I had seen the Rhondda Rebels once so far this season when they took on and destroyed the Manchester Mystics at the Amaechi Centre. I had hoped to see the Rebels and the Hatters go at each other in the National Cup Final, but someone had arranged that on the same day as the BBL Cup Finals.

No honestly it’s true.

I had also intended to catch their League encounter on the night before the Cup game but that was rightly postponed.

So here we are at the All Saints RC School in Sheffield for the game that could possibly be a Championship decider. Well that’s what I’d thought. 24 hours earlier, the Hatters and the Rebels were tied at the top of the NBL Division 1 Women, with their perfect records of 12 and 0.

Somebody was going to 12 and 1.

I say hello to Head Coach Betty Codona and she tells me that someone had already gone to 12 and 1. Last night (Saturday) the Hatters had been defeated by Coach Michael Balls’ Solent Suns by a scoreline of 64 – 67.

At the end of the first quarter the Hatters had led 18-12 but then the Suns took control to lead 28-34 at the half. At the end of the 3rd it was a 10 point ballgame as the Suns led 42-52. A good fightback in the 4th gave the Hatters hope, but, in the end, they would go down to their first League defeat of the season

So victory was critical for the Hatters today or they would go 2 games back on the Rebels. As I mentiond earlier, I had seen the Rebels once this season, and I have to admit they were impressive. I particularly liked the look of LeNedra Brown who is tall and athletic and Kirby Copeland who was small and dynamic.

Of-course Great Britain and England legend, Andrea Congreaves was also in the line-up. She had nailed a collection of threes against Manchester to take the game away from the Mystics.

The Hatters line-up included the ever impressive Lisa Hutchinson and the unbelievably talented Stephanie Gandy. I had of-course seen Lisa all of last summer when she helped Great Britan achieve their place in Eurobasket A.

Now I think regular readers of mikeshaft.com will know that I always call it as I see it whether readers and fans like it or not., but this game did not live up to expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a joy to see the fantastic performance of the Hatters as a team and especially Stephanie Gandy and Lisa Hutchinson who were both spectacular. But as a contest, this was not as close as I would have liked.

What disappointed me was the performance of the Rebels on the day. Listening to the fans of the Rebels, they wanted to blame the officials but in my opinion the women from South Wales were ill-disciplined and brought everything they got, upon themselves.

The defence of the Hatters was impressive and without doubl fustrated the Rebels. When the Rebels complained a little too much they were, quite rightly, Teed – up.

At the end of the first it was close…a one point lead to the hometown Hatters. The score was 26-25.

It was a war!

At the half it was closer still as we were tied 46 a piece. Which way would this one go?

Through the third and fourth quarters , all questions would be answered as the Hatters took control to lead 65-59 at the end of the third. LeNedra Brown had spent an eternity on the bench having picked up her 4th foul, including a technical.

The main weapon for the Rebels was Kirby Copeland who was quite spectacular, but even she was getting into it with the referees and picking up her own fouls. Yes the referees were calling it tight but I do believe they called it the same way at both ends.

Top players have to learn to adjust, and this was potentially a Championship decider. If the Rebels were to win this they would go to 13 and 0 … 2 games better than the Hatters. Should the Hatters win then we would be back where we started with the teams level on points but now with one loss each…WOW!

The star of the day was Hatters Stephanie Gandy who was unstoppable. She would end the game with an awesome 34 points.

Some of her moves to the basket were very special and when she was fouled going to the basket, she made the Rebels pay from the foul-line.

And while Gandy was truly spectacular on this night, mention must be given to Lisa Hutchinson who was, once again, a joy to watch. If my memory serves me right, she played all 40 minutes and led from the front.

One play in particulay illustrated her committment. The Rebels had stolen the ball from the Hatters and were on a fast break with Martina Gandozlova handling the ball and taking it to the hoop for what looked like an easy lay-up.

Hutchinson had a different idea as she tracked Martina all the way and as the Rebels player made the mistake of moving the ball into her right hand it was Hutchinson who was there to knock it away and save a definate 2 points.

So this would be a famous victory for the hometown Sheffield Hatters over their perennial foes the Rhondda Rebels by a score-line of 86 to 72.

In the end, the result was never in doubt. LeNedra Brown would finish with 17 points for the Rebels and on a couple of plays she definately displayed the talent that she has, but today wasn’t her day and, to be honest, it wasn’t the Rebels day either.

The return fixture scheduled for South Wales on the16th of March should be an encounter to remember. I hope I am able to be there.

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