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The final monthly awards of the 2021-22 WBBL season have gone to Kenrick Liburd, Head Coach of the Nottingham Wildcats, and Shanice Beckford-Norton, captain of the treble-winning London Lions.

Liburd wins Molten WBBL Coach of the Month for April after a season-defining period for Wildcats in which they hit a rich vein of form to make a last-ditch surge up the WBBL Championship table.

Having dropped to ninth in the standings, and outside of the Play-off places, following home defeats to East Midlands rivals Leicester Riders and Cardiff Met Archers, Liburd re-grouped with his team and they sensationally won their last four games of the regular season campaign to climb up to fifth and maintain their record of finishing in the top six in every WBBL season.

Most importantly, three of those wins came against near rivals in the race for Play-off positioning, first beating eighth-placed Durham Palatinates as Brooklyn Pannell scored 35 points, before travelling to Newcastle Eagles the following day and knocking them out of the Play-off race with Pannell pouring in another 29 as she and Praise Egharevba posted double-doubles.

The regular season then ended on the last weekend of April with a critical 91-88 road win at Essex Rebels, giving them the head-to-head and meaning that they finished atop a three-way tie in the middle of the table, securing fifth with a 12-12 record, the same as Rebels and Caledonia Pride.

Also in the month, they produced perhaps the shock of the season by blowing away the second-placed Sevenoaks Suns, going through a century and winning 102-77 against what had been the league’s best defence up to that point, pouring in 30 points in the first quarter and 62 by the half, which is more than Suns ordinarily conceded in a whole game.

That was characteristic of Liburd’s team, as they are the league’s third-highest scorers (78 points per game) and scored above that at 86 points per contest in April, good enough for second. His high-paced team are second in the WBBL for fast-break points and second in offensive rebounds and second-chance points.

Fittingly, and testament to the recruitment work of Liburd and his team, in Pannell they boast the league’s leading scorer (20 points per game) and two of the top four, with Jahnae Gyles (17); as well as the league’s leading rebounder, Kennedy Nicholas (14 per game), and offensive rebounder, Egharevba (6). 

Among all that talent, perhaps one of the greatest achievements has been in ushering in the next generation as 18-year-old Egharevba has gone from strength to strength this season, averaging a double-double, and recently committing to powerhouse Oklahoma State University in the Big-12 Conference.

Wildcats then started May by winning an East Midlands Derby in the Play-off quarter-finals, beating Leicester Riders for five straight wins. It means that the Wildcats are in the Play-off semi-finals for the third time in the last four years, although they have never won the Play-offs having agonisingly been losing finalists in each of the first three seasons of the WBBL, from 2014 to 2017.

Meanwhile, April saw London Lions crowned WBBL Championship winners for the first time, completing a treble already this season and with the Play-offs firmly in their sights, as captain Shanice Beckford-Norton came to the fore at the end of the regular season campaign to scoop Molten WBBL Player of the Month.

The Great Britain international averaged 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals per game as Lions remained unbeaten domestically for the season with a 9-0 record in April.

She opened the month with a season-high 22 points against Cardiff Met Archers, and scored in double-figures in all but one of the games, although that was still an excellent nine points, seven rebounds and five assists in under 20 minutes against Essex Rebels.

Perhaps her best performances came against Manchester Met Mystics, as she posted her first double-double of the campaign with 16 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on the road, having previously put up 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals against the same opponent earlier in the month.

In the most significant of April’s wins, the Lions came from behind to beat their title challengers Sevenoaks Suns as Beckford-Norton came up with a key steal that led to a score that capped the decisive run early in the fourth quarter, before scoring four points in the last two minutes to keep them in front, finishing that game with 17 points.

As captain, she is one of the players who sets the tone for the high-intensity Lions, averaging two steals per game and drawing the ninth most fouls of any player in the WBBL (3 per game), meaning she has also made the most free-throws in the league (72) and at the highest percentage of anyone (81.4%). She is also seventh in the WBBL on field goal percentage (47.4%).

In the coming weeks, there is the possibility of Liburd and Beckford-Norton facing one another in the WBBL Play-off Final at the O2 Arena on Sunday 15th May, as Lions face Caledonia Pride and Wildcats meet Sevenoaks Suns in the semi-finals this weekend.

Report Source: WBBL

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