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Cougars split their games at NBL1 National Finals

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Coming off the high of a first ever NBL1 West championship to back up a week later for the National Finals at Joondalup was always going to be a challenge, but the Cockburn Cougars got a strong win on Saturday and coach Tyrone Thwaites feels it’s a concept worth investing in.

The Cougars women made history the previous Friday night at Bendat Basketball Centre winning a first ever SBL/NBL1 West championship which also booked in their place for the NBL1 National Finals this past weekend held at HBF Arena Joondalup.

In the end, the Cougars did have a full team available although not everyone was necessarily at full fitness or health but Cockburn bounced back from a tough loss to eventual winners the Bendigo Braves to beat the defending champion Warwick Senators on Saturday in front of a healthy crowd.

The first up effort on Friday night was a disappointing showing from the Cougars with Bendigo ending up winning 101-57.

Considering the Braves had an unbeaten NBL1 South season then won their three National Finals games by a combined 110 points, that result is put in some sort of perspective with Kelly Wilson, Megan McKay and Amy Atwell leading their charge.

It was a tough night for the Cougars with Steph Gorman finishing with 14 points and four rebounds with 4/10 three-point shooting.

Sarah Mortensen added 13 points and six rebounds, Jewel Williams 11 points and five boards, Jessie Edwards six points and four rebounds, and Patty Brossmann five points, five boards and three assists.

Coach Tyrone Thwaites didn’t necessarily see the performance or result coming beforehand, but could understand it in hindsight.

“I wasn’t expecting that sort of performance on Friday and I don’t think the group was either. Just from discussing it with a number of the athletes, we well and truly believed that we could stay with Bendigo if not beat them,” Thwaites said.

“We certainly didn’t change our mindset or approach and we trained as well as we could during the week. But I think inevitably in hindsight on the back of that game, it was the mental fatigue of everything that went into winning a championship well and truly caught up with us.

“It doesn’t really excuse our performance because we had done that a couple of times this year, but it was a really disappointing performance on Friday night. I do think there was an element of mental of fatigue in there as well though.”

Next up at the National Finals for the Cougars was a battle with the other NBL1 West team in the tournament, the defending champion Warwick Senators.

Cockburn might not have been in the running still for Sunday’s Grand Final, but the Senators were after beating the NBL1 Central’s Norwood Flames on Friday.

It might not have been a pretty game, but you couldn’t fault the efforts and desires of the two clubs in their last hit out for the 2023 season.

In the end, Cockburn prevailed 62-59 with Edwards ending up with 22 points, 11 rebounds and two assists with Gorman adding 18 points, seven boards, seven assists and three steals, Mortensen 14 points, 11 rebounds and five steals, and Williams four points and six boards.

In the end, Thwaites couldn’t be more proud of the effort of his Cougars players to finish their historic season in 2023 in a winning way.

“Saturday was pretty gritty. We had a pretty exhausted group, and a pretty sick one for that matter as well with myself included in that, and Sarah was virtually on one leg and so was Patty,” Thwaites said.

“She only ended up playing the first half in the end. That was an all-round team performance though. We had to dive deep into our bench and Zaya Black didn’t play Friday because she was sick, but came in and played a role on Saturday as did Kinley along with Amelia and KP.

“We went nine deep on Saturday to get that win and we needed to do that with the events of how the game played out. I thought Steph was rock solid across both games, Jessie stood up really strong on Saturday and I couldn’t even sub her out as much as I wanted to give her a break.

“And Jewel just continued to keep her composure in moments where it was often difficult to do so. That was a nice, gritty team win but can definitely acknowledge from a team perspective it was a pretty ugly game of basketball.”

The weekend was the second National Finals held since the end of COVID and the establishment of the NBL1 around the country, and while it wasn’t perfect, Thwaites feels it is well and truly worth persevering with.

While NBL players Nathan Sobey, Anthony Drmic, Mitch McCarron, Mason Peatling and Lachlan Olbrich didn’t travel to play with their men’s teams, the women’s teams were largely at full strength.

Take out the absence of Courtney Woods for the NBL1 North’s Northside Wizards, and the big names came to Perth for the women’s side of things and Thwaites was proud for the Cougars to take part.

“I do think in theory it’s a really good concept and people forget that it’s in its infancy, it’s only two years into the whole thing,” Thwaites said.

“It’s only going to grow and get better, and I think people just have to be patient and understand that the NBL and state sporting associations will shift and mould it into something over time.

“It’s not going to be a perfect product straightaway but it was a privilege to be a part of and something we really enjoyed.

“We also acknowledge that having a third game of some form on the Sunday for all teams would make the tournament feel more well-rounded, but there are smart heads at the NBL and they put together what was a pretty nice tournament to be part of as it was.

“I think it’s an important thing to have on the calendar and will get better with time.”

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