Meteors rise to cameras and occasion

 

METEORS displayed the intensity of performance that they seem to reserve for big occasions to end the five-match 100 per cent league record of reigning champions; Wildcats in a tense top of the table Gateaux league match, played in front of the television cameras at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght yesterday.

Meteors 69-60 victory was highly reminiscent of their cup final win over the same opponents last January - a match which, coincidentally, was also played in front of cameras at the National Arena.

Wildcats possess the kind of depth through their squad that Meteors can only envy but the Dubliners enjoy a height advantage and by employing an effective 3:2 zone in the first hall, they managed to keep Wildcats on the periphery of the basket early on.

In addition, Meteors were also quickly into their game and by the end of the fifth minute they were seven points ahead. Inevitably, Wildcats recovered sufficiently to peg back the deficit but it was a slow process and they had to wait until three minutes before halftime to level the score only to fall behind again 35-36 at the interval.

Early in the second half though, Wildcats did take the lead and although they moved with greater fluency and their shooting accuracy from play improved, they never achieved a decisive looking advantage.

The third quarter of the game was quite a struggle for Meteors and it was to their credit that they stayed in touch with limited resources down the bench to act as cover for foul troubled players. Their top scorer Angie McNally was on four fouls for the entire second half while six footer Orla Callen had to leave the court with all of five minutes remaining.

At that stage, Meteors trailed by three and they were without their tallest player. With McNally on the brink of leaving the court, they needed to be extremely disciplined if they were to recover and take the chances offered to them.

As it turned out, those opportunities came in the form of free throws and plenty of them as well. Wildcats had moved prematurely onto seven team fouls mid-way through the second half and from there on kept fouling to send Meteors to the line.

A high percentage of converions helped Meteors take the lead again and a telling statistic in the game was the fact 17 of their last 19 points all came from free throws including their last eight. In sharp contrast, Wildcats made only three points from the line in the entire second half.

McNally, who ended up on 20 points, had a superb game both in offence and defence while Karen Hennessy on 17 points was also highly effective. Jillian Hayes, on her return from injury, scored 17 for Wildcats in spite of not starting the game. However, the usually potent outside shooting threat of the Waterford side faltered against the twin-zone options of 3:2 and 1:3:1 used by Meteors coach Joe Kavanagh who could claim a lot of credit for a tactical victory not dissimilar to their cup final win 11 months ago.

The significance of Meteor's victory is borne out by the fact that had Wildcats won yesterday they would have been four points clear at the top. As it stands, Meteors now share the lead with Wildcats while Naomh Mhuire, with a game in hand, are three points adrift. In essence, the title race is back to the point where three teams, each with one defeat, are on an equal footing again.

Meanwhile, in the Budweiser Mens Superleague, the lead has changed hands, albeit temporarily, following Star of the Sea's 88-85 win over Delta Notre Dame at the National Arena on Saturday. In contrast to the cup game between the sides in November which Delta won after trailing by 28 at half-time, this time Star trailed for the most part but won the match with a three-pointer in the last two seconds from Karl Donnelly.

That result sent Star to the top of the table by a point over Neptune, who have a game in hand.

Delta have now fallen back into a mid-table log-jam for fourth place involving three other teams. Marian's third league win in a row, a 100-87 victory over Queens, vaults them into a tie with Delta, Killarney and Killester.

Only a point separated the latter two teams on Saturday in Clontarf where Killarney beat Killester 88-87.