Our Game of the Week heading into the Easter break sees a Division 1 Women's match-up with two teams who are vying for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Team Northumbria host Nottingham Wildcats (follow live stats
) on Saturday and for coach Deirdre Hayes
, a win is vital if her club has any chance of progressing to the post-season:
'The season has not gone to plan,' said the Northumbria coach. 'But many teams including Nottingham would probably say the same thing. We would love to get to the Final Four as we did two years ago but it is not that straightforward. We always seem to struggle against Nottingham; that is both down to our performance on the day and credit to them how they upset the way we play. Nottingham has the upper hand with two league victories against us but we will do everything we can to finish the season as strong as we can.'
Nottingham has more or less dominated both league games as Hayes points out, beating Northumbria by 21 at the end of January and there was a 50-point demolition (97-47) on 11 February. The advantage does lie with them, but if results don't go their way they could lose out on the fourth spot to Northumbria.
Wildcats coach Karen Burton looks forward to the trip north and admits the return of American star Ta'Yani Clark to the Northumbria line-up makes them a formidable opponent:
'Northumbria is a good side who are coached well with the experience of Deirdre Hayes
. They have two good Americans and now Clark is back playing they have competed well in the last few games,' she said.
Team Northumbria have won their last three straight and the return of Clark from injury has been a big part of this, as her own coach admits:
'We have had two keys to our improved performance - one is the full time return of Ta'Yani Clark to the line-up. She is not 100% but she could not be kept off the court any more. She is the catalyst for the team,' said Hayes.
'The second thing is that while she was out players had to step up and many got more playing time than they normally would, or played out of position. Although it was difficult this has helped them develop as players and us develop as a team. We are not where we want to be but we are making the best of the season.'
Clark is undoubtedly one of the league's top players, featuring in the top five in points, rebounds and assists and is currently in her third season with Northumbria.
Wildcats have their own host of talent and bringing in American Abigail Wentworth to replace Judy Wright seems to have helped the club after a slow start this season. Wentworth is averaging 23 points per game and shoots an impressive 50% from outside the arc.
'Our team again has come from the bottom [of the league] with the change of personnel of Judy Wright to Abigail Wentworth; we have now got ourselves into contention and pushing for playoffs,' said Burton.
'It will be tough going into the game without Siobhan [Prior] who is out with an injury sustained in the win against Leeds, but hopefully other players will pick up the points and take advantage of extra minutes on the court,' continued Burton who is also England's U16 Women's coach.
When looking at the playoff picture, a win for Nottingham on Saturday will seal them fourth place but a Northumbria victory opens things up.
If Hayes' club win, Sevenoaks defeat Barking Abbey and then both Northumbria and Wildcats lose to Hatters and Archers next week, there will be a 3-way tie for fourth place. The final playoff spot would then be a battle between Nottingham, Northumbria and Sevenoaks with the determing factor being a 'mini-league table' involving the season's games between those teams only.
It's too early yet for predictions but the results of this weekend's games will set the stage.Courtesy of: http://www.englandbasketball.co.uk