The shootout at high noon everyone hoped for didn’t disappoint as West Coast Fever remained undefeated with a 77-69 victory over Queensland Firebirds at Nissan Arena on Sunday.
Yet it was the gun left in the holster of Fever coach Dan Ryan in Verity Simmons which left fans scratching their heads.
As Fever star Jhaniele Fowler (53 goals) and Firebirds rising star Donnell Wallam (47 goals) traded blows at each end of the court, Simmons sat on the bench for the first half after being ill during the week.
Fever went into the clash without, Alice Teague-Neeld who missed after spending a week with COVID-19, as England international Chelsea Pitman got the call up from training partner.
But it was the starting seven which did not include Simmons that caught everyone off guard and she stayed there until after half-time as Fever’s front court work continually broke down.
Ryan said Simmons was only passed fit just hours before the first pass, while Pitman only found out she was playing that morning.
“Lots of moving parts behind the scenes, but the adaptability of the group is really pleasing and that has to be an attribute which holds strong considering what we’re facing as the season unfolds,” Ryan said.
The Firebirds burst out of the blocks on the back of their pressure across the court and some confidence from Wallam, leading by five goals within the first three minutes.
Fever fought back thanks to captain Courtney Bruce (seven gains, five intercepts), who began to pick off the Firebirds’ quick feeds and backed herself to play off Wallam despite the shooter’s early dominance.
The Firebirds were happy to double-team Fowler at the other end of the court, leaving Sasha Glasgow to have to take more shots than Fever would have liked and her aim was off early.
Fever couldn’t stop the dynamic combination of Wallam and Gretel Bueta, even when they changed up the defensive end to bring on Rudi Ellis to team with Bruce.
The introduction of Simmons and Pitman in the second half helped swing the momentum of the game, turning a two-goal half-time deficit to a seven-goal lead at the final break.
Fever continued this momentum in the final term despite some super shots from the Firebirds to retain top spot on the ladder, with Glasgow turning her game around in a strong second half.
Ryan said he expected Teague-Neeld to return for Tuesday’s clash against fellow unbeaten side the Melbourne Vixens.