The Cockburn Cougars maintained their perfect record this NBL1 West women’s season with two more wins in Round 8 against two challenging opponents with the defence again shining.
It was the first double-header in the 2023 season for the Cougars women in Round 8 and they began on Friday night with the 103-80 victory against the Perth Redbacks at Belmont Oasis. They backed it up on Sunday at Wally Hagan Stadium defeating the East Perth Eagles 94-60.
Those two wins by a combined 57 points improved the Cougars to an 8-0 record this season with an average winning margin of 32 points ahead of this Saturday night’s clash with the second placed Joondalup Wolves at HBF Arena.
Starting on Friday night at Belmont Oasis, the Redbacks shot out of the blocks on the back of Jason Smith taking over from Michelle Fletcher as coach during the week with Brooke Malone knocking down three bombs from beyond the arc in the first five minutes.
The Cougars worked their way on top and it was sparked with some dazzling play by dynamic teenage guard Amelia Corasaniti.
When Steph Gorman drained a three, Cockburn grabbed the lead and were up 28-23 by quarter-time on the back of a triple from Kinley Paterson and bucket to Jessie Edwards.
Cockburn then put on the afterburners in the second quarter with 32 points to just 16 from the Redbacks to blow the game wide open to lead by 21 at the main break.
The Redbacks got the deficit down to nine at three quarter-time, but the Cougars pulled away again in the fourth with another 27 points to 13 to end up winning by 23.
Steph Gorman ended up top-scoring for Cockburn with 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals while hitting 4/8 from beyond the arc.
Sarah Mortensen added 19 points and nine rebounds, Jessie Edwards 18 points, eight boards and four assists, and Jewel Williams 13 points. Captain Kirsty Whitfield finished with eight points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals in her 201st game.
Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites knew to expect a hot opening from the Redbacks but he was happy with how his group responded.
“The game probably went how we expected it to go. We discussed a lot during the week once we knew that Michelle’s was out that there would probably be what I call some rah-rah for the first quarter,” Thwaites said.
“Teams generally grow a leg and they lift a little bit when there’s a coaching change, and we saw that. I don’t think that was just typically because of the coaching change either, I also think Jason Smith did a great job with a bit of a free hit against us in his debut.
“They threw a whole bunch of different stuff at us and messed us up a bit early, and it took us probably a quarter to acclimatise to get back to playing our way and seizing control back.”
That led into Cockburn hosting East Perth at Wally Hagan Stadium on Sunday, and again the opposition started well.
Madison Torresin hit a three to put the Eagles up 7-2 and they were still on top 13-7 when Sarah Allen hit a three-pointer with just over three minutes gone.
From there Cockburn took charge of the contest and by quarter-time were leading 25-24 before the Cougars put up 26 points to seven in the second quarter to grab the advantage and be up 49-31 at the half.
Cockburn put up 24 points to eight in the final period to end up shooting 46.4 per cent from the field despite hitting just 5/28 from downtown to East Perth’s 29.4 per cent field goal shooting and 7/28 from three-point territory.
Cockburn dominated the glass with 66 rebounds to 34 to end up taking 16 extra field goals while Jessie Edwards dominated with 22 points, 19 rebounds and two assists with 8/11 shooting.
Sarah Mortensen also had 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, Harriet Ford 14 points and seven boards, Steph Gorman 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Jewel Williams 14 points.
Thwaites always knew East Perth posed plenty of challenges, but he wanted the Cougars to make a statement defensively and that’s exactly what they did the longer the game went.
“East Perth are a strange one and it’s really hard to get a gauge on them because on paper I really do believe they are talented even though they are obviously missing (Sam) Lubcke at the moment,” Thwaites said.
“We knew they were on the back end of a quick turn around double-header and early on they were a great. They’re the one team in the league who shoots the ball from the perimeter more than us, and they were on early.
“Our scout wasn’t quite right but we pride ourselves on being the best defensive team in the comp and I heard Tanya Fisher say on the broadcast that at different times we were starting to strangle them defensively.
“I really believe that was an accurate description and to be honest, I really think it was led by Jewel Williams. If our point guard who hasn’t been renowned for her defence can play like that defensively, then we can well and truly win a championship.
“It was a real credit to Jewel and the work that Steph does regularly and what Jessie did on Maddie Allen. Our defence is really starting to drive our offence and we were really proud of how it drove the outcome.”
While the big guns of the Cougars had another terrific weekend, there was plenty else to be excited about including teenager big Harriet Ford having 14 points and seven rebounds on 7/10 shooting in less than 10 minutes on Sunday against East Perth.
“It’s what she’s capable of and we know that. We’ve had a fair bit of discussion with Harry about what she is capable of,” Thwaites said.
“It’s partly about maturity and being able to stand up on a big stage, and knowing your role and accepting your role to then go out and play to your strengths. That’s not easy for a 17-year-old to do, but she has a load of potential and bigs generally develop a bit later.
“It was nice to get a glimpse of what Harry can be and we know we’re not going to get that every week, and we don’t expect that, but it was pleasing for her to get some reward for a fair bit of effort she’s put in over the last 18 months. It should also give her a bit of confidence heading into Teige Morrell this week.”
Another positive out of the weekend for the Cougars was Zaya Black making her long-awaited debut for Cockburn after initially signing ahead of the 2022 season before missing the season due to injury.
She then had a hiccup with ankle injury at the start of 2023, but she got back out there with three points, two rebounds and two assists in over 10 minutes on Friday against the Redbacks, and then another 12 minutes for two points and four rebounds against the Eagles.
Black also got to enjoy her first NBL1 win after all 24 of her appearances with the South West Slammers were defeats.
“There are two funny facts about Zaya Black. The first is I reckon she had the longest time from signing her contract to making her debut at a club with it being 18 months,” Thwaites added.
“Obviously she was supposed to play Round 1 but rolled her ankle two hours before the D-League. She had a tremendous pre-season and she would have been our sixth player when we started.
“But to get her back now is great even though it will take her a bit of time to get rolling again. It was just good to get her back on the floor this weekend. We’ll slowly start to see the real Zaya Black in the back end of the season.
“The other fun fact is that on Friday night, that was her first ever win at NBL1 level that she’s played in because she didn’t get a single win while she was down in Bunbury so we were stoked for her to get back out there.”