first half, exploded for 20 after the break and Ipswich pushed the pace of the game to breakneck speed, taking NTU out of their comfort zone. The lead was eradicated and the game was tied once more, 56-56, by the end of the third quarter.

Dekker and Ashton combined to put the fifth seeds back on top early in the final period, but after a Cameron Taylor-Willis score the game swung on a pivotal three-pointer by Welham, given as a basket despite having appeared to hit the support behind the backboard before dropping through the hoop. Welham then scored another five points on the next two possessions to give Ipswich a seven-point lead which would carry them to victory.

NTU rolled the dice with a number of three-pointers over the final couple of minutes, but Dekker and Ashton were out of ammunition and some hard-fought defensive rebounds from Taylor-Willis, Esther Little and Susannah Rafiu were critical in Ipswich closing out the win.

“An incredible performance in the second half,” reflected Coach Drane after the game. “We were sublime in the third quarter, played at our pace rather than playing at NTU’s pace, which I felt we did in the first half.

“After losing to this team here a couple of months ago, I think we saw some uncertainty in the first half. I must credit both the team and the coaching staff for the way we kept our heads throughout that, and everyone in the gym – including our incredible supporters – played their part in getting us over the line.

“I’ve spoken about the value of having Harriet Welham on your team a thousand times, but she was outstanding in the second half. As was Cameron Taylor-Willis, who’s emerged as a genuine second option for us offensively and played almost a perfect game today.”

The win sets up a final against CoLA Southwark Pride in Nottingham next Saturday. The London side were also home winners on Saturday, outlasting the Loughborough Riders in a 64-50 victory.

“We are really excited to be playing CoLA in the final,” added Drane. “They have been one of the most consistently excellent women’s programmes in the country at both academy and senior level for many years, and we know we are up against an experienced team and staff who will have them well prepared. It’s a fitting fixture to finish the season and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

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