Noble Knights fall short

In a busy weekend of basketball, Newcastle battled away against Loughborough and Hertfordshire in the Final 8s. Courtney Strait reports:

Courtney Strait
21st March 2017
Courtney Strait was a force to be reckoned with against Loughborough. Image: James Sproston

The Newcastle women’s basketball team finished their 2016-2017 season on a positive note on Sunday with a huge victory against Hertfordshire at The BUCS Final 8s Event at Northumbria’s Sport Central.

Following the victory, the Knights completed their best post-season finish in club history by capturing fifth place in the BUCS Premier North division.

The home team had no trouble against the Herts on Sunday — they were able to cut through the defence all game, get to the basket and share the ball freely for easy scoring opportunities. Though Newcastle did not have their best start to the game, once they got their momentum going it was all Knights, all the time.

Newcastle took a 20-3 lead in the first quarter and didn’t stop there. Despite the Knights not having one of their top scorers in Noelia Quintas on Sunday, Newcastle entered the game confident and maintained their focus throughout the match.

Newcastle did a great job of finding the open player on offence — every player that kitted up on Sunday knocked down a basket. Through Hertfordshire were very physical on defense, the Knights used their conditioning to punish their opponent on the fast break.

The Knights had at least 20 points from long passes down court for easy layups. Veteran Abbie Wheeler and first-year Eleanor Goodwin did a standout job of pushing the tempo, and streaking down the court for easy passes from the Newcastle rebounders.

Aside from the fast break, the Knights were also successful from long range. Shooting guards Izzy Johns and Courtney Strait led the way, with Strait knocking down four threes and Johns hitting at least five in her game as a Newcastle Knight. The strong, balanced attack was too much for Hertfordshire, and when the final buzzer sounded the Knights walked away with a commanding 78-20 victory.

Newcastle Head Coach Mark Elderkin said the Knights did not have a special game plan for Hertfordshire. Instead, he gave the orders for consistent physical, unselfish and aggressive play on both sides of the court.

He told his players that as long as they let the ball do all the work and did not overthink the game, they would secure an easy, fun and well-earned victory to finish their season.

78-20 victory over Hertfordshire

Just a day before Newcastle defeated Hertfordshire, the Knights battled the tournament’s top seed in Loughborough University. Although the final score did not finish in Newcastle’s favour, their match against the Riders was by far the best game in the first round of Final 8s action. The final score was 79-54 in favour of the Riders.

In preparation for their game against Loughborough, the Knights trained diligently for weeks to handle their opponents’ multiple scoring threats, and aggressive defence.

Coach Elderkin’s game plan gave the Knights exactly what they needed to compete against the challenging opposition. The Knights, who are extremely undersized compared to Loughborough’s post players, were instructed to sag in on their bigs and force them to shoot midrange jump shots when they caught the ball in the post.

In addition, when the Rider centres caught the ball down low, the guards packed in the lane and forced Loughborough to move the ball more, and take contested shots.

“Newcastle entered the game confident and maintained their focus”

On offence, the Knights had to play more physically and demand the ball. Because Loughborough run an aggressive, face-guard man-to-man defence, the Knights had to work hard to set screens, cut to the basket and create scoring opportunities for their playmakers.

Although Loughborough were a lot better than Newcastle statistically, the Knights did not go down without a fight, and definitely gave their opponents a scare.

Newcastle nipped closely at the Riders’ heels all game until about five minutes to play, when their outside shooting finally shut the Knights out for good. Until that point, Newcastle were within arms reach, and even had a lead in parts of the first and second quarter.

Newcastle executed Elderkin’s instructions exactly how they needed to in the game, but their shots simply didn’t fall on Saturday, and they could not limit Loughborough’s offensive rebounds.

“The Knights pushed the league’s top team to their limit”

Newcastle had plenty of open looks in the game, but the ball just did not want to find net, and led to Newcastle scoring only 54 points. In addition they could not move the Riders’ post players away from the basket effectively, which led to at least 15 second-chance points that were eventually the difference maker in the game.

American scholar, Courtney Strait, led the way for the Knights against Loughborough. Despite facing heavy pressure the entire game, Strait was able to get past defenders to the basket, create scoring opportunities, drawing fouls and finding her shot from deep. Strait played all 40 minutes on Saturday and finished the game with 35 points. At least 21 of those points came from behind the three-point line.

Despite the loss, the Knights pushed the league’s top team to their limit. Newcastle finished their season on a very positive note and definitely showed the BUCS Premier North that they will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

79-54 loss to Loughborough

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