There has been plenty to like in the start to the NBL1 West season of the Cockburn Cougars women with another strong Easter Thursday win at home to the Rockingham Flames but coach Tyrone Thwaites is far from content.
The Cougars opened up the 2023 season handing the Willetton Tigers a 42-point hammering in Round 1 before backing up again at Wally Hagan Stadium on Thursday delivering an 88-68 victory against the Rockingham Flames.
To now be 2-0 having scored strong home wins against two finalists from last year has been an ideal way to start the new season for the Cougars particularly to have won the two games by a combined 62 points.
Coach Thwaites is pleased with the start but knows there’s still plenty of improvement to go.
“They’ve been nice, but they haven’t been super easy,” Thwaites said.
“But if you said to me we would be 2-0 heading into Week 3 I’d be relatively pleased against those two teams. There’s still plenty of work to be done on continuing to get better.”
Over the opening two games of the season, the Cougars have only conceded 123 points with the Tigers and Flames combining to shoot 42/135 from the field at 31 per cent and 14/56 at 25 per cent from three-point territory highlighting Cockburn’s defensive improvements already in 2023.
New recruit Steph Gorman has helped set the tone defensively to put herself in early Best Defensive Player contention with that award up for grabs in 2023 following Emma Gandini’s departure from Willetton.
However, Thwaites feels it would be doing a disservice to the rest of the team to give all the credit to Gorman for their defensive improvement.
“Steph has been really tough for us defensively but putting the spotlight only on her would be unfair on the rest of the group,” he said.
“We’ve asked everybody to step up and they’ve done that. Jewel Williams isn’t known for her D but has gone up another level this year and that just allows us to have five people keeping pressure on at all times.
“Kirsty Whitfield has always been a capable defender and her ability to help off the ball and just read the play is first class, and Sarah Mortensen is pretty tough.
“At the moment it’s a really nice improvement for us, and we don’t appear to have lost much, if anything, offensively, which was always the risk, so it’s really pleasing.”
Jewel Williams once again was terrific on Thursday night for the Cougars with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists with Gorman finishing with 18 points, four steals, three rebound and two assists.
Danish import Sarah Mortensen added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Jessie Edwards 13 points and nine boards, but just as important was the defensive performance and overall output of captain Kirsty Whitfield in her 33 minutes for six points, seven rebounds and six assists in game No. 195.
“She is the glue person for us without a doubt,” Thwaites said.
“We know it’s a luxury to have KP in the role that she’s in at the moment, and she’s very intelligent and knows exactly where the ball needs to get to on offence, she’s unselfish, and understands the right spots to be in defensively.
“You would have seen on Thursday night a couple of times where she just flew over to help and was in the right spot at the right time to generate the turnover.
“She’s going to be very important for us particularly in the second half of the year when things tighten up, Patty arrives, and teams get a little bit better. We’re very lucky to have her for one final season.”
The Cougars will continue to be a three-point shooting focused team in 2023 and even though they’ve gone just 27/86 at 31 per cent over the opening two games, they won’t be deterred.
“We’re not too concerned about it either. We haven’t shot terribly but there’s no secret that we shoot the ball more than anyone from the perimeter, and we know they’ll start to drop,” Thwaites said.
“Sarah’s still finding her feet and Steph and Jewel are taking all the right looks at the moment. Young Amelia Corasaniti and even Kinley Paterson can shoot the ball too once we get them up and going, and Zaya Black for that matter.
“It’s a really well rounded approach and we know we’ll have nights where we won’t shoot the ball well, and that’s where our defence needs to shine so we were particularly proud of that on Thursday when our D took over in the second and third quarters.
“We have to make sure that when the ball is dropping as well that it’s a really nice addition for us.”