A very disappointing night in the Vertu Motors Arena for Head Coach Matt Newby and his Eagles players ended in an overtime loss at the first hurdle in the Betty Codona Trophy.
Going into the game Newcastle were confident about progressing to the next stage of the competition having home court advantage against a side that had only won one game all season.
Newcastle were still without the injured Chloe Gaynor and she was joined on the sidelines by Zoe Willis through concussion protocols. One big bonus for The Eagles was the return to the roster of veteran wing player Rachael Bland who has re-signed for the Club.
Perhaps crucially that Wildcats win had come in their last outing some three weeks prior on the road in Manchester. A victory that came a day after The Eagles last League game which was a loss at Oaklands Wolves.
It may even have been one of the factors in the way the game went? Newcastle came out a little slow and looked nervous whilst Wildcats led by the very impressive Jessica Wayne and Mari Stewart looked in the groove from the first tip.
Nottingham established an early lead and were ahead by as many as eight in the first period but Newcastle with the ever-influential Lauren Saiki finding her passing targets with regularity managed to stay within six points by the end of the quarter.
The Eagles started the second well with Abby Lowe nailing a triple and a deuce to get them back to within a point. Nottingham though, as they did virtually all game, hit back immediately.
An 11 points to 1 run including nine points personal from Abby Whitehouse saw them establish their biggest lead of the night at 33 – 22 and left Newcastle searching for answers.
Another Lowe triple cut the gap to seven points before with 3:22 to go in the half Wayne replied with a triple of her own to make it a ten-point gap. Lowe wasn’t finished though and her third triple of the quarter and fourth overall sparked a home run.
Saiki and the Women’s British Basketball League’s player of the month Tierra Hodges both netted baskets to add to that score and by the half-time buzzer the lead had been cut to three points at 40 – 37.
The Eagles and Hodges continued that momentum as the second half opened and four unanswered points from the star American forward gave Newcastle their first lead of the night and sparked an extremely exciting third quarter and second twenty minutes into life.
The lead changed hands five times in those ten minutes with mostly Newcastle finally holding sway and Nottingham looking more as if they were hanging on than able to re-establish.
Lowe was still shooting superbly and Katie Nolan and Hodges were having more of a presence inside as Newcastle tried to pull away under Saiki’s guidance. However with Wayne and Stewart around for Nottingham and Jiselle Havas coming to the party it was always close.
The Eagles did though take the quarter 19 points to 14 and Saiki’s final bucket of the period meant they started the final stanza two points in front at 56 points to 54.
The, supposedly, last ten minutes saw a real war of attrition with both sides working ferociously to close the other down. Offences drying up as the defensive intensity from both sides was cranked up.
Wildcats made the first move and did get up by six points but great work inside by Nolan saw her net four points and bring the Eagles back to within one score. Nottingham re-grouped and rallied again and with 1:23 left led by five points 67 to 62.
The Eagles were not finished and showed great character with a Courtney Clasen bucket and then yet another Lowe triple to tie the game with 43 seconds to go. Eagles indeed had the chance to go in front but Saiki’s two-point effort just failed to drop.
With three seconds left on the clock and the game still level Newby called his last timeout and it almost did the trick. Saiki had a chance to win the game but under extreme pressure inside could not get the ball to drop.
The ball even came back to her but still she couldn’t force it home and a terrific Trophy tussle headed to overtime which in the end seemed fitting for both sides. Eagles though had to play that extra five minutes without Hodges who had fouled out in regulation.
It was Stewart and Wayne that nudged Wildcats in front as Newcastle only replied through Nolan. Free throws followed from Stewart again and then Joice Leavold made three from four to seal the deal for a Nottingham side that celebrated like Wildcats!
The end analysis was tough for Newcastle. They had almost twenty more offensive possessions than the visitors and missed 11 free-throws throughout the game. But credit has to be given to Nottingham who never stopped believing and deservedly took the win in the end.
Eagles were led by Abby Lowe who included six triples on her way to 20 points. There was an incredible triple-double for Lauren Saiki who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and an outstanding 15 assists.
Double-doubles also for Tierra Hodges with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Katie Nolan with 12 points and 10 rebounds with Courtney Clasen adding 11 points and 5 rebounds from the bench.
But in the end it was Jessica Wayne with 23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals that just about took the MVP honours from her Captain Mari Stewart who also had 23 points and a huge 17 rebound.
The main Wildcats support coming from Abby Whitehouse with 13 points and 5 rebounds and ex-Duke University alumni Jiselle Havas who had 11 points and 8 rebounds.
So, Newcastle are out of the Women’s British Basketball League Betty Codona Trophy and now won’t return to the court until their next league game in February when they will travel to Essex Rebels.
It gives them plenty of time for their injured players to heal and recover as they will analyse this game and what they need to do for the remainder of the League season.