Anglia Ruskin University left it late, but they are Division One Women's Playoff champions!

 Essex Blades 66 v 67 Anglia Ruskin University 

NBL Division One Women Playoff Final

 

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Anglia Ruskin needed a last gasp effort to take home the WNBL Division One Playoff title, as their come from behind win was completed by a go-ahead and-one from Jazmin Gyulai with six seconds remaining. Essex had a chance to win it, but Cat Lutz' desperation three-pointer was blocked on the buzzer by eventual MVP Katrin Hulme. Essex Blades will have to settle for the runners-up medals for the second time this season after defeat in January’s WNBL National Cup Final, while the Rhinos have much to celebrate as they capped off the Cinderella story that is their second half of the season. Few will remember that the eventual Playoff Champions began their campaign 0-8, but what a turnaround their 2018 has been!

The Playoff Final MVP honours went to Hulme as her game-saving block was the exclamation point on a solid overall performance, she had nine points, nine rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Lutz led all scorers with 25 points, adding six rebounds for the Blades. 

Essex quickly established a dominant position in the game as an early barrage of three pointers rained down. Within the game’s first five minutes, Lutz connected from beyond the arc three times alone, with Ellie Shaxon (10 points, three rebounds) adding another one for good measure. That put the D1 regular season winners up 18-9 and although ARU fought back, it was Essex who would lead 21-18 at the first change.

As the Blades looked to try and break the game open, Gyulai (12 points, seven rebounds) and Nadege Talva (17 points, four rebounds, five assists) both strung together fine plays to keep the Rhinos in touch. As Talva sat to end the half, Essex did manage to build some momentum, eventually leading by double digits at 39-29 come half time.

The third quarter passed with little indication of what was still to come. Essex continued to turn the screw and look for a way to put the game out of sight, but their opponents just wouldn’t go away. Lutz continued to fire up the three ball after her early successes, but she wouldn’t hit another triple until the 4th quarter despite multiple attempts. The misses left Essex disjointed and ARU took advantage, narrowing their deficit to 54-47 at the final interval.

“I think the key that changed our game was the fact we believed we could do it and win,” said ARU Head Coach Cristina Baiocco. “We prepared for two weeks and worked so hard for this game. In the end we did what we knew we could do.”

Ruskin opened the final frame with an early triple and with the difference down to just four points, their confidence was growing. With alarm bells ringing for Essex, they sprung into life and quick points pushed the lead back up to eight with five minutes to go.

Back to back baskets from Marianna Maddaloni (17 points, five rebounds) and Barbara Palacios-Gonzalez (nine points, 4 boards) reduced the difference to a single possession with 3:30 to go and from there ARU knew they had a chance. A big triple from Colleen Leung (18 points, six rebounds, seven assists) steadied the Essex nerves but when Maddaloni replied with an immediate three of her own, the game was on a knife edge.

A free throw from Talva made the score 66-64 with 30 seconds left and from there Gyulai stole the game. A brave drive down the lane brought contact, but she remained fiercely committed to put the ball in, before coolly draining the and-one. Essex drew up an inbounds play with 5 seconds to go and although Lutz got the ball in her hands, Hulme snuffed out any chance of the shot finding the basket with a big block.

“I don’t think I can put this into words!” said the elated MVP. “When the whistle went, I was scared it was going to be a foul! But I think we played those finals seconds really well. We knew the ball was going to go to her (Lutz) as she’s such a good shooter, but I put my hand up, and that was it!”