Manchester Mystics made basketball history by becoming the first ever WBBL Cup champions with a 71-60 triumph over Nottingham Wildcats at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham.
Dominique Allen put in her best performance of the season, posting a double-double of 21 points (on 80% shooting) and 11 rebounds on her way to being named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Most importantly, Allen played a crucial role on the defensive end keeping the WBBL’s leading scorer Ashley Harris quiet. Harris mustered just 12 points on 33% shooting from the field, way below her season league average of 26.3 points per game.
Rheanne Bailey also played out of her skin, recording an even bigger double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds in front of her hometown crowd, while Georgia Jones brought control to Manchester’s play, combining with Allen on an array of slick pick-and-roll plays. Jones finished with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Mystics started the game in the ascendancy, opening with a 6-0 run, and it took Nottingham almost four minutes to trouble the scorers through a three-pointer from Siobhan Prior. Jones responded instantly with a three of her own, but neither side really made an impact from behind the arc thereafter.
Having opened up an 18-13 lead after the first quarter, Manchester began the second with back-to-back baskets from Allen and their superior energy allowed them to briefly extend to a double-digit advantage.
Nottingham, the reigning WBBL champions, had a rosier spell either side of half-time. Entering in the third quarter down by eight, they flexed their muscles through Harris and the lively Melisa Mendes to tie the game at 37-37 with just over six minutes to play in the period.
The comeback ended there, as Mystics re-asserted themselves through the tenacity of Bailey and finesse of Allen, ending the third with a strong run of their own and a taking a 52-40 lead.
Jones and Allen went back to their trademark pick-and-roll at the start of the fourth, extending Manchester’s advantage to 16 points. A few nerves followed, with careless turnovers leading to Wildcats fast breaks, but once Jones took control of the ball she was able to provide the composure to see Mystics over the line.
Coach Jeff Jones said after the game that he sees this first trophy as “the first step on a pretty long journey,” and that the win owed much to the character of the team, who were without leading scorer Amy Browne.
Wildcats’ Prior agreed, saying: “Credit to Manchester – they came out, they’re working hard, they were getting to all the loose balls and offensive rebounds in the first half. It gave them confidence and they played really well, but we allowed that to happen and you can’t win a final if you don’t fight hard enough.”
Meanwhile for Bailey, who was unlucky to miss out on the MVP award, the previous week’s loss to Sevenoaks Suns in the league – which ended a run of 10 successive victories across all competitions for Mystics – helped to inspire today’s landmark win.
Bailey said: “Nottingham are a tough team to play against and we knew we had to come out ready. On the back of our loss last week, we knew how it felt to lose and we didn’t want to feel that again. I think that was part of our journey into today.
“What a team effort! The girls bought in, we worked hard in practice and the results showed today. So well done girls – great job!”
Report by Graeme Roberts