With captain Cayla George in foul trouble before quarter time, the Melbourne Boomers needed a hero.
The Opals veteran found herself giving up two personals and a tech foul in quick succession, and was accordingly benched by coach Guy Molloy.
Melbourne was struggling to pull away from opponents Bendigo Spirit early, with scores tied level 13-13. The visitors gave the Spirit far too many free throw opportunities, with foul after foul.
Any attempt at a bit of body work or a block was met quickly with a whistle. Down the other end, Anneli Maley couldn’t miss an opportunity to bring down a missed Boomers ball, finishing the quarter with five boards.
Molloy looked to his Tall Ferns charge in Penina Davidson to fill George’s shoes, not an easy task by any means. Davidson had played 16 minutes off the bench the night prior in the win over Southside, finishing with three rebounds and two points.
George played 37 minutes in the loss to the Spirit barely a week and half earlier, her 19 rebound, 16 point double-double not enough to drag her team over the line.
With last year’s wooden spooners holding close, there could have well been a feeling of the same but different.
When Davidson soon nailed a turnaround jump shot to bring scores level once again, those fears were allayed. Running a screen for guard Lily Scanlon as she dished out the assist to Tiff Mitchell from three gave the star import 10 points into the first break, and the Boomers confidence.
George didn’t feature at all for the second term, but Davidson held strong under the rim. She pulled down three more boards, as the Boomers’ margin grew to five.
Though her responsibilities may have increased, the Kiwi would have done the same for the team any other night.
“It was nothing new, you’ve just got to give whatever’s required on the day,” Davidson told The Inner Sanctum.
“If it’s a quiet night it’s a quiet night, and if it’s not then it’s not. It’s just whatever when it’s needed.”
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When Mitchell then fell heavily to the floor with blood streaming out of her nose, there were hearts in mouths for Boomers fans everywhere.
The star point guard was showing off every little bit of her WNBA experience up to that point: she’d already hit double scoring figures coming into the second quarter, with no signs of stopping.
While Mitchell came back into the game in the final term, the Boomers were every chance to roll over without her.
They missed her strong driving to the rim, her ability to score from anywhere, and her occasional move into the key to pick up the board herself if no one else would.
“It was a pretty heart-stopping moment seeing Tiff go down like that,” Davidson said.
“We’re a pretty tight knit group, we all get along. We’re all super behind each other’s backs. She came back and all is well. Lots of smiles after.”
Scanlon and Lindsay Allen took over point guard duties, and certainly didn’t slouch. Davidson kept holding strong and Ezi Magbegor grew and grew into the game, as they outscored the Spirit 23-8 in the third quarter.
Magbegor seemingly did it all. That reflected on the stats sheet, as she finished a single assist short of a triple double.
The defensive worries of the first two terms seemed to all but disappear. Magbegor and Davidson were huge presences in the paint, with cameos from Lou Brown.
“I commended [Magbegor] after [the game],” Davidson said.
“Even just her fitness was incredible, she played heavy minutes in back-to-back games.
“The amount of work she puts in is insane, and she’s just such a great and wonderful teammate to play with both on and off the court. I’m just so glad it’s showing.”
A hectic schedule
Though the struggle of back-to-back games showed early, Davidson commended her teammates for keeping on pushing, and playing the “long game”.
No one wants to be known as the team that plays half a game. The Boomers will work on finding those early leads, keeping their defence cleaner.
They now sit second on the ladder, just behind the undefeated Townsville Fire. Their next challenge: the winless Sydney Uni Flames.
It looms as a match-up against a Tall Ferns teammate for Davidson.
“Sydney should be fun. I’m personally really looking forward to seeing Kalani Purcell, an old teammate of mine,” she said.
“We’re just going to have a day off tomorrow and refocus for Tuesday, we’ll fly out and do what we can.”
For the Spirit, they’ll look to improve on their 1-2 record against the UC Capitals on Wednesday in an away trip that could change their season.
With a huge crop of talented new recruits, the Spirit already looked much improved on their winless 2020 campaign. But after struggling to put away a Boomers side missing two of their out-and-out stars, coach Tracy York will need to see change, fast.
Both sides travel interstate for their matches on Wednesday, after which the Spirit head to Sydney and the Boomers to Adelaide in their last match before the New Year.
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