Pride faced off against WBBL Trophy winners London Lions at the Crags Centre in Edinburgh on Wednesday evening, looking to make up for a disappointing performance against the English side in London just 11 days earlier, where Lions emerged comfortable 32 point victors. That game had sparked an improved performance by Pride against Manchester Mystics however, and the Scottish side were looking to build on that here.

The first few possessions of the game brought no points for either team, and it was Lions who were first on the scoreboard after 90 seconds of play through American wing Cassie Breen on a long 2. Pride answered back immediately on a Pollyanna Storie post-up, but a quick 6-0 run by Lions saw them look to take charge of the game early on. Ella Doherty ended the run with a score at the hoop, however Pride were finding it tough to stop London scoring and Lions extended out to a 15-6 lead after just over 6 minutes of play. But Pride’s young Scottish players Storie, Doherty and Rose Harvey took Pride back to within 4 points within the next minute of action and were the only scorers for Pride in the 1st quarter, which finished with Lions leading by 7 at 23-16.

Pride’s regular star duo of Maud Ranger and Sian Phillips then began to get going in the 2nd quarter, as customary plays – a 3 pointer for Ranger and a driving layup and-1 play by Phillips – countered score by Stephanie Umeh and Kennedy Leonard for Lions. And the game followed that pattern throughout the period, as Lions built leads of between 9 and 12 points, with Pride then bringing it back to between 5 and 7, with a long 2 by Pollyanna Storie the only points of Pride’s 25 in the quarter not scored by either Ranger or Phillips, who were now looking in masterful form. Lions also scored 25 points in the period, as they maintained their 7 point lead into halftime, with the score 48-41.

Going into the 2nd half, Lions were looking to kill off the game and opened with a 6-2 run, as Ella Doherty picked up Pride’s only points in the opening 2 and a half minutes. Maud Ranger then looked to spark a Pride comeback, as she followed up a 3 pointer by scoring 3 free-throws on the next possession, as London were unable to stop the French sharpshooter. Sian Phillips then added a driving layup to make it an 8-0 run for Pride and the deficit was down to just 3 points with 6 minutes remaining in Q3. A spell followed where both teams traded baskets before a Ranger floater made it a 1 point game and an Ella Doherty driving layup on the next possession saw Pride take their first lead of the game at 61-60 with 3:20 remaining in the 3rd. Lions briefly edged back in front, but they were now struggling to contain Ranger and Doherty, and Pride stretched out to a 6 point lead that they would hold into the quarter break – 72-66.

This was turning into another tense affair at the Crags Centre and the rate of scoring slowed for both teams through the opening 4 minutes of the final period, with Eabha Kerr, Sian Phillips and Ella Doherty cancelling out the 6 points scored by Lions. But a 5-0 run by Lions brought the WBBL Trophy winners back within 1 point right on the 5 minute mark of Q4, as 15 year old Ines Goryanova showed the scoring ability that has seen her make a name for herself in the league this season. Old in comparison at just 17, Ella Doherty hit straight back to restore a 3 point advantage for Pride, however the experience of Lions’ point guard Kennedy Leonard was starting to show, as she controlled the pace of the game and put her teammates in positions to score, seeing London extend to a 84-80 lead with 3:30 to play. A Ranger 2 was countered with a short jump shot by Umeh for Lions, before Rose Harvey finished at the basket through contact and converted the free-throw to make it a 1 point game with just over a minute to play.

Lions quickly looked to get a score at the other end, and off a missed 3 by Cassie Breen, Stephanie Umeh scored the putback from the rebound. After no score by Pride on the next possession, Kennedy Leonard drew a foul in transition and headed to the free-throw line, sinking both shots to make it a 5 point game at 90-85 with 20 seconds to play. That is a long time in basketball however and Pride weren’t giving up yet. Out of the ensuing timeout, Maud Ranger found Ella Doherty who knocked down a long 3 to bring Pride within 2 again and London immediately called timeout. Pride instantly fouled Cassie Breen on the play that followed and she hit both her free-throws to restore some degree of comfort for Lions, but not for long, as Ella Doherty took the ball in and went coast to coast in just 4 seconds to make the score 92-90 with 5 seconds remaining. The killer blow for Pride came when Sian Phillips inadvertently fouled Leonard before the ball was inbounded, making it an unsportsmanlike foul and giving Lions free-throws plus possession. Leonard scored both from the charity stripe, as did Cassie Breen after being fouled on the play that followed and Lions held on to win 96-90 in an enthralling matchup.

In a night of big performances, Maud Ranger led Pride with 27 points and 8 rebounds. Ella Doherty scored a career high 25 points, also adding 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks, whilst Sian Phillips picked up a customary double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

Kennedy Leonard starred for Lions, with 29 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists, whilst Stephanie Umeh added 26 points and Cassie Breen 21, as the veteran players really stepped up for London.

After the game, Pride’s Maud Ranger commented: “It was hard to lose that game given the fight that we put up against a talented opponent. It is exciting, though, to see how much we’ve improved in our ability to compete in this league. We are starting understand what bringing a focused and scrappy energy feels like — with so much potential still. This is the mentality that we need to have all the time, starting with Sevenoaks on Saturday.”

Pride coach Donnie MacDonald was ruing another close defeat, saying: “Its another competitive performance, which is what we have been looking for, but now we need to find away to get over the hump and actually beat these teams. We gave up too many points tonight, but were still in with a shout of winning at the end, which is credit to the players for how aggressive they played on offense, but if we want to start winning these games, we need to get it done better at the defensive end.”

Next up for Pride is a trip to Surrey on Saturday to take on the undefeated Sevenoaks Suns in the WBBL Championship.

Photographs courtesy of Donald Stewart