MILTON KEYNES BREAKERS 86 MANCHESTER MYSTICS II 62
An away quarter-final tie requiring a 300+ mile round trip to darkest Buckinghamshire to play the country’s number 2 seed sounds daunting for any U14 1st team. That was the latest challenge facing Mystics U14 II and a mere 4 minutes in, with the scoreboard reading 0-11 it appeared to be on a par with someone falling off a cliff – one step too far.
A time-out to insist that nerves needed to disappear plus a suggestion that attempting to beat the land speed record on every possession was not the way to go, was made and heeded. All 5 Mystics showed the obedience displayed by champion sheep dogs to turn things round.
Despite sounding more like an urban street dance crew, Milton Keynes Breakers are a well-drilled, lightning quick side. Nevertheless, by moving the basketball with speed and precision instead of opting to over-dribble which had proved to be as fruitless as a dead apple tree, we went on a stunning 21-12 run to bring the score to 21-23. With the momentum heavily in our favour, foul trouble (which dogged us throughout) forced me to take a key player off (not Chubb or Yale!).
Now unable to use the defensive match-ups which were causing problems for the opposition, the deficit swelled to 15 by half-time as confidence began to sag in some of our players. My half-time cosy little chat focused on self-belief and simple strategies for combatting a 5 out offense with clear outs for one on one drives to basket.
At least one of them must have listened because we totally bossed the third quarter even with having to endure more foul trouble – in this case not a troublesome chicken! We won this 10 minute period 23-18, in no small part thanks to an incredible 16 points from our inspired captain in the quarter.
In the ascendancy once more, this time our momentum was hampered by 2 loud spurious claims. The first, which appeared to come either from an adult on Milton Keynes’ bench, or someone hiding under it, felt it worthwhile to inform everyone that ‘combination defences are not permitted at this level.’ ?????? Possibly as baffled by this as everyone else was, a home supporter seemed to disagree. ‘It’s a zone,’ he shouted. I can only assume that this was code for ‘That can be the only reason why they are catching up.’
He could have been a VIP because without evidence or consideration, the referees suddenly (and immediately) came over to tell me we were playing a zone! My assistant, James and I both explained simply and factually why this was not the case. Both team’s defences were similar and remained as they had been throughout. One referee listened intently and seemed to waver. The other one didn’t. Ten seconds later he charged us with a technical foul for playing a zone!
Although this didn’t have a huge impact on the eventual outcome, it did throw us out of our stride at the beginning of the fourth period. We missed 5 early lay-ups in a row which resulted in 8 breakaway points at the other end. That plus mounting foul trouble caused the game to gradually slip away. This prompted me to make liberal substitutions throughout the final 6 minutes with such frequency that some players thought they were coming while others thought they were going and vice versa! Our opponents capitalised upon this to stretch the margin to a flattering 24.
This is not a true reflection of how tough a contest it was for both sides. Milton Keynes coped well with our superior size, shot exceedingly well from their multitude of free throws (garnered from the massive total of 31 fouls awarded against us) and got a number of steals from their press when we had bench players on the floor. Our never-say-die youngsters played their hearts out but struggled defensively with the opposition’s pace and organisation.
There is always likely to be disappointment after a defeat but it is imperative to lose with grace and dignity without blame. On this occasion, the team who made less mistakes won the game but I do believe that if we played them again things might be different!