Championship Preview: Riders at Lions

The Women’s British Basketball League will lose one of its three undefeated records this weekend as the 4-0 Leicester Riders head to the capital to take on the 3-0 London Lions. 

Fixture information 

Leicester Riders at London Lions 

Copper Box Arena, London 

Sunday, December 2, 6 PM

Off the back of a battle

The Riders remain undefeated and top of the Women’s British Basketball League Championship table, but it took overtime for them to keep the loss column vacant against the Nottingham Wildcats. 

The Riders fell down early and struggled to get into a rhythm throughout but came back from down double digits to take control of the game late. The hosts looked like they’d done enough to win it in regulation and would have if not for a three from Mari Stewart, which tied it up. 

GB international Sam Ashby stepped up in overtime with two clutch threes, taking the win and improving the team to 4-0. 

The Riders have hung their hat on their offensive firepower thus far this season, scoring 94.3 points per game- the second most in the League. 

Taylor O’Brien leads the team’s scoring with 21.3 points per game, ranking third among all players in the League. The American guard put up 22 points against Nottingham, her second straight 20+ point performance. 

They’ll need every ounce of that offence in this one to overcome the Lions. 

The team to beat

Last season’s quadruple winners have picked up where they left off last season after they won the Women’s British Basketball League Championship with a dominant 21-1 record. 

They’re 3-0 to start the season, winning by an average of 42 points- blowing away anyone in their path. They’re the only side with a higher-scoring offence than the Riders, scoring 103.7 points per game and shooting a red-hot 52% from the field and 44.3% from three.

The Riders met the Lions in all three domestic finals last year, the Lions coming away victors on each of the occasions. The Riders came closest in the Trophy final, bringing it to a five point game midway through the fourth, but fell 11 points short by the final buzzer. 

Karlie Samuelson leads the team on the season with 22.5 points per outing. The former WNBA player, with experience playing for the LA Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Seattle Storm and Dallas Wings, has two Spanish National League Championships to her name, and is showcasing her elite quality on British soil. 

The Riders will have their work cut out defensively to slow down Samuelson and the Lions. 

Key matchup 

In the absence of Mckenzie Johnston through injury, British guard Jessica Eadsforth-Yates stepped up into the starting five to run the point against the Nottingham Wildcats. 

She pulled the strings effectively, logging 13 points, six assists and six rebounds in the overtime win. The performance marked three straight games where Eadsforth-Yates amassed double-digit points, making an effective contribution to the high-firing Riders offence. 

Eadsforth-Yates arrived at the Riders at the age of 16 for Charnwood college and suited up for the Loughborough Riders a year later in the WNBL D1. Following two seasons in the NCAA DII with Davis & Elkins, she returned to her home country to sign with the Newcastle Eagles as a rookie then the Riders a year later. 

She’ll go face-to-face with fellow Brit Shanice Beckford-Norton, who is putting up 11 points per game on the season so far in her fourth season in London. 

Beckford-Norton is a GB international who most recently represented her country alongside Sam Ashby in the Eurobasket qualifiers. She spent her college career at the prestigious LSU in the NCAA D1, before playing her rookie season in Germany for Heidelberg. 

In 2020, the Londoner returned home by signing with the Lions – averaging just over 14 points in her first WBBL season. 

Eadsforth-Yates is faced with the stern task of matching up with Beckford-Norton in the place of Johnston in a face-off that will go a long way in determining the outcome of the tie. 

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