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Blackbirds take off

Justin Marville

Blackbirds take off

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If that was UWI’s statement game, then consider the message delivered.
The Blackbirds aren’t settling for second best, not this season at least, as UWI used a late 15-4 fourth-quarter run to upend reigning women’s basketball champs Station Hill Cavaliers 54-41 on Tuesday’s opening night at the gymnasium of the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex.
Led by a near triple-double performance from Toni Atherley, the Blackbirds, looking more contenders than pretenders this time out, have gained some measure of vengeance for dropping both the league and knockout finals against the same opponents.
But it wasn’t without concern, with the talent-laden Cavs rallying from down 13 (27-14) at one point to make the contest a two-possession game (39-35) with just eight minutes remaining.
They just couldn’t get any closer once Atherley answered Astrid Alleyne’s free throws with a clutch put-back, which came only moments before she swatted a Maria Cumberbatch lay-up off the court.
It was just the start to UWI’s decisive finish, as both back-breaking plays were immediately followed by buckets from Toni-Ann Johnson, Jennifer Joseph-Hackett and Sade Clarke in transition.
Joseph-Hackett added a further fade-away jumper and a put-back of her own all while the slower Station Hill side struggled to keep pace.
It looked too familiar to their initial exchanges where the Blackbirds threatened to blow open the contest by turning the season-opener into a track meet of furious transition lay-ups.
When Atherley wasn’t busy racing down the floor for easy buckets, Joseph-Hackett was equally as productive knocking down mid-range jumpers to give UWI a 27-14 cushion.
However, the lady Cavs subsequently slowed the game to a crawl, pounding the ball into the paint with an extremely big line-up featuring twin towers Wanda Agard-Belgrave and Astrid Alleyne alongside the returned Shakira Shorey.
The result was a 12-2 Station Hill run that bridged the second and third quarters and got the Cavs within a possession (29-26) just two minutes into the second half.
Another Blackbirds double-digit lead quickly loomed though, with Joseph-Hackett sinking a pull-up jumper and converting a lay-up to sandwich two fast-break buckets from Clarke (37-28).
But Station Hill refused to go away quietly as Shorey ended the third with a pair of free throws and an easy basket underneath before Alleyne had two free throws to make things interesting.
Atherley finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Joseph-Hackett added 16 points, while Agard-Belgrave led Station Hill with eight points and eight rebounds.
Earlier, Ashlee Daniel had a game-high 27 points, including a pair of clutch free throws in the dying seconds as Combined Schools Hoopsters held off a newly reconstructed Clapham Bulls for a 65-63 win.
Daniel added 14 rebounds and five assists while Makela Walcott chipped in with 19 points for the schoolgirls, who led by as many as 11 points before Latecia Greene’s trey with 19 seconds got Clapham within two (63-61).