Leicester Riders came away with the WBBL Cup by overcoming Sevenoaks Suns 78-67.

The first box ticked in what the Midlands outfit have been targeting as a domestic clean sweep.

The 2021 final, held belatedly in Manchester, proved to be a duel worth waiting for, after the Suns first withdrew and then were reinstated in the opening showpiece of the Women’s British Basketball League campaign.

Sevenoaks faltered out of the gates, and then regrouped behind a Cup final-record 25 points from Janice Monakana.

Yet Leicester stood firm under pressure. Their size advantage and outside shooting ultimately told with the game’s MVP, Kate Oliver, collecting 18 points and 14 rebounds.

“This one means so much,” the Australian centre said. “It’s been such a long few months to get to this point. We’re so lucky to be on the floor but to be out there playing for a piece of silverware is just incredible.

“It’s easy to get caught up in how difficult it is but we’ve been putting an emphasis on how lucky we’re able to still do what we love to do. To be able to come out here and still be able to perform, it makes all those difficulties worth it.”

The Cup holders feared ring rust after their two months of self-imposed in activity.

Leicester profited, racing out to an 11-0 lead before Tayani Clark opened the Suns account almost four minutes in.

Coping with roster changes, including the exit of Julia Kopple, left Sevenoaks in a quick rebuild. The decision to suspend play that originally cost them a place in the final before it was rescheduled forced a re-imagination despite their regular meetings since their last league outing in mid-December.

Leicester, a two-week Covid-enforced shutdown apart, have carried on to open a gap at the head of the league. And a three from Oliver, their captain, widened the gap to as much as 21-4 with 4:30 left in the first.

You feared a massacre.

“You can’t not play for two months and be back in minute one,” Sundberg declared. “That takes time. We’ve been playing so we had an advantage. But at the same time, we know that playing Sevenoaks, they’re not going to lie down.”

The Suns quickly rose.

A timely rally closed with Irene Garrido-Perez converting a contested three as the buzzer sounded to slash the gap to 24-13 at the close of the period.

And although Holly Winterburn and Hannah Robb, potentially GB’s backcourt of the future, reasserted the cushion to 14, Monakana reignited the Suns’ fire.

Back to back threes capped a burst of ten unanswered points within a torrid two-minute spell as the momentum shifted.

A third from the GB forward, left open on the wing, reduced the gap to a mere two with the Riders lead at a mere 37-33 at half-time.

Sevenoaks looked progressively comfortable. “We’re playing in different spots than we normally would,” admitted Cat Carr, who had just four of her 13 points before the break.

Even when Jesper Sundberg’s side opened the third with a 6-0 run, tit for tat was maintained with his team’s efficient defence more porous than of late.

Monakana was a one-woman battering ram in her side’s cause. Much needed, especially when Leicester surged again.

Robb’s potency grew and grew, the Scot adding 17 points and influential at both ends of the floor in helped to reassert a double-digit cushion.

Yet with Oliver resting, a 14-7 Suns run at the beginning of the fourth forced Sundberg into a time-out with Leicester 67-60 in front.

The Swede was calm. In the end, with his skipper returning, he had no reason to panic as the Riders secured the Cup for the first time.

“We knew when we had an early lead that they would make their runs and we just needed to stay calm and find a solution for it,” he said.

“We struggled a bit when they went with five guards, as that put us out of our normal defensive principles, but that gave us the advantage offensively.

“It’s not the kind of game we usually play, with these high numbers, but it just meant we had to do more offensively.”

Winterburn injected 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

“We had so many contributors,” Oliver added. “Everyone stepped on the floor and made a difference.”

Game Stats

Images: Ahmedphotos


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