Shanice Beckford-Norton led the way with 18 points as Lions continued their perfect start to the WBBL season with an 82-72 victory at Essex Rebels, on Saturday.
The British guard added five rebounds and three assists as Mark Clark’s side made it three straight league wins to stay at the top of the table. Steph Umeh came off the bench to add 13 points and six boards, while Azania Stewart had a ten point, 14 rebound double-double and Cassie Breen completed a balanced offence with ten points as nine of the ten Lions got on the scoresheet. Twenty-six points from Ashleigh Munns led the home team.
Lions were without Jo Leedham and Holly Winterburn, but Clark was able to give his bench plenty of playing time with youngsters Fatmata Janneh and Nicholle Lavinier combining for 16 minutes after stepping up from the Division One side.
Beckford-Norton scored the opening two baskets of the game, but a four-point play from Munns helped the hosts lead 12-8 midway through the first period.
A three-point play from Umeh followed by a triple from Valentina Klocker put Lions back into a lead they would never lose, and Chantelle Charles sent them into the first break with a 25-20 lead.
Beckford-Norton went on a personal 6-0 run to open the second period before providing the assists for a pair of Breen triple as Lions opened a 17 point lead, and the teams exchanged baskets for the rest of the period as the visitors went into the half-time break with a 47-32 lead.
A pair of Breen baskets and a Umeh lay-up off another Beckford-Norton assist saw the lead grow to 18 again after two second half minutes, and Stewart’s free throw took the visitors into the final break with a commanding 67-50 lead.
It was still a 13 point game with five minutes remaining following Umeh’s turnaround jump shot and Klocker effectively ended the game as a contest by making it 76-58 with 3:45 on the clock before a late Rebels surge saw them regain a bit of pride.
Coach Clark was a happy man after the win:
“I’m really pleased with the way everyone was able to make a contribution to the win” he said.
“I’ve always thought Essex are a decent team and they’ll give some teams a problem in the WBBL this year. Ashleigh Munns played really well for them and was always difficult to guard but Shanice really did show some great leadership out there today. She started strongly and gave us some good minutes at the point that meant I could rotate with Kennedy.
“I think it’s so important that people like Valentina Klocker and Steph Umeh ge into some kind of rhythm and both players played particularly well, and Steph did demonstrate she’s a very active offensive rebounds. It was good to get the academy players into the game especially as they had their own win early in the day and Nicholle Lavinier shot the ball really well. It’s always pleasing when the academy players contribute.”