Lions take revenge in EuroCup Group J – Women’s…
FIBA EuroCup Women
London Lions 67-60 Villeneuve s’Asq LM (14-16, 13-14, 17-11, 23-19)
Lions – Herbert Harrigan 20, Winterburn 16, Leonard 12; d’Asq – Burke 21, Salaün 15, Ben Abdelkader 6
It took two minutes for the London Lions to get up to speed with the physicality of Villeneuve d’Ascq at Crystal Palace for their fourth FIBA EuroCup Women game. Once they got on the scoreboard, it was clear any victory was going to be hard won against an undefeated visiting team who bullied the British side on their own court in France to kick off the season. London’s joyful group hug at the end of the winning effort spoke volumes about the fight this team has.
The tough start soon became a tied contest thanks to the quick movement of the home team, plus a tough turnaround fadeaway from EuroCup Women’s fifth all-time scoring Katsiaryna Snytsina.
To help deal with the big physical play, Lions coach Mark Clark subbed in Azania Stewart, who quickly made her presence felt, getting open for a bucket around a hand-off screen in the paint with Shequila Joseph. The Olympian then pressured Villeneuve guard Kamiah Smalls after a switch on the perimeter to force the visitors into a turnover.
The Lions cut up d’Asq’s defence, thanks to the threat that Holly Winterburn poses in isolation. With all heads turned in her direction, Kennedy Leonard sprung loose off a weak side screen to get open again beneath the basket thanks to an easy drop off from her British teammate.
Out of a timeout, London sprung Mikiah Herbert Harrigan open at the top of the key for an open jumper that fell through the hoop so sweetly, it played music on the strings. It’s the type of play that helped Kiki secure a spot in an MVP nominations list last week.
Leonard might have been the smallest player on the court at the time, but her help defence put her in the perfect position to block Villeneuve’s Smalls. Her athleticism to then recover found Herbert Harrigan so the Lions could race up the court, with no one faster than Shanice Beckford-Norton, who flew in for an easy two.
It wasn’t all London. It was never going to be. Villeneuve were undefeated coming into the game. They moved the ball well and kept finding ways to get to the basket across the board, which helped them take a two-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The French side did most of their damage on the defensive end. The athleticism of their wings meant the Lions struggled in isolation. Even Winterburn found it difficult to get open with the lengthy Myriam Djekoundade guarding her, and the French-Congolese forward racked up blocks and steals early in the second frame.
This helped open a slight lead over the home side, but a lack of execution under the basket by Villeneuve’s bigs stopped the lead from growing too much. A big reason for this was the heart and hustle of Leonard, who kept finding herself in a help position, standing up players much bigger than her.
The London player who could be relied on to keep the scoreboard ticking over was Herbert Harrigan. The former WNBA star kept finding open space for easy layups, thanks to pinpoint passing from Winterburn and Leonard, but she also bailed out the team with tough shots from distance in tough situations.
During a timeout with two minutes to go, d’Asq coach Rachid Meziane drew up a play that saw Hindben Abdelkader collapse the London defence with a drive, leaving Caroline Heriaud open on the perimeter to hit the three.
This opened a seven point lead for d’Asq, but the heart of the Lions roared again. The Brits led the way: Leonard made a layup off Winterburn’s assist, then grabbed an offensive rebound on the next possession to return the favour on a three for Winterburn. Leonard then teed up Herbert Harrigan for a bucket to close the gap to three as the halftime buzzer went.
Everyone touched the basket on the first score of the second half for the Lions. A beautiful pass fake-drive-shot fake-pass from Leonard to Herbert Harrigan in the corner ultimately found Winterburn for a wide open three, which she nailed to draw level with the visiting side.
Snytsina started making tracks to become EuroCup Women’s fourth all-time leading scorer after the 37-year-old ran hard on two Villeneuve turnovers. Leonard found her both times cutting to the basket.
Up two towards the end of the third, Herbert Harrigan showed why she was the leading shot blocker in college when she spiked Christelle Diallo’s pivot to the basket. Joseph subbed in and found a cutting Snytsina, who drove down the middle of the lane, forcing d’Asq to rotate out of position. The Belarusian found Ty Battle all alone beneath the basket for the easiest two of the former Delaware forward.
The Lions kept putting in the effort on defence, and these little victories helped hold on to a slim lead going into the fourth, with a London crowd getting louder inside the legendary Crystal Palace.
A crazy step-back three from d’Asq’s own WNBA star, Kennedy Burke, created enough space that even the outstretched arms of Herbert Harrigan couldn’t get close to the open three, which Burke nailed to open the fourth.
Villeneuve began playing their man-to-man assignments much closer, which threw the Lions in the opening few minutes. London looked tired and struggled to get open, but thanks to the strength of Winterburn and Herbert Harrigan finishing around contact, and Leonard pushing the ball to get open, the Lions recovered the lead after a few worrying minutes.
A set play allowed Winterburn to sneak back door for an open corner three that she hit, and a broken possession a minute later gave Leonard an open lane for a layup. It opened the gap back up to seven with four minutes to go.
As has happened so many times in Snytsina’s career, she launched a three from the top of the arc, coming off a Stewart screen, and while it looked long the whole way, that friendly shooter’s roll trickled in to maintain a six-point lead with 90 seconds left in regulation.
Villeneuve wasn’t giving up, hoping to close the point differential should it be needed for the next round. Full court pressure with less than a minute left forced a Lions turnover. The gap closed further when d’Asq forward Janelle Salaün hit a layup, but the visitors were forced into fouling as the clock ticked away, and it went back up to seven by the final buzzer.
The win served as revenge over the only team to beat the Lions this season.