Leicester Riders 66 (21,42,51) (Bratka 21, Evans 15, Jones 14)
Westfield Health Sheffield Hatters 70 (19,40,55) (Naylor 24, Gandy 19, Thomas-Johnson 11)
Westfield Health Sheffield Hatters have maintained the pace at the summit of the WBBL Championship after holding on to overcome Leicester Riders 66-70 in the East Midlands. It is the fourth time that Hatters have beaten Riders in all competitions this season, and is Sheffield’s fifteenth consecutive win, dating back to October.
The league’s highest and third highest scorers led the way for Sheffield, with Helen Naylor hitting 24 points supported by Stephanie Gandy’s double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Hatters started the game with confidence, but a Georgia Jones triple sparked a 13-3 push from the hosts, in which Maaja Bratka added six more, for a 21-15 lead within the last minute of the first quarter, for a Riders team that had previously only lost once at home all season.
But Hatters made two late scores in the first, and then started the second with an 11-3 run, Gandy hitting eight points in that spell as they reversed the game and led 24-31. Riders found their footing and hit the next six points, and the game remained close before Riders sneaked an edge heading into the half time break, at 42-40, as Kastine Evans scored the last four points.
But Hatters clamped down defensively after the break, and that proved to be decisive. They restricted their hosts to just four points in the first eight and a half minutes of the third quarter, while the lead reached 44-52 on ten unanswered points, six of which were scored by Naylor.
But Leicester were still in the game as Evans hit a three-pointer for a score of 49-52, and that was the story of the latter stages of the game. Riders tied the game at 60 with seven points in a row, including a Jones three-pointer, but they could never quite get themselves back in front.
Lauren Thomas-Johnson and Gandy were there to keep the Hatters in front with four minutes to play; and, despite Riders getting back to within one shot with thirty seconds to play, Thomas-Johnson held her nerve at the line to see the game out.