Ipswich Basketball 60-42 CoLA Southwark Pride
WNBL1 Playoff Final
Nottingham Wildcats Arena, Nottingham
Ipswich Basketball capped off a spectacular WNBL1 season with a well-deserved Playoff Final crown at the Nottingham Wildcats Arena on Saturday.
The victory brings an end to a season which had already seen Ipswich lift the Division 1 regular-season trophy, and stars Harriet Welham and Esther Little crowned Most Valuable Player and Young Player of the Year respectively.
The final was a showdown between the league’s two best teams this season, with first-seeds Ipswich and second-seeds CoLA Southwark Pride making the journey to Nottingham to compete in front of a small crowd of family and supporters.
Ipswich have been renowned this season for their up-tempo offense and high scoring performances from the entire rotation. This game, however, also represented a final between two outstanding defensive sides, and the first half reflected that. CoLA led by as many as seven points and went in at half time with a 25-22 lead, that scoreline representing Ipswich’s lowest points total for a half this season.
The trend of the game would continue for most of the third quarter. Ipswich tied the game on a score by Cameron Taylor-Willis at 26-26, and the teams then traded baskets until the score stood at 33-33 with two minutes to go in the quarter.
But the Pride’s defensive energy could not hold out forever, and the game was broken open when Ipswich guard Ella Pearson hit back-to-back three-pointers and Taylor-Willis followed up with a third, all in the space of less than 70 seconds, to put the Suffolk side up by nine heading into the final period.
Finally with a lead to work with, Ipswich continued their own outstanding defensive effort and with CoLA forced to get aggressive on offense, gaps began to appear for Welham, Pearson and Susannah Rafiu to exploit with fast-break baskets. Ipswich embarked on an 18-5 run capped by a Welham lay-up which pushed the lead to 22 at 60-38, and both coaches emptied their benches in recognition that the game was beyond doubt.
Little was crowned Final MVP, finishing with eight points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and four blocks while working tirelessly to limit the offensive threat of CoLA centre Isi Ozzy-Momodu. Welham led all scorers with 16 points, while Pearson scored all twelve of her points in the final 12 minutes of the contest.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means right now,” said Head Coach Nick Drane, who alongside his star-studded squad earned a tenth national title in four years. “We have faced so much adversity this season – as have all the teams, of course – but the added pressure of knowing what we were playing for could easily have broken this team. The spirit and resolve they have shown to ‘finish the job’ has been inspiring to work with.”
Little, Taylor-Willis and Pearson, all of whom started with Ipswich’s Under-11s, will be heading for pastures new in the United States next season, while guard Charlotte Redhead is also departing the programme after three years.
“We have known all season that this was this group’s last year together, and after all the successes that these girls have achieved together, both through the junior ranks and playing alongside Harriet and Danni Cazey for the senior side, we wanted to end it the right way,” continued Drane. “Today has been a fitting end to all the hard work and the sacrifices these young ladies have made to come this far.” After a bizarre, oft-interrupted, trying season in which the Senior Women have carried the torch for Ipswich’s usually eleven-team programme alone, the entire club will look forward to getting back to full strength in 2021/22. But this season will long be remembered as one of the most successful in the club’s long and storied history.
A photo gallery special from the weekend's final is available here: https://www.ipswichbasketball.co.uk/post/playoff-final-photo-gallery
Re-watch the action here: