Joy and despair: Mixed basketball fortunes

Athena Tan 28 February 2013

The men’s and women’s Light Blues packed out Kelsey Kerridge on Saturday for the Varsity match. The Cambridge teams were keen on reversing last year’s double defeat but playing Oxford was never going to be easy.

First up in the women’s match, Oxford came out with all guns blazing, starting with full court press and converting easy fast breaks. Cambridge initially struggled with the Premier League pace, but managed to wrest some control back with a few set plays. However, it was almost impossible to continue playing a set offence against the heavy pressure from Oxford. Oxford guard and star player Sue Altman demonstrated her versatility by knocking down threes, splitting the defence with her drives and making steals on defence.

Cambridge captain Hilary Costello retaliated with a few baseline drives of her own, and Steph Polderdijk also put up a notable performance with her signature jumpshot and tough defence on Oxford’s captain Jennifer Bandi. However, with the jumpshots failing to fall from the guards, the Women’s Blues eventually conceded a 37-62 defeat.

The men’s Blues match was the highlight of the day. Still reeling from last year’s defeat, Cambridge were determined to win the match of the season. The Light Blues started the game strong, with aggressive play giving them several free throws early in the game. The pace of the game remained relatively slow, as both teams focused on solid post-play, until Oxford’s Aneil Jaswal drained his first three of the game, and Maurice Yearwood came back with a three of his own in the final minutes of the first quarter.

Cambridge’s Luka Scoric exploded in the paint in the second quarter, at one point making a monster dunk on a fast break. Oxford captain Shaan Dalwadi responded with another dunk to break Oxford’s scoring drought, but Cambridge had found their rhythm. Captain Job Godino led the charge as he put up several difficult shots in the paint, and Cambridge ended the first half with a commanding 20-point lead.

Struggling slightly on offence in the third quarter, the Light Blues relied on solid defence which led to many transition opportunities. Ed Scott took up the scoring mantle by scoring ten points off fast breaks and free throws. Oxford’s Karolis Bauza and Jaswal’s 3-pointers were simply no answer to the exquisite team display from Cambridge, with several blink-and-you’ll-miss-it assists inside the paint. Cambridge closed the quarter with Jorge Gomez nailing a buzzer-beater.

Cambridge continued their aggressive onslaught in the fourth quarter, leading to two of Oxford’s star players fouling out. Although there were occasional bursts of energy from the Oxford bench, it was clear that they had been outclassed by Cambridge. Cambridge closed out the game in front of a roaring home crowd 93-68, making this the first victory for the Light Blues since 2005. Captain Godino remarked, “Every one of our players contributed something to this win, which makes it so, so sweet.” The win reflected a superb execution of the game plan developed by head coach Amalio Fernandez-Pacheco, and left spectators already looking forward to next year’s Varsity match.

Prior to the Blues matches, the Panthers clung on to an early lead to defeat Oxford 33-31. Although the team was slightly short of experience, Cambridge dominated the match with their superior ball movement and rebounds. The men’s Lions were looking for a three-peat this year, but fell 53-76 to an Oxford team bolstered with American exchange students.

Athena Tan