Sticking to mantra paying off as Rockingham Flames women build form ahead of play-offs
“Beat who’s in front of you.”
That’s the mantra of the Rockingham Flames women’s team, who are building a solid platform from which to launch a raid on the State Basketball League women’s championship having clinched a play-off berth.
Possessing a three-game winning steak following last Friday’s impressive 101-77 win over the second-placed Warwick Senators, the Flames are hitting their stride at the right time of the season according to coach Keegan Crawford.
The Flames secured their 12th win of the 2019 campaign on the back of a stand-out offensive effort from defensive star Maddie Allen and contributions from its cabal of WNBL-experienced players Alex Ciabbatoni, Darcee Garbin, Chris Boag and Janelle Adams.
Crawford said Allen was “lights out” in a 24 point, 11 rebound and four block performance, which came on the back of an 18/15/4 effort the previous week against Kalamunda.
The 2018 Flames women’s MVP, Allen is returning to her best after struggling with an iron deficiency illness early in the season, which resulted in her requiring an iron infusion.
On top of having no recollection of her participation in the round 4 win over the Perth Redbacks, Allen suffered from fever, headaches and migraines for about six weeks while her body adjusted to treatment and left her struggling through mid-season matches.
“I was really, really sick, I’ve never been so down,” she recalled.
“It was my iron levels, which is not uncommon in female athletes. I had an iron infusion, which left me sick because it takes about six weeks for it to get into your system...fever, headaches, migraines are common because your body freaks out.”
Arguably the premier defensive and post player in the league, Allen was given freedom to take more shots from mid-range, Crawford said, which saw her finish with 75 per cent shooting on the floor with 12 makes from 16 attempts.
“Defensively, no matter what, she’s always elite,” Crawford said.
“At the rim she’s the best player in the league. If she can match that offensively she’s scary good. She was doing a fantastic job knocking down that mid-range jumper, which we’re quite prepared to give her.”
The impact of Ciabbatoni also can’t be understated either.
Since debuting against the South West Slammers on June 15, the former WNBL rookie of the year has averaged 17.3 points per game, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and was an assist short of registering a triple-double against the Senators.
Her 21/11/9 stat line from 32 minutes of action earning game MVP recognition.
The Flames received a boost ahead of the game when Garbin’s flights to join an Australian Opals training camp in the USA were rescheduled, which allowed her to suit up and face Warwick, although Crawford doubted springing that surprise on the Senators ahead of tip-off gave his side any advantage.
“In all honesty I don’t think it made too much of a difference, I think they would have prepared for her anyway, as you would,” he said.
“Of course she was great, she was big for us. She’s at an Opals camp right now so she’s obviously a really good basketball player, but it’s the little things she does and the leadership she brings that benefits us as much as her scoring.”
Heeding the “beat who’s in front of you” mantra, the prospect of facing the league-leading Lakeside Lightning holds no fear for Crawford, who believes the two sides match up evenly, even without Garbin.
“We always wanted to go into the play-offs with a bit of form, but the motto we’ve used for the past couple of weeks is ‘beat who’s in front of you’,” he said.
“Whoever is front of us is all we have to take care of. Lakeside is always a good team. They’re the defending champions and will want to build some form into play-offs after losing last week.
“They’re as big as we are, they have some real talent on the frontline, so it’s going to be a cracker of a game.”
Covering the absence of Garbin will “happen by committee”, with no one player under pressure to step up and fill her role in the team and Crawford is confident his side’s depth can cope.
“We’ve talked a lot about how deep this team is,” he said.
“Getting Ella Kennedy back (from injury) helps, we’re already playing some solid defensive basketball, Maddie is clearly coming into her own offensively, and Chris (Boag) is really great at finding mismatches and exploiting them.
“It’ll be more as a group that we step up to fill what she (Garbin) leaves behind.”
The Flames take on Lakeside from 6.30pm on Friday at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails