Ipswich secure National Championship with win over Loughborough

Ipswich Basketball 92-54 Loughborough Riders

WNBL Division 1

Copleston Sports Centre

Ipswich Basketball clinched their second consecutive WNBL Division 1 title in emphatic fashion as they dispatched fellow championship contenders Loughborough Riders at Copleston Sports Centre on Saturday afternoon.

The hosts set the tone for a dominant performance in the early running. With Loughborough needing a win to keep their own title ambitions alive, Ipswich blew the game open with a 26-9 first quarter behind eight points from Danielle Cazey and seven from Cameron Taylor-Willis.

(Photos: Nick Drane, Marvin Isebor and Pavel Kricka)

Another five Taylor-Willis points poured in as Nick Drane’s team extended their lead to 36-9 early in the second period, before Riders stars Molly James and Makana Stone finally managed to get the visitors’ offence into gear.

Ipswich held a 20-point lead at half time, 48-28, but two early three-pointers from Lauren Dabbs brought the visitors as close as they would come and balanced offensive production from Cazey, Taylor-Willis, Harriet Welham and Esther Little ensured Ipswich continued to build their comfortable margin.

There was enough time for both sides to bring their benches into the game in the fourth quarter, and Ipswich prospect Hannah Gray gave a sign of things to come with an impressive nine points in six fourth-quarter minutes.

Taylor-Willis led all scorers with 26 points, two shy of her season-high. Welham added 18 and Little racked up a 15-point, 16-rebound double-double as well as eight blocks.

Cameron Taylor-Willis was outstanding with 26 points (Photo: Pavel Kricka)

“I’m extremely pleased for our players, and our club, for this achievement,” said Head Coach Nick Drane.

“This season has been a unique, and unprecedented, challenge to both team and club. We had no home venue when the season started in October, so we made the decision as a group to play on the road for our first six games of the season and the momentum started there.

“We’ve had breaks in the season, constant fixture uncertainty and ever-changing lineups, a season-ending injury to one of our leaders, and the list goes on. This group have shown their immense resilience and focus throughout, and to seal the league title with a game to spare is a fantastic achievement.

“I’d like to give my thanks, and I know the players would too, to everyone off the court who has contributed to us continuing to run as close to ‘normal’ as possible – from our Committee to the team of testers who helped facilitate training sessions every week, to all the IBC Family for tuning in and watching our live streams and continuing to support the team.”

With the regular-season title secured, Ipswich’s focus can now turn towards preparing for the post-season playoff tournament, which represents the only national trophy yet to be won by this generation of IBC players. That preparation will begin with the final game of the team’s regular season, a road trip to Reading Rockets next weekend.

Although Ipswich’s position as number one seed for the playoffs is now locked in, the rest remains very uncertain after a weekend of surprises around WNBL1. Solent Kestrels maintained their push for the fourth seed with a win at Worcester on Saturday, but then suffered a major setback by slipping up at home to Cardiff Archers on Sunday for the Welsh club’s second win of the season.

Elsewhere, a potentially vital game in the battle for the eighth and final seed – and Ipswich’s first-round opposition – saw much-improved Barking Abbey pick up a victory at Thames Valley Cavaliers. The Cavaliers rebounded with a win at Worcester on Sunday, meaning that any of those three sides could still finish eighth.