The Cockburn Cougars produced another outstanding performance to beat the Joondalup Wolves 85-74 on Saturday night to remain undefeated this NBL1 West season after the opening nine rounds.
With Jewel Williams battling through the attention she received to guide the team expertly, another brilliant defensive and all-round performance from Steph Gorman, and then the outstanding effort from Sarah Mortensen and the Cougars proved too much for the Wolves.
Cockburn did hand Joondalup its first loss of the season at Wally Hagan Stadium earlier this month, but trying to repeat the dose on the road against the Wolfpack on Saturday night was going to be a different type of challenge.
After the Wolfpack had an early six-point lead, the Cougars took charge away from home going on a 10-0 scoring streak to lead by five, and still by four at quarter-time.
Cockburn pushed that advantage out to as much as 12 during the second quarter but the Wolves did pull it back just before the break including a mid-range jumper from Robbi Ryan on the buzzer to cut the Cougars lead to 42-37.
The Wolves picked up the momentum through the third quarter and turned the tide and even grabbed the lead at one point to throw the challenge back on the Cougars.
Cockburn responded impressively and with Sarah Mortensen leading the charge, the Cougars took back charge of the contest and a 12-0 run saw them back on top to lead by as much as 11 in the fourth quarter.
Joondalup did threaten another fightback but it wasn’t to be with Cockburn having all the answers to end up winning by 11 to improve to 9-0 on the season.
Not a lot separated the teams in most areas but the Cougars did go 21/21 at the foul line opposed to 8/16 for the Wolves while Cockburn also forced Joondalup into 18 turnovers for the game while having just nine themselves.
Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites knew the challenge of taking on the Wolves at Joondalup, but couldn’t have been happier by the end of the evening.
“I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t incredibly unsure prior to the game about how it would play out, because we knew we were playing a very good team, that this time around, were much more prepared against us,” Thwaites said.
“Last time they were on the back end of a double-header and obviously with it being at their place always makes it much tougher.
“I hope for those watching at home, and at the game, that it was a great game of women’s basketball to watch. Obviously we’re feeling really good about the outcome in the end.”
Danish import Sarah Mortensen was outstanding again for the Cougars with 30 points, 11 rebounds and four assists with Steph Gorman putting up 20 points, four assists and three rebounds on top of her defensive efforts on Robbi Ryan.
Jewel Williams was hounded by 151-game veteran Tia Ucich for a lot of the night but still had 20 points and three assists for Cockburn with Jessie Edwards contributing 13 points, four rebounds and two blocks.
On top of that, 16-year-old Amelia Corasaniti made a considerable contribution in her 15 minutes with three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“She’s fun to watch isn’t she?” Thwaites said.
“Miels is unlike any kid I’ve coached before in terms of her fearlessness. Nothing truly rattles her, she just embraces the occasion.
“She goes out and has a crack and doesn’t care who the opponent is. She makes sure she knows her scout and just has that grit about her that makes you smile as a coach, and for those watching at home.”
Gorman put in another masterful defensive performance for Cockburn limiting WNBL import guard Ryan to nine points on 3/9 shooting with four turnovers.
While Thwaites can’t vote for her in the Best Defensive Player, with Emma Gandini now in the NBL1 North, he’d be amazed if she isn’t the runaway leader right now for that award.
“Most people would call me biased about her being the best defender, but I don’t think anybody compares right now,” he said.
“In terms of the jobs she’s done week in, week out, I’d love to hear from somebody telling me where a match up got the better of her.
“She’s done the job on Caitie Jones, on Tayah Burrows, on Alex Sharp, Sylwia Bujniak and even Mikayla Pirini, and now on Robbi Ryan and she’s done that twice.
“Don’t get me wrong, Robbi Ryan is a team effort and I’m incredibly proud with the way we followed our scout with her on Saturday.
“But she’s still so slippery to guard, she’s such a talent that if you switch off for one single moment she’ll punish you.
“For Steph to be that locked in for 38 minutes, she’s my favourite for the Best Defensive Player right now for sure, but it’s not up to me, I’ll leave that for the experts.”
Williams also had plenty working against her on Saturday night but made another strong contribution, and her coach can’t speak more highly of the growth and maturity in her game she continues to show.
“What most people don’t realise is that on Saturday night Jewel was as sick as a dog, and gutted it out irrespective of how she felt physically,” Thwaites said.
“We know that teams every week are going to bother Jewel, they’re going to hold her, push her and and talk trash to her to try and rattle her.
“On a big occasion she kept herself in check and is the on-court general piecing together our offence – I thought Jewel was terrific on Saturday night.”