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It all starts with defence for Ezi Magbegor and the Melbourne Boomers
Ezi Magbegor and the Melbourne Boomers are on a mission to defend their way to a WNBL Championship.
Photo credit: May Bailey
The Melbourne Boomers head into the 2022 WNBL Grand Final series against the Perth Lynx - which tips off on Saturday evening in Melbourne - in the best form of their season and the play of Ezi Magbegor is a huge reason why they’re thriving on the defensive end.
“Defence is something that we really drill in a lot at practice, and we have really high standards for it.” Magbegor told The Pick and Roll after Melbourne won their way through to the Grand Final, taking care of business against Adelaide, 2-0.
“When shots aren’t falling, defence is something that we can always focus on by getting stops and then creating offence that way, especially just playing in transition. This whole season defence has been a key focus but definitely in the last few games it’s kind of all just clicked.”
To say it’s clicked would be an understatement. The Boomers have won their past four games – all against teams that made Finals – by a ridiculous average margin of 30.3 points(!), while holding their opponents to just 53.5 points per game. Over that span, Magbegor, who was awarded 2022 WNBL Betty Watson Youth Player of the Year honours has averaged 16.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists and just under 2 blocks per game.
Adelaide had Melbourne on the ropes in the first half of their Game 1 Semi-Final clash, leading by 15 points, 47-32, at the main break. As Magbegor explained, there was a calm amongst the team as they knew what needed to change in the second half.
“Towards the end of the [regular] season we just kind of felt that chemistry, whereas in earlier games we weren’t really able to dig ourselves out of games like that at half time,” she said. “It takes four quarters to win a game, so at half time we knew we still had another half to go and what we needed to focus on. There wasn’t a sense of panic, which was good, we just focused on what had worked in those last couple of games.”
The Boomers reeled off one of the most incredible comebacks in WNBL history, with the added pressure of Finals basketball and the very real risk of falling to 0-1 and facing a must-win game on the road to keep their Championship hopes alive.
A 15-point half time deficit was hastily erased as Melbourne held Adelaide to just 12 points in the third quarter, while piling on 30 points of their own. Having got their noses in front, there was still plenty of work to be done by the Boomers and that’s exactly what they did with a dominant fourth quarter that saw them suffocate the Lightning, restricting them to just five points.
Melbourne outscored Adelaide 63-17 in the second half as the Lightning simply couldn’t find a way through the Boomers stifling defence. After taking Game 1 in emphatic fashion, Melbourne dialled up the defensive pressure once again in Game 2 and Magbegor was involved in everything.
Magbegor’s length and athleticism is everything you could want in a basketball player and she’s getting better and better at picking her time to commit to going for a steal or when to stay at home and defend her player tightly.
Guy Molloy has his team peaking at the right time and in what is his final season with the Boomers, he’s just two wins away from a WNBL Championship.
“A lot of us have been coached by Guy before this season, so I think it’s motivating to win for him and for each other as well. It would be great to win with Guy in his last year, but he doesn’t want to make it about him,” she said. “He’s been very important [in my development]. This is my fourth season with the Boomers and I’m very, very grateful for everything he’s done and that he kind of took a chance on me and trusted me over the last few years.”
Another person who has been by Magbegor’s side since she made the move to the Boomers a few years ago is Cayla George and the two of them have formed one of the best frontcourt duos in the league. Together, they anchor Melbourne’s defence - and the Opals’ for that matter too - and provide an important inside presence on the offensive end.
“Cayla is so fun to play with,” she said. “I’m glad I was able to come here and play with her since my first year with the Boomers and also playing with her on the Opals too. She just brings great leadership, great energy and passion to the group – I think we definitely need that and she just gives it all for our team, so it’s great to play with her.”
While Magbegor and George control the paint, Melbourne’s import pairing of Lindsay Allen and Tiffany Mitchell are vital as Allen sets the offence alight and Mitchell attacks the bucket relentlessly. Having the quality of imports in the WNBL this season speaks volumes of where the league is heading and Magbegor declared her teammates are the best in the league.
Photo credit: May Bailey
“The league is growing and attracting key imports and key players from the WNBA, so having that gives the WNBL more exposure which I think is important for the growth of the league. Having Lindsay and Tiffany and all the other imports in the league is great, but I think we have the two best imports.”
It’s often easy to forget just how young Magbegor is when you consider she is in fifth season of WNBL action, has been an automatic selection on Opals squads since the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and will be suiting up for her third WNBA season in the coming months.
At just 22 years of age, Magbegor represents both the present and future of the Opals. She will be front and centre as the Opals look to return to the podium at the 2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup in Sydney. The chance to play a World Cup at home is something that Magbegor isn’t taking for granted.
“I’m excited – it isn’t something that comes around a lot and I don’t think it has really sunk in yet to be able to have a World Cup on home soil,” she said. “It’s a big event, so hopefully it gets the coverage and the turnout that it deserves. To be able to showcase the talent in women’s basketball in Australia will be great for the sport and will be great female sport.”
Much like Melbourne’s recipe for success this season, the Opals are lasered in on the defensive end of the court. The Opals need to be ready for whatever is thrown their way in international competition and as they showed in the World Cup qualifiers - which Magbegor unfortunately missed due to injury - earlier this year, they’ll be hoping to stifle teams in turnovers and low-percentage shots.
“We [The Opals] focus on defence, as we do with the Boomers, and it’s something that the Opals have been known for – it’s part of the legacy,” she said. “As I said earlier, when the offence isn’t going right, defence is something that you can really focus on and we want to be that aggressive team, we want to disrupt teams because it’s going to be physical, that’s just the nature of international basketball.”
Photo credit: FIBA
2022 is shaping up as an electrifying and equally gruelling year for the superstar 22-year-old but the only thing that matters right now is being ready for the WNBL Grand Final opening tip at 5pm on Saturday.
“Obviously, it was satisfying to get the win over Adelaide and solidify our spot in the Grand Final, but we’re not done with what we want to achieve – we want to win the Championship.”
2022 WNBL Grand Final Series Ticketing
Game 1: Saturday, 2 April - Perth Lynx @ Melbourne Boomers | Ticketek
Game 2: Wednesday, 6 April - Melbourne @ Perth Lynx | Eventbrite