Whitcomb's brilliance, Flames pressure just enough for back-to-back titles
NOTHING separated the Rockingham Flames and Willetton Tigers all season, but on Grand Final night it was Sami Whitcomb who proved the difference with coach Ryan Petrik also crediting work done on their defensive pressure with the Perth Wildcats as being behind the win.
The Orange Autos Rockingham Flames won a second straight women's SBL championship on Friday night beating the Goodlife Homes Willetton Tigers 68-63 at Bendat Basketball Centre.
After the two teams both finished the regular season with 20-2 records and had beaten one another by four points each and then went through the first two rounds of the playoffs undefeated, there never was going to be much between them come Grand Final night.
And that's how it panned out but in the end a remarkable 41 points from two-time Grand Final MVP Whitcomb and then the defensive pressure from the Flames led by Jacinta and Talisia Bourne as they helped force the Tigers into an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers proved the difference in the 68-63 win.
With the Flames having been led by the retiring Kaye Tucker to their maiden championship in 2014, Whitcomb took over as the leader in 2015 and with the Grand Final on the line she delivered a stunning performance on Friday night.
She ended the Grand Final with 41 points, five rebounds and three steals on the back of shooting 14-of-24 from the field, 6-of-15 from the three-point line and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.
But it was when challenged by Tigers defender Lara Napier in the third quarter that she really became inspired and took over the game with some remarkable crossover dribbles and step back three-pointers, and jumpers.
She was just excited to have been part of another championship with the Flames.
"It's really exciting. This was our plan from Day 1 when we came back together so it's amazing to see it come to fruition," Whitcomb said on SBL Slam on 98five Sonshine FM.
"It was fun and it's always nice to hit some shots in big games, but I'm just so proud of this team. With our backs against the wall we really stuck together."
Petrik will now turn his focus on his assistant coach role with the Perth Lynx where he will get to continue working with Whitcomb, but his legacy with the Flames as head coach continues to grow now.
In the end, Petrik was just glad he had Whitcomb on his team as she proved the difference between the Flames and Tigers who couldn’t be separated any other way in 2015.
"It was much more nerve-racking than last year because we had nothing going other than Sam Whitcomb just shooting the lights out. That's totally out of our control and out of Willetton's control, that's the difference one player can make," Petrik said.
"Nobody was ever going to win that game more than five points, it was not going to be a blow out. They are an excellent organisation and Simon's done a great job, and they are just hard to score against. We made a run early, but we knew they would come back and they did, and then I thought they would blow us away and then Sam Whitcomb took over, and that was it."
Petrik came into the Grand Final having kept something up his sleeve, and the pressure applied on to the Tigers in the decider ended up paying off tremendously as did the efforts of Darcee Garbin to drag Louella Tomlinson out of the paint and to limit her just two blocked shots for the night.
"We spent a lot of time with the Wildcats coaching staff and it helped us out a ton with us working on the 1-2-1-1 trap and back in the zone as well. We know we're small and we couldn’t match all the height of Mandurah and Willetton so the Wildcats were terrific with helping us out with that," Petrik said.
"Looking after the ball was a real key going into the game. If you drive into the key and pick the dribble up, then Lou just sends everything back but I think she only had two blocks and we worked on stretching Darcee out shooting threes. I didn’t care if she made one but she had to get Lou out of the key way, and then when we did drive we couldn’t pick it up prematurely."
Article by Chris Pike
Photo by HoopShots