The Cockburn Cougars are the last remaining unbeaten team in the NBL1 West women’s competition after beating the Joondalup Wolves on Saturday with coach Tyrone Thwaites proud of how his group responded to being challenged.
The stage was set for the battle of the unbeaten teams at Wally Hagan Stadium on Saturday night after the Wolves beat the Willetton Tigers on Friday to improve to an 8-0 record as they prepared to face a Cougars team who had won their opening four matches of the season.
Cockburn put together a dominant first half on their home floor with 26 points to 20 in the opening period and another 26 to 16 in the second term to head into the main break on top 52-36.
The Cougars’ lead grew to 18 points early in the third quarter too but then the Wolves got on a roll and dominated the term with 33 points to 14 to overcome that 18-point deficit and grab the lead.
By three quarter-time, the Wolves were leading 69-66 but it was all set up for a grandstand finish with both teams putting their undefeated records on the line.
The Cougars worked their way back out to a five-point advantage and by the time Perth Lynx WNBL star Robbi Ryan fouled out for Joondalup with five minutes to play, Cockburn maintained that edge to end up winning by five.
That leaves the Cougars the last undefeated team in the competition at 5-0 and coach Thwaites was especially proud afterwards.
“It was very nervous there for a period of time because we haven’t quite been challenged like that so far this year, and that was probably the case for both teams to be honest,” Thwaites said.
“I said last week when things tighten up it will be interesting to see how we respond and obviously the outcome went our way. I was very proud of the group.”
Steph Gorman produced a brilliant performance for Cockburn with 28 points, 10 rebounds and two assists along with her defence on Robbi Ryan with Sarah Mortensen contributing 20 points and 12 boards.
Jewel Williams added 19 points and five assists, and Jessie Edwards eight points and 14 rebounds.
But moreover, what Thwaites liked was seeing the way his Cougars group responded when the Wolves got rolling in the third quarter and threw the gauntlet down to them.
To be able to wrest the momentum back and claim the impressive win meant it was a win Thwaites hopes the Cougars take a lot of heart from.
“It’s really interesting actually because in the moment I thought we did a reasonably good job (overall) but you’re never quite satisfied in a high pressure, stressful situation like the game was,” Thwaites said.
“But certainly watching the game back, our discipline for the most part was rock solid and extended a bit more past just what we did on Robbi.
“Obviously Steph did a great job dealing with her but Jessie Edwards’ second efforts on rebounding situations, and her ability to guard Morrell and take away their supply at the high post was really impressive.
“Jewel Williams’ discipline despite getting smashed on a consistent basis was really pleasing too and she’s upped her defensive capabilities so significantly this year.
“Then just the little bits from the girls who came in off the bench and played a couple of minutes here and there, and for (Amelia) Corasaniti to fight against (Teige) Morrell and pinch one off Robbi, was great to see.”
For a young guard like Corasaniti to come in and play nearly 14 minutes in a high pressured game against a back court featuring a WNBL import in Ryan along with 149-gamer Tia Ucich, 163-gamer Chelsea Belcher and 257-gamer Shani Amos means it was a great experience builder too.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said.
“She’s a great kid, she’s hardnosed and got that country grit about her. Age is really just a number with her mindset, and we know she’s only going to get better.”
With the Wolves having picked up the momentum and grabbed the lead in the third quarter, the Cougars were staring down the barrel of their first loss of the season, but the way got back on top to win is why Thwaites will take so much heart from the performance.
“I think you learn what your group is made of when your back’s against the wall a little bit and I think that applies to the coaching staff too,” Thwaites said.
“I think we we’ve built belief over the first month that we are a very capable group, and that belief is at a level I haven’t seen before.
“But how you respond when challenged really came to life on Saturday night and to be honest, it was probably the biggest learning for us to find out what we do when teams throw things at us. We could have just packed up shop for the night and we didn’t.”