The 2021 WBBL playoffs are upon us this weekend with eight teams battling it out to be crowned post-season champions.
Here’s a look through the quarter-final ties that will be played over single legs:
Saturday 1st May, 5pm, Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
League records: Suns 19-1 – Wolves 7-13
Head-to-head: Suns 2-0 Wolves
Form guide (April):
The Suns have had the busiest run-in in league history with 12 games to contend with in April and they won 10 straight in a short space of time to move to 18-0 – including huge wins over closest rivals London and Leicester. Their unbeaten run was ended by the Riders, but they clinched the title in the process and wrapped up a second 19-1 campaign on the final day.
Oaklands have not had their full roster on the court at the same time this season. Merissa Quick’s return has been managed carefully, while Melita Emanuel-Carr hobbled off in their regular season finale. Lee Ryan’s side had a backlog of home games and were able to clinch the final spot in the playoffs with their best display coming in a 10-point win over Manchester, with juniors also given their chance to shine.
Their first encounter came in mid-February, which remarkably was just Sevenoaks’ second league game of the season. With Julia Koppl departed and Lavinia Da Silva unable to play, the Suns were pushed all the way by the Wolves, who were dealing with their own injury troubles. Janice Monakana netted 21 points off the bench in a 69-62 home win with Cat Carr adding 12 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.
The next meeting was more one-sided as the Suns were building momentum and led by as many as 27 points before Oaklands put up 32 points in the fourth to cut the final margin to 10 at 60-70. Carr led the way with 24 points with Ta’Yani Clark adding a 6-8-6 line as the damage was done early.
Ones to watch:
Cat Carr has been in scintillating form with two triple-doubles during April and finishing in the top 10 for averages points (3rd), assists (2nd) and rebounds (9th) with partner-in-crime Ta’Yani Clark also bringing bags of experience at both ends of the floor. And we all know the threat of the Suns runs much deeper with one of the most experienced groups in the league.
Lauren Milligan is one of three players to feature in all 20 league games – alongside Beth Sarson and the in-form Greeta Uprus – and is a relentless workhorse for the Wolves, keeping plays alive and never giving up. Amari Carter joined out of Arizona and has shown flashes of brilliance but has also been hampered by injuries.
“We’re looking forward to the playoff game against Oaklands knowing that we have to stay focus and play together like we’ve been doing, especially since it is a one and done,” – Irene Garrido-Perez, Sevenoaks Suns guard.
“We have a game plan and know what we need to do to be successful. We’re ready to go out, execute and compete! We’ve played the majority of the season having to adjust due to not having our full squad, no one has seen us at our best and this is the best time to do it,” – Beth Sarson, Oaklands Wolves guard.
Saturday 1st May, 7:30pm, Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
League records: Riders 18-2 – Eagles 7-13
Head-to-head: Riders 2-0 Eagles (3-0 all comps)
Form guide (April):
They may have come up short in their quest for the league title, but the Riders could not have asked for a better set of results to head into the playoffs with. They battled to a four-point triumph in London behind a huge performance from Holly Winterburn before coming from 18 down to hand Sevenoaks their first league defeat. Leicester had won 10 straight before the 12-point loss to the Suns, which proved decisive.
Newcastle have dealt with a lot of bad luck this season and still managed to recover from a poor run of results in the league through the first 10. They began the final month with three wins from four – all at home – in a timely run to clinch their place in the post-season – finishing in seventh having held the head-to-head over Oaklands with a 91-89 victory the second of two exciting clashes.
Newcastle gave Leicester a stern test in the Cup group phase through three quarters before the visiting Riders produced a 9-36 final quarter to win by 25 with Kate Oliver scoring 29 points. The first league encounter continued in that manner with the Eagles held to just 39 points in a 27-point defeat with Leicester completing the series sweep with their defence dominant again in a 72-47 success in March.
Ones to watch:
Holly Winterburn continues to get better every year with the future GB star averaging 14.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists having taken on a bigger role as captain. 2012 Olympian Azania Stewart came out of retirement and quickly got up to speed to help fill the voids left by the departures of Kate Oliver and Sara Hinriksdottir
The league’s leading scorer, Alison Gorrell has proved invaluable for the Eagles this season with 23.6 points per game having also handed out 5.3 assists with a league-best 137 made free throws, also. WBBL rookie Maddy McVicar has also impressed, scoring 300+ points in the regular season and averaged more playing time than any other player – with Gorrell third – to signal their importance.
“The playoffs are an opportunity for any team to come out on top. I know that my team has what it takes to win these upcoming games. Newcastle will come ready to play but so will we. We’ve used this past week to prepare for Newcastle and I’m excited for the first playoff round,” – Anna Lappenkuper, Leicester Riders guard.
“We understand Leicester are a good team and are going into the playoffs with momentum on their side. But we’ve been training really hard this week and we know all the pressure is on Leicester to win, so we can just focus on enjoying the game. We have nothing to lose and in playoffs anything can happen,” – Orieoma Chukwu-Etu, Newcastle Eagles forward.
Sunday 2nd May, 5:30pm, Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
League records: Lions 16-4 – Rebels 10-10
Head-to-head: Lions 2-0 Rebels (3-0 all comps)
Form guide (April):
The Lions still harboured hopes of a league title heading into the final month – buoyed by their Trophy triumph – but a second loss to the Suns dented those chances before two losses followed against the Riders. They battled to wins over Caledonia and Manchester and finished with a flourish on the road in Durham as they racked up 114 points with their full roster back and firing.
Essex had made an impressive 8-2 start – including beating Leicester – but they would lose eight straight games (forfeit victory aside) before completing their regular season by beating Cardiff and getting to .500 – recapturing that winning feeling. They gradually lost grip of their top-four spot and began April with three defeats on the road having also played four games against the top three.
Both of their league encounters took place this month, while they also met earlier in the season with a first round clash in the WBBL Trophy. London began their journey towards the title with an 83-69 success in January in one of their early impressive showings.
The Lions pulled clear in the third quarter on their way to an 87-66 home win at the start of April with Shanice Beckford-Norton netting a season’s best of 28 points. The return fixture a few weeks later also went the way of Mark Clark’s side as they secured an 80-96 success with Beckford-Norton again leading the way with a 25-point haul with Kennedy Leonard handing out a combined 23 assists in the league double.
Ones to watch:
Kennedy Leonard recorded her first triple-double (24-10-17) on Wednesday and finished the regular season with a staggering 225 assists at an average of 11.3 per game. The GB guard knows how to find her team-mates and if Cassie Breen doesn’t hurt you from outside (43.6% 3PT) then Stephanie Umeh almost certainly will from inside (60.6% FG).
The return of Angel Waithe was a huge get for the Rebels and her influence was highlighted in their early season form, while Lucrezia Costa averaged a double-double and will be a danger inside.. Essex are also a threat from downtown and attempted the most three-pointers (481) even with playing one game less.
“Excited for the matchup. They are a good team who can push the ball and are not afraid to shoot that outside shot. I see similarities in our teams, but I do believe if we stick to our stuff and play our game we will come out with the win,” – Chantel Charles, London Lions forward.
“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity we have in front of us. These playoffs are all about gaining momentum. We know that London is a tough opponent, however we also know what we are capable of as a team when we’re locked in and we are ready to show it,” – Andrea Kohlhaas, Essex Rebels forward.
Sunday 2nd May, 3pm, Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
League records: Wildcats 11-9 – Mystics 10-10
Head-to-head: Wildcats 2-0 Mystics (4-0 all comps)
Form guide (April):
Both teams enjoyed winning conclusions to the regular season with Nottingham overcoming Oaklands on the road in midweek having already secured fourth with two games to spare, while Manchester impressed in seeing off Caledonia and Newcastle for a weekend double to get to 10 wins.
Jeff Jones’ side went 4-4 in the final month of the league campaign – resemblant of their form throughout – with Nottingham slightly better at 5-4 with three of those defeats coming against the top two sides.
The Mystics are probably most thankful not to be seeing Jasmine Joyner on the court for Nottingham. The American star posted 37 points and 19 rebounds in a 75-101 Cup win in the group phase then had 30 & 16 in an equally dominant 61-95 league success before recording 24 points and 15 boards in the Trophy semi-final triumph.
Chelsey Shumpert also flourished in the encounters with a second 29-point haul coming in the most recent encounter, which was won 72-61. Manchester rued a 23-3 second quarter on that occasion, while they had also led by 10 in the semi-final before the Wildcats outscored them 43-24 in the second half.
Ones to watch:
One half of one of the league’s best 1-2 punches is still very capable of making things happen for the Wildcats. Chelsey Shumpert put up just shy of 20 points per game in the regular season and is one of the shiftiest guards in the WBBL, while Portuguese guard Simone Costa has been in red-hot form over the past month, including a recent 26-point outing.
Georgia Jones is always making things happen for the Mystics, either through her play-making or ability to put a succession of points on the board in a hurry. Manchester have so much experience throughout their roster with an abundance of British talent, and former finals MVP Helen Naylor produced back-to-back 20+ point games to get ready for the playoffs in style.
“We are pretty confident, despite having big players missing. It is evident that we have other players that have stepped up. We just need to play our game and get the job done,” – Shaniya Rose, Nottingham Wildcats forward.
“I’m really excited to play Nottingham again. We’ve been up and down this season, so this is another opportunity for us to step up and show our full potential. We’ve had a great week of preparing and focusing on what we need to do to win,” – Sophia Song, Manchester Met Mystics forward.
Every game will be available to watch live for free on the BBL Player. Sky Sports are no longer showing the games on their YouTube channel due to the social media blackout over the weekend.
Brad has been a writer for Hoopsfix since 2014 and has also had freelance roles at the BBL and with FIBA – working at two Women’s EuroBasket tournaments. Contact: [email protected]