PREVIEW - Final games of 2018 as the Christmas break rolls around!

NBL Division One

 Team Newcastle vs Barking Abbey Crusaders 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 3.00pm

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Team Newcastle enter this contest having had a week off to prepare, after their scheduled league encounter with Team Solent Kestrels was postponed to pave the way for the south coast team to book their spot in the National Cup final. Despite a tough loss to Essex Leopards last time out, the North East side are coming off an impressive November of play, so Coach Ian Hewitt's side will be looking to maintain this momentum into their last fixture of 2018. A win here may springboard Newcastle into a playoff position going into the Christmas break - a surprising turnaround since their 0-3 start to the campaign.

The visiting side making the trip up to the North East for this one are the Barking Abbey Crusaders, currently on a two-game losing streak after a narrow defeat against Leicester Warriors last time out. Despite 18 points and 8 assists from Ade Adebayo in that one, the Crusaders dropped to back-to-back losses, having also tasted defeat at Rivermead one week prior. A quick glance at the standings shows how crucial this game is for both sides, with Newcastle just one spot above Barking; who hold a 3-7 record. A win here for Barking would be crucial in their plight to keep their distance from the regulation spots, while also chasing an elusive playoff position.


 Leicester Warriors vs Nottingham McDonald's Hoods 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 3.00pm

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For just the second time this season, the Leicester Warriors head into a game coming off a victory. Tasting triumph against Barking Abbey Crusaders last week, Coach Karl Brown's Warriors improved to 2-8; adding to their opening day victory over Manchester Magic. The win saw Leicester lift themselves off the foot of the table, as Hemel and Manchester continue to struggle, each with one victory to their names. Raphel Thomas-Edwards has had a big impact since his mid-season arrival just a couple of weeks ago - posting 31 points and 14 rebounds in the win against Barking. Coach Brown will surely be looking to Thomas-Edwards, alongside his core of returning players, to get the job done here against their East Midlands rivals.

The team making the short road trip in this East Midlands derby is the Nottingham McDonald's Hoods, a side who are coming off a narrow loss at the hands of Reading Rockets. After a tight first half, the game slipped away from the Hoods in the third and they could not recover - despite keeping things close, all the way to the final buzzer. Cole Welle led all scorers with 21 points in that one, maintaining his consistent form as Nottingham's go-to guy on the offensive end. A win here for the Hoods would go some way to solidifying their position in amongst the lower playoff seeds, so Coach Ryan Westley's squad will be keyed in on picking up an important result as they head into the break. 


 Reading Rockets vs Loughborough Riders 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 5.00pm

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Reading Rockets were the beneficiaries of a solid second half performance last weekend as they pulled away late to defeat Nottingham McDonald's Hoods on the road. The win saw the Berkshire side climb into the top five as they continue to grab results to begin rectifying a tough start to the campaign. Coach Alan Keane's squad head into a tough match-up in this one, tied on wins with the on form Loughborough Riders. The recent news that captain Danny Carter is playing his final season will have rocked the club, but this gives the Rockets even greater motivation as they look to make Carter's swansong season one to remember. 

Meanwhile, the visitors in this one had one hell of an exciting game last weekend, as they booked their place in the National Cup final in dramatic style. The East Midlands side punched their ticket to Essex with a 90-89 home victory over Hemel Storm, as they trailed much of the way - but then Alex Roberts knocked down a go-ahead lay-up in the clutch, before Levi Noel found himself locked up on the final possession. With one eye now on a day away at the Essex Sport Arena in January, Coach Mark Jarram's side turn their attention back to the league campaign, where they hold a four-game winning streak with notable results coming over Derby and Worthing in recent weeks. Still playing catch-up after two early league losses, the Riders need to maintain their good form to remain in amongst the chasing pack, as the regular season unfolds similarly to last year as they wait to pounce on any slip-ups from Team Solent.


 Thames Valley Cavaliers vs Essex Leopards 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 6.00pm

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The disappointing dip in form for Derby Trailblazers since their hot start continued last weekend as the Thames Valley Cavaliers strode in the Clarence Wiggins Sports Centre and stole a crucial victory. Martelle McLemore has been a stud for the West London side as of late, and he continued his efforts with 28 points and six assists last time out against the Blazers. Coach Robert Banks' side, fresh off promotion from NBL Division Two, would surely not have been expecting to reach the lofty heights of the top four this early in their debut campaign in the top flight - but that is where they will find themselves at the turn of the year if they can pick up a win in this one.

The recent upturn in the Essex Leopards' fortunes as they went on a four-game winning streak across all competitions came crashing down last weekend. The Big Cats hosted Team Solent Kestrels at the Brentwood Centre in their National Cup semi-final tie and, despite competing well for big stretches, they couldn't quite keep up with the league-leaders who punched their ticket to the final. Coach Thomas Baker and his will have been very disappointed to not book their place in a final on their home floor, but their attentions now return back to a league campaign that remains in need of a boost. Holding a 2-5 record heading into this contest, the Big Cats are in need of results to move away from the pack near the bottom. With the bolstered roster that sees import talents Asante Sandiford and KJ Lee providing a great compliment to the British core of Sam Newman, Luke Mascall-Wright and others; Coach Baker really has a roster capable of clawing their way up the standings as this season progresses. 

Coach Baker is ready for an important weekend for his side, "This weekend we go up against two familiar opponents" he said.

"Thames Valley are a strong athletic team who can score in multiple ways, so we will need to be strong defensively if we are going to be successful. Games against the Cavaliers are always electric, high energy and the atmosphere is always great. We have played them already this season and have come a long way since then; I am excited to see how we do."


 Bradford Dragons vs Team Solent Kestrels 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 6.15pm

Live Stats

The Bradford Dragons have had a week off to prepare for this tough clash, after the league contest with Essex Leopards was postponed to allow for their crucial cup semi-final tie. After a solid win over Leicester Warriors, the Dragons have since gone on a two-game slide, picking up losses against Newcastle and Thames Valley. A highly mixed first half the season has seen the Dragons go from flying high early on, to levelling out with a 5-5 record entering their final game of 2018. This final match-up of the year in the Dragons' Den is hardly a Christmas present for Coach Chris Mellor's side, as they welcome the undefeated Team Solent Kestrels - who are fresh off booking their place in the National Cup final. Likely to be a high-tempo game from both sides, there is no doubt that the fans in West Yorkshire will be treated to a spectactle - regardless of the result.

Meanwhile, Team Solent Kestrels head on the road again after their successful travels to Essex last weekend punched their ticket to the National Cup final. The Leopards put up a fight in that one, but Coach Matt Guymon's team really showed their class as they pulled away for a vital win in their plight for silverware. Travis Charles has had a major impact since his arrival at the south coast outfit, as he dominated with 25 points and 11 rebounds against the Big Cats. Recent Player of the Month Herm Senor II also made his presence felt with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists - a near triple-double performance. The Dragons are the only team who stand in the way of Coach Guymon's side heading into the Christmas break with an unblemished league record - time will tell if the Kestrels can swoop away with a win. 


 Hemel Storm vs Manchester Magic 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 7.00pm

Live Stats

Likely to be one of the most important match-ups of this weekend, Hemel Storm play host to Manchester Magic on Saturday night in a battle of the basement clubs. The Storm hold a 1-8 record heading into this one, with their maiden victory dating back to October in a triumph over Leicester Warriors. Leon Henry and Blayne Freckleton shared the limelight in that one, chipping in a team-high 18 points apiece for Coach Robert Youngblood. Since then, Hemel have not tasted victory, despite a number of close encounters. Be it down to luck or poor late game execution, five of the eight Storm losses have come down to single digits - showing they are more than competitive, but have been unable to put the pieces together down the stretch thus far. 

The squad making the trip down to Hertfordshire for this one in a Manchester Magic side that is full of a new energy after a recent change at the play-caller position, along with a competitive performance against Worthing Thunder on their home floor. Now into his second week at the helm, new Head Coach Simon Fisher is unlikely to have had the time to had big impacts on this Magic team - but the signs were their in their performance against the Thunder. A resilient Manchester side fought back from down by 17 to trail by just two points in the latter stages of that contest, before Zaire Taylor came off the bench carrying a knock to chip in eight points in the final eight minutes of the game as Worthing pulled away again. The Magic will be buoyed by this effort against the second-placed Thunder, who travelled without captain Brendan Okoronkwo, and they will head into this regulation zone battle with a point to prove heading into the break. 


 Worthing Thunder vs Derby Trailblazers 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 7.30pm

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Worthing Thunder found a way to bounce back from their slip-up against the Loughborough Riders, grabbing victory over Manchester Magic to keep up the pressure on the league-leading Team Solent Kestrels. A top vs bottom clash should have been a simple affair for the Thunder, but travelling without Brendan Okoronkwo and with Zaire Taylor carrying a knock - the south coast side found themselves a little undermanned against a competitive and energetic Magic side. Taylor came off the bench late on to steady the ship after the Magic clawed the game to just a two point deficit, while Alex Owumi was on fire throughout as he led all scorers with 34 points. After losses against the Riders and the Kestrels, the Thunder hold a 9-2 record - they will be looking to pick up their 10th win of the season here against a Blazers side that is in somewhat of a tail-spin.

After missing out on the playoffs last season and being dangerously near the bottom of the table come the business end of the season - it looked to be an entirely different story this year for the Blazers. The bolstered line-up that saw imports Malcolm Smith and Tre-Shawn Wilford added to a talented returning British core - along with the development of academy products like Luke Ptak and Charlie Brown - started the season on a five-game winning streak with some marquee results. Starting with a mid-November loss to the league-leading Team Solent Kestrels, Derby have since gone had  1-4 record, most recently with a home loss at the hands of the Cavaliers. Looking to get back to winning ways as they head into the Christmas break, the visitors in this one for Coach Matt Shaw don't get much tougher - as they make the long trip south to face the Worthing Thunder. 

Blazers' Assistant Coach Paul Bowen says Derby have been working to improve their efficiency in two areas which cost them the chance of victory last weekend against the Cavaliers, "We have to find ways to do a better job on the glass and also to improve our perimeter shooting. That said, we are looking forward to the trip to Worthing and hope to close the year out with a win against what a side which will be a very tough opposition."

Derby Head Coach Matt Shaw added, "We are hoping to go into the Christmas break with a positive performance. Fingers crossed Matt Ward-Hibbert will be back following a hip injury, so we should be at full strength for what will be a very difficult game."


 Reading Rockets vs Essex Leopards 

Sunday 16 December 2018 - 5.00pm

Live Stats

After hosting the Loughborough Riders on Saturday, Reading complete a home back-to-back by welcoming the Essex Leopards to Rivermead. Meanwhile, the visiting Big Cats will also be completing their own double-header, as the follow up their travels to Thames Valley with a trip down the M4 to Berkshire. Having recently faced off in National Trophy pool play, these two sides will be very familiar with each other. The Leopards used sharp performances in the first and third quarters of that one, spurred to victory by 24 points from captain Sam Newman. Look for Coach Alan Keane's squad to come out with a better focus to start the game as they will aim to put their mark on this contest early to not give Essex hope of a repeat result. 

Coach Thomas Baker looked ahead to the match-up with Reading, saying, "Reading have some very strong players who have proven time and time again that they can get it done when they need to. We played them a few weeks back in a game where everything clicked for us. I believe that they will be ready for us this time round and we will have to ensure that we are switched on from the get go if we are going to have the same performance as last time."

"I feel we’re in a great place right now, we have had some really good performances as of late and I will be looking for us to continue these in this weekend. It would be great to pick up two wins from two as it would put us in a strong position going into the Christmas break."


WNBL Division One

 Team Solent Kestrels vs Sevenoaks Suns II 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 3.00pm

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Team Solent Kestrels head into their final contest of 2018 fresh off the disappointment of losing out on a spot in the National Cup final in a loss on their home floor. A highly contested semi-final tie against Loughborough Riders came right down to the wire, as the East Midlands visitors came from behind down the stretch to earn a two-point victory as they joined their men's squad in the finals. Kristztina Velkey led Solent with a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds last week, so Coach CJ Lee will likely look to her to repeat her scoring effort. With the cup campaign now in the past, the south coast side will regroup and redouble their efforts on chasing the tails of Bristol and Anglia Ruskin in the league. 

The visitors in this one have had somewhat of a tumultuous start to their maiden campaign in the top flight, as the growing pains of a young team finding their way in evident in their up and down results. Currently on a three-game losing streak, Coaches Len Busch and James Hussein will have to find a way to regroup as they travel to Southampton for a difficult road game to end their 2018 schedule. The Suns will be hopeful of a competitive contest, having lost out by just a single point to the Kestrels on the opening day of the league season. Katie Bennett had a team-high 17 points on the day for the Suns, and she will likely carry the offensive load again in this one. 


 Bristol Academy Flyers vs Barking Abbey 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 3.30pm

Live Stats

A solid start to this campaign has seen Bristol Academy Flyers jump out to a 7-1 record, topping the WNBL Division One standings. Their only miscue in league play came in a surprise opening day loss - the reverse of this fixture. Barking Abbey are the only side to have dealt Bristol a loss this season, with the exception of Anglia Ruskin University triumphing in the cup quarter-finals, so the Flyers will head into this one with a point to prove. The argument of rest vs rust may come into play in this one, as the hosts have found themselves without a game since 24 November - due to cup weekends and withdrawals. Coach Gareth Till's squad will need to sharp from the start in this one, wanting to send a message to the chasing pack as they head into the Christmas break.

Meanwhile, the visitors making the trip to the South West from East London is a Barking Abbey side currently holding onto a two-game losing streak. After a solid win against Team Birmingham Elite, Barking have tasted defeated at the hands of Loughborough and Solent in recent weeks, so will need an improved performance to topple the league-leading Flyers. The victory over Birmingham was their first since their opening day triumph over Bristol, as the East Londoners have limped to a 2-7 record thus far. 


 Southwark Pride vs Team Birmingham Elite 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 4.00pm

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Heading into this one with a two-game win streak, Southwark Pride will be hopeful of another positive result against the struggling Team Birmingham Elite who hold a 0-7 record. The Pride's 5-3 record sees them in fourth place, a fair reflection on an up-and-down first half of the season. After a low-scoring win over Sevenoaks a fortnight ago, last weekend saw Pride point guard Megan Haines explode for 30 points as they picked up the win against Ipswich. The standings paints a simple picture for this one, but Coach Jackson Gibbons' side will need to produce on their home floor to get the job done.

Making the trip down to the capital is a Team Birmingham Elite side that continues to search for a maiden win this campaign. However, looking on the positive side for Coach Robin Hall's outfit - tied for their closest loss of the season thus far is their opening day contest against Southwark Pride. 16 points from Rebecca Brindley kept them in the game on that occasion, but Southwark got a 17 point effort from Maya Hyacienth as they pulled away early before taking home a narrow win. Brindley has been a stalwart presence for Coach Hall's squad this season, having led the West Midlands side in scoring in every contest thus far. If Elite's fortunes are to turn around, she will need to keep up her stellar play - and hopefully be able to rely on others to chip in up and down the roster. 


Anglia Ruskin University vs Loughborough Riders 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 4.00pm

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It what could have been an early preview of the cup final, Anglia Ruskin University host Loughborough Riders coming off their loss to Reading Rockets at the semi-final stage last weekend. The Rhinos entered the fourth quarter against the Rockets leading by one and confident about their chances to take the tie, before a solid effort down the stretch from Reading saw them take the lead and punch their ticket to Essex for the final. Nadege Talva had 12 points to pace Anglia on the day, in a low-scoring affair, so Coach Matt Harber will be hoping his team can find their mark a little more often in another tough contest in this one.

The opposite story is true for the Loughborough Riders, who played the villain in a thriller down in Southampton last weekend. The young Riders side booked their place in a the final with a victory at the death against Team Solent Kestrels, behind the late game heroics of Megan Jones and Hannah Dawson. Now on a high and looking ahead to that day in January when they face Reading at the Essex Sport Arena, Coach Krumesh Patel will need to refocus his squad on the league campaign as they bring their 2018 schedule to a close. With plenty of weapons to call upon, the WNBL Coach of the Month for November will be hoping his side can pick up a win and improve on their 4-3 record. 


NBL Division Two

 Sussex Bears vs Derbyshire Arrows 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 5.00pm

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A four-game slate in NBL Division Two is tipped off on the south coast as Sussex Bears host Derbyshire Arrows. Last weekend, the Bears were coming off a narrow loss to the in-form London Greenhouse Pioneers - but they bounced back with a commanding result on the road against London Westside. Sussex were led by a Player of the Week performance from Cordaris Townes, his second time receiving the award, as he shot 16-27 from the field to pace his squad with 39 points, while also grabbing 11 rebounds. 

Derbyshire make the trip to south coast coming off recording back-to-back wins for the first time this season. A victory over London Westside a fortnight ago was followed up by a triumph over a short-handed Myerscough College side last weekend, as the Arrows improved to 3-5. Coach Jonny Kelly has been heavily reliant on the production of forward Joseph Baugh, who last weekend had 22 points and 9 rebounds to pace his squad. An important match-up here could see the Arrows leap-frog Sussex in the standings if they can pick up a win. 


 Westminster Warriors vs London United 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 5.30pm

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Having quickly made their name as one of the teams to beat this season in NBL Division Two, the reigning Patrons Cup champion Westminster Warriors hold a 6-2 record that is good for second place in the standings. However, last time out they took only their second loss of the season - coming very close to beating the best the league has to offer. The Warriors ran Liverpool close in a single digit loss that saw Justin Hitchman explode for 30 points. Back in action on Saturday to close out their 2018 schedule, Westminster play host to London United, a side who have been tricky to predict and currently hold a 4-3 record in fourth place. 

London United head into this one with a two-game win streak to their name, as they have improved to above .500 in recent weeks. Modestas Krasauskas has averaged 19.5 points per game in United's back-to-back triumphs, so it will be important that the visitors get him touches in this one to show what he can offer against a tough Westminster defence. Prior to their wins against Derbyshire and Myerscough, United have struggled with consistent form - they will need to be sharp in this one to challenge the second-placed Warriors and continue their climb up the standings.


 Ipswich vs London Greenhouse Pioneers 

Saturday 15 December 2018 - 5.30pm

Live Stats

No game for Ipswich last week means the Suffolk side should head into this contest refreshed following their tough overtime win a fortnight ago. The bonus period thriller came against Greenwich Titans, as Cameron Hawes sealed the win with a crucial score that sees the hosts in this one now hold a 3-5 record. The exciting young talent from the Copleston EABL program combined with veteran presences has seen Ipswich have a number of big individuals performances this season, but they have struggled at times to put together complete performances against the best that the league has to offer. No present challenge is greater than their visitors today, a Pioneers squad in a rich vein of form.

London Greenhouse Pioneers started the season with a couple of rough performances as their season began with a 0-2 start. Since then, Coach Predrag Krneta's side have not tasted defeat in the league, reeling off a six-game win streak and vaulting up to second in the standings. As recognition for their impressive turnaround, the Pioneers did the double in November as Krneta picked up Coach of the Month, alongside Max Hufschlag picking up Player of the Month. A tricky road game in Suffolk on Saturday evening could potentially be the Pioneers' undoing if they don't produce their best, with Coach John Ellis' side having plenty of weapons to call upon.


 East London All Stars vs London Westside 

Sunday 16 December 2018 - 5.00pm

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Wrapping up the NBL Division Two weekend is an all-capital derby that sees the East London All Stars play host to London Westside. A bottom half of the table clash has the hosts in eighth place with a 3-5 record, while the visiting Westide have a 2-6 record that is good for 10th. The All Stars are 1-4 in their last five outings, picking up a dominant win against Greenwich Titans but falling to losses against some formidable top half teams. Last time out, Jonathan James paced Coach Dave Greenaway's side with 22 points, but it wasn't enough as East London took a heavy loss against the in-form London Greenhouse Pioneers. 

Meanwhile, making the trip across the capital for this one, London Westside have had a turbulent start to the season - picking up a solid win against basement side Greenwich Titans and a surprising early season triumph against London United. Levi Edwards and Tyrell Isaacs have been key for the Westside efforts this season, so Coach Frank Lamptey will look to them again in this final match-up of 2018. Needing key results to pull away from the foot of the table, this match-up with a fellow bottom half team presents a good opportunity for Westside to pick up a vital win. 


For full Scores & Schedules from this weekend's action, click the link below: