Mystics fall just short in WBBL opener

  Saturday, October 8, 2016

A revamped Manchester Mystics side dropped their opening game of the 2016/17 WBBL season 61-63 to Barking Abbey Crusaders in a contest that went down to the wire.

Playing at the National Basketball Performance Centre for the first time, Mystics took no time to adjust to their new home court, with the returning Georgia Jones and new signings Rheanne Bailey and Dominique Allen helping the hosts to an early lead.

The visitors found their feet in the second quarter, with Savannah Wilkinson and Tereza Brantilova combining for 20 first-half points to give Barking Abbey a slender 36-35 lead at the interval.

Things remained tight in the second half, with Crusaders’ Christina Gaskin, who finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds, continuing to control the boards, while Bailey and Jones consistently made jump shots to keep Mystics ticking over.

With the game was tied at 52-52 with four minutes to play,  Barking Abbey’s Sarah Round made back-to-back lay-ups and Brantilova added another two points to her tally to put the Crusaders up six. Bailey and Wilkinson traded threes, but a pull-up triple from Jones with 37 seconds to play brought the score back to 58-61.

The visitors’ previously superior execution deserted them on the subsequent play, allowing Jones the chance to tie, but she airballed her long-range attempt, forcing her side to foul. Wilkinson made one of her two free throws, but Jones instantly redeemed herself with a corner three that closed the gap to a single point.

Rachel James quickly fouled Diana Naydenova-Goryanova, who made one of her two free throws to take the score to 61-63 with 3.9 seconds to play. Mystics were out of time-outs, but they got the ball to Jones, who dribbled up the right-hand side of the court. However, the close attention of veteran Naydenova-Goryanova prevented Jones from getting a shot up before the final buzzer.

Bailey finished with a game-high 23 points, while Jones had 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds and Allen claimed 11 points and nine rebounds for Mystics. Wilkinson led Barking Abbey with 21 points, adding seven rebounds and four assists, while Brantilova notched 11 points and three assists.

Mystics coach Jeff Jones noted that the difference between the two teams was “toughness and familiarity” but the experienced play-caller is confident that the results will come for his new-look side.

“They were much more aggressive than we were,” he said. “I also think we put the onus on Rheanne and Georgia a little bit too much. We were just looking for them to score all the time and when one of them were off the floor it became very static, very one-dimensional, and we didn’t rebound as well as we should have.

“Amy [Browne] being out didn’t help us. It gives us another good basketball player on the floor, so once she’s back and healthy we probably need that and some of the others just have to understand that they have to compete.”

Next up for Mystics is a double-header, with a home cup tie against new side Calendonia Pride from Scotland on 15th October, and a trip to freshly promoted Oaklands Wolves in the WBBL the following day.

Report by Graeme Roberts

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