|November 29, 2020||5:30 pm||WBBL Cup||2020-21|
Co-captain Rachael Bland is relishing another Sunday WBBL Cup shoot-out as Newcastle Eagles take on Leicester Riders in a must-win tie.
The final round of North Group fixtures pits leaders Leicester against a talented Newcastle team at the Eagles Community Arena.
And Bland is predicting a typically fast-paced affair as two of the WBBL’s fiercest rivals prepare to lay down an early-season marker ahead of the new league season.
“To be the best you need to beat the best and the Riders have had a great start to the season,” said Newcastle’s joint skipper.
“They’re 2-0 at the top of the group and they’re a team that boasts threats right across the court.
“We had some real battles last season and both teams will be up for this one.
“It’s a fixture I’ve been looking forward to for a few weeks now. You’re talking about two teams with lots of skill and bags of basketball knowledge.
“It’s a great game to have at this stage in the season and we’ll be ready.”
Newcastle faced an early examination of their mental strength last weekend when a determined Manchester Mystics almost caused a second half upset at the ECA.
But the Eagles refocused and regrouped to take a 10-point win as they responded to a heated third quarter blast from furious head coach Chris Bunten.
“We showed that when everyone’s on the same page we’re a very good team,” added Bland.
“But credit to Manchester they made life very difficult for us after half-time.
“As a group we were very frustrated with ourselves and disappointed that we allowed them back into a game that we should have won with plenty of room to spare.
“The positive is that we faced up to the fourth quarter challenge, regrouped and won the game.
“When we face that kind of challenge again this season we know we’re capable of closing games out when the pressure’s on.
“That final period was hugely important in terms of team building and our overall confidence.”
Bland has enjoyed one of her best ever starts to a WBBL season and the evergreen Wearsider is fully justifying Bunten’s decision to name the guard as co-captain.
Six rebounds, five points, four assists, two steals and a block against the Mystics summed up a vital all-round contribution to a team in transition.
And Bland added: “We came into this season knowing there would be a few bumps in the road but as a group we’re just enjoying our basketball.
“It’s been a very tough year for everyone involved with the WBBL but in the last fortnight it feels as if there’s finally some stability and security on and off the court.
“I want to make the most of every minute on court. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to play knowing it hasn’t been easy to get this far.”
This cup clash tips-off at 5:30pm and sees four of this week’s WBBL All-Star Five go head-to-head — emphasising Bland’s assertion that fans can look forward to a live stream featuring two of the most talented rosters in the country.
Newcastle pair Maddy McVicar and Mante Kvederaviciute combined for 34 points and 19 rebounds in the Eagles’ 78-68 win against Manchester.
Meanwhile Leicester’s Christina Gaskin came off the bench to bag 12 points and six defensive boards against Nottingham in last weekend’s East Midlands derby.
And team-mate Kate Oliver starred with 14 points, eight boards, four steals and three assists as the 6ft 4in Aussie centre dominated the Wildcats inside.
Fans can watch the game for just £2.99 on the Newcastle Eagles Box Office. This game is free with a WBBL season ticket and BBL card holders receive a discount to just £1.99 per stream.