By Hayley Wildes
The Dandenong Rangers enjoyed a potentially season-changing weekend, capped off with two big wins and the successful return of a superstar.
On Friday night, the Rangers had a meeting with the Sydney Uni Flames on the road and behind a dominant performance from Bec Cole, Dandenong powered home in the second half.
Leading by three points at quarter time, Rach Jarry (8 points), Carley Mijovic and Bec Cole (6 points each) got off to great starts and that form continued into the second quarter as efficient shooting saw Dandenong take a nine-point lead into the main break, 50-41.
The third quarter, despite some troubles on offence, was when the Rangers really got to work on the defensive end and held the Flames to just 13 points for the quarter to stretch their lead out to 17 points, 71-54.
With 15 points already to her name, Cole continued to torch the Flames defence in a dominant fourth quarter. She was simply unstoppable, getting to the basket with ease and also making outside shots – her three triples in a row sent the bench into hysterics.
Cole scored 16 points in the final term to finish with 31 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in one of the finest individual performances of the season. Her 31 points came via 12/14 shooting from the floor, including 4/5 from beyond the arc.
The Rangers ran out massive winners, 106-73. With Cole putting on a show, the likes of Betnijah Laney (16 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists), Tessa Lavey (12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists) and Rach Jarry (12 points and 8 rebounds) ensured there were great contributions across the board.
Two days later, at Dandenong Stadium, the Rangers welcomed back star Sara Blicavs, much to the delight of the Ranger faithful. After what has been a lengthy and gruelling rehab process, Blicavs made her long-awaited return to the hardwood just over 13 months after rupturing her ACL in a game against Adelaide.
With the crowd buzzing, the home team fed off that energy as they jumped out of the blocks against the Bendigo Spirit and were never truly troubled.
The Rangers offence was firing on all cylinders and the Spirit simply had no answers as Mijovic, Cole, Laney and Lavey were all heavily involved in a dominant first quarter that saw the Rangers boast a 30-14 lead at the first break.
The highlight of the first quarter came with 2:28 remaining when Blicavs checked into the game for the first time and received a massive cheer from the crowd.
The second quarter saw the Rangers continue on their merry way as Laney (16 first half points) couldn’t be stopped, while Lavey and Cole were dishing out assists all over the court and making big buckets too.
At half time, Dandenong held a convincing 54-31 lead.
Scoring slowed down in the second half, but when Blicavs drained a triple – her first bucket since injuring her ACL in November last year – with 2:42 remaining in the third term, the Rangers held a 28-point lead.
It was an even final quarter of play, but the Rangers had well and truly sewn up the game and cruised to a 24-point win, 87-63. Cole (20 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds) was again the star of the show as she sliced through Bendigo’s defence with ease and class.
Laney (19 points and 9 rebounds) and Lavey (15 points and 6 assists) were again terrific, while Blicavs played 12 minutes in her return, finishing with 5 points and 5 rebounds in an encouraging performance.
After a poor start to the season, which saw the Rangers drop to 2-4, they now find themselves right back in finals calculations and riding a three-game winning streak. Winners of five of their past seven games, Dandenong has climbed up to fourth on the ladder with a 7-6 record, having suffered just one more loss than the top-placed Melbourne Boomers (10-5).
Round 11 sees the Rangers hit the road twice, taking on the Canberra Capitals on Friday night, before a big clash with the cross-town rival Boomers on Sunday afternoon.