On a cold Saturday evening, with the Munrow Sports Centre packed to the rafters, two universities locked horns for 2 intense basketball games at this years Lockdown Varsity event. The two games on offer to the crowd were the Birmingham Lionesses 1s vs Aston Eagles Women’s 1s in a friendly match, before a competitive league encounter between 2nd placed Lions Men’s 1s vs 5th placed Eagles Men’s 1s.
Atmosphere was emphasised from the off in the Munrow as the crowd were whipped into excitement at the team walk ons and the announcement of the starting five. This added attention, pomp and circumstance was perhaps the reason both women’s teams started cagey in the first quarter, seeing only 10 points produced from both teams, 8-2 in Birmingham’s favour in what appeared to be a nervy affair.
This match was an excellent opportunity for the Lionesses to re-establish some confidence after losing midweek, and they certainly took advantage of the Eagles side, who sit in a lower division than the Lionesses. Birmingham shook the poor percentage shots they’d been limited to in the first quarter and began to exploit the gaps Aston were giving up, running the fast break particularly well. This was epitomised by the play of Rochelle Mackenzie-Spooner, finding the open players to drain the jump shot or drive to the basket herself, encouraging Aston to foul and take advantage of the free throws and the occasional and-one.
Momentum was vastly swinging in Birmingham’s favour, aided by some lockdown defence of Amy Minter making it difficult for Aston to attack the paint without facing her strong hands up defence. With the crowd beginning to roar and pile on the pressure, Aston took the timeout in the hopes of stifling the Lionesses ruthless attacks but to no avail – the score at the half 25-10.
The third quarter restarted in much the same vain, with Mackenzie-Spooner controlling the floor for the Lionesses, but it wasn’t just a one woman show. Points were spread evenly throughout the team and on the bench, with only one player failing to register a score – something that will please the Lionesses showing they all have an attacking threat.
One area the Lionesses dominated in was the rebounding totals – seemingly every missed shot being reclaimed by a Birmingham player at both ends of the floor. The number of second chance opportunities generated for Birmingham and denied to Aston was a key part in the dominance on the scoreboard, finishing 54-37 with Mackenzie-Spooner claiming 13 points, Lois Nunn with a useful eight plus Hannah Garner with several of the rebounds.
On to the league encounter of the night, the men’s team were tasked with continuing the evening’s festivities. Birmingham came into this fixture having had a tight loss midweek, losing by 3 to Wolverhampton away from home, whilst the Eagles had beaten Worcester 71-63 in the Midlands 2A league.
The game started in intense fashion with both teams evenly matched, trading baskets between each other early in the game. The defence for the Lions got off to a particularly slow start, failing to contest Aston’s shots which led to a loud call from coach Paul Douglas to play hands up defence. It was this that woke the Lions up, restricting the Eagles to just 3 more points in the quarter whilst Lewis Davis and Andy Salmon began to make the run Birmingham were desperately after at the other end, finishing the first quarter 24-13.
Following the explosive finish to the first, the Lions began to turn on the style with Reuben Estrada nailing the first three of the game. A quick scoring outburst from Peter Onubogu showed that even with rotation, the Lions had attacking options throughout the team, even from the big men inside.
It was at this point that Andy Salmon began to prove his “he’s so dreamy” nickname, by taking the game by the scruff of the neck and forcing it out of Aston’s hands. Some slick play calling and behind the back passes often left the Eagles mismatched against the Lions, or isolated Salmon for the jumper – a common theme throughout the night. The Eagles seemed particularly vulnerable with a man-to-man defensive scheme that a physical Lions side were able to power through. At the half it was 44-25 to the Lions and Birmingham looked unstoppable.
This proved to be the case as the Lions never let up on defence all night. Nick Kitchen and Salmon often provided great hustle, recording several steals each near half court allowing the easy buckets. A particularly cohesive moment was following a turnover, the ball was tipped by Estrada into the path of Salmon who was high up the court, allowing an easy layup and showed great awareness. Lewis Davis also made several key blocks to deny Aston alongside Jack Lin, who’s deceptive reach proved troublesome for the Eagles each time he was on the court.
Andy Salmon continued to steal the headlines however, putting up 22 points before the end of the third, where the Lions now had a big 33 point lead, 67-34. The fourth quarter emphasised the event’s title, with the Lions locking down on defence to see Aston score no points in the whole of the fourth.
Aside from a few show stopping blocks and attempted dunks by Davis, the crowd were most drawn to see how many points Salmon would put up. He finished with 30 in what was a clinic of the point guard position. Lewis Davis finished second top scorer, with an impressive 19 points in what was a huge 91-34 blowout win to send the crowd home happy having seen emphatic wins from both of UoB’s sides.
The Birmingham Lionesses next game is on the 9th March vs East Anglia at the Munrow whilst the Lions next play Worcester, again at the Munrow, on March 16th.
Players of the games: Rochelle Mackenzie-Spooner & Andy Salmon