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Luxol games ‘like chess matches’ says Dedelioglu as Starlites win battle for top spot

Starlites' Mikela Riolo (centre) drives past Luxol's Anna Fenech Pace. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Depiro looking to pounce on top spots after Hibernians win

Starlites JSD kept up their unbeaten streak last weekend as they took the most out of the battle between first and second place of the MAPFRE MSV LIFE Women’s League with Caffe Moak Luxol on Saturday. Meanwhile, Third-place Depiro extended their own winning streak with a win over Hibernians.

CAFFE MOAK LUXOL 48

STARLITES JSD 59

(12-8, 10-16, 14-19, 12-16)

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Starlites coach Fatih Dedelioglu said games against Luxol are ‘like chess matches’ and last week, their focus was defence.

“First of all, let me start by congratulating Luxol from players to coaches. I have a huge respect for Coach Santino (Coppa) and his mind,” Dedelioglu said.

“The games between us are like chess matches because in each game, both teams are working on new tweaks within their systems and additionally trying other backup scenarios during the game, so it is like one move from coach Santino, then one move from me.

“This week, our focus was defence. We focused mostly on rebounds – (Mikela) Riolo got 10 – and our defensive strategies against their set plays. At the end of the day, we gave them only eight points from the second chances and we kept them under 50 points. That is why we could win the game. Additionally, we just allowed them 11 points from our 20 turnovers – which is still too much for us – and four fast break points. So, we can say that we won the game with our defence.”

Unbeaten in the league so far, Dedelioglu said playing correct basketball is more important than winning.

“For me, the most important thing is that you should play the correct basketball while doing all these. If you win without this, nothing will be meaningful. Being unbeaten is meaningful for us only because we are playing really well all together within a system that we all believe in,” he said.

Starlites’ Riolo, one of the weekend’s top performers, finished the game on Saturday with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Dedelioglu believes her confidence and initiative are key to her performance as he looks to up her court vision.

“For Riolo, the talent is already there thanks to all her previous coaches,” he explained, “what I am trying to add is a game mind for her to make better decisions and lead the offence by improving her court vision.

“As my guard, she is my everything on the court, so she needs to learn how to see things during the game from the same perspective as me. However, I really like the confidence she has and the initiative she takes.”

A low score from any of the two sides is usually considered a rarity but it seems as though it was an off-day for many of the usual top scorers. However, the Starlites mentor said this shows how important it is to have other players who step up.

“After the Hibs game where we had 30 assists, against Luxol we made 21 assists which shows our system is not based on any player,” he said.

“For example, Saturday was not Steff (De Martino)’s day but she got seven rebounds and made seven assists. After the Hibs game, (Christina) Curmi put on another solid performance for us with double digits. Riolo and (Michela) Zammit Cordina are other players who reached double digits. (Maria) Bonett and Andie (Saliba) also gave good contributions when we needed on both defence and offence.

“Meanwhile, I would like to give credit to Sarah Fenech Pace. She finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds and she puts on this kind of performance every game. I hope she will keep this up to be one of the solid national team players for the coming years.”

Luxol’s Fenech Pace kicked things off with a layup after finding the smallest of spaces in the Starlites defence.

Looking to drive in from close range, Starlites struggled to answer back and it took close to three minutes for Paige Cannon to muscle her way to a score from under the hoop. It was another two minutes for the next basket, this time a Tayler Bennett freethrow.

Points were few and far between and offensive accuracy was lacking despite the calibre of the two sides. Nevertheless, Riolo gave Starlites their first lead of the day with 4.29 to go in the first quarter before Bennett swerved through contact to put Luxol back ahead.

Tight defence, mixed with missed attempts saw the quarter finish with just 20 points scored between the two sides as Luxol led by four.

Starlites’ Cannon opened the second quarter with another layup from a pinpoint Zammit Cordina pass and Riolo hit from three-point range to change leads again. A tit-for-tat ensued for the remainder of the rubber and Starlites led by just two points at the halftime break with a 24-22 scoreline.

After the change of ends, Riolo was again the firestarter with another threeball as Starlites opened a five-point gap, one which lasted seconds as Fenech Pace drove up through contact. Bonett hit next before assisting Cannon and eventually scoring again to push the lead up to nine.

Starlites were up by double digits when De Martino hit her only three-pointer of the day, in what was not the best of shooting days for the Malta international sharpshooter. Despite this, her ability to dish the ball to her teammates led to Dedelioglu’s clan heading for the final quarter up by seven.

As the final rubber began, Luxol managed to reduce the gap to just three points with eight minutes to go but that would be the closest as Zammit Cordina restarted Starlites’ charge with two consecutive scores before Riolo was once again on hand to hit from three as the margin got back to 10.

The final five minutes saw a balanced finale between the two sides as Starlites maintained their unbeaten record to lead the way as they did since the start of the league campaign, their only defeat coming to Luxol back in the John Tabone Shield final in October.

CAFFE MOAK LUXOL T. Bennett 12, L. Fenech Pace 6, N. Vella, S. Fenech Pace 12, J. Diaby, V. Baldacchino 7, S. Sciberras, A. Fenech Pace 11.

STARLITES M. Zammit Cordina 12, M. Riolo 13, A. Saliba 2, M. Bonett 6, S. De Martino 5, P. Cannon 11, C. Curmi 10.

Referees B. Vassallo, D. Farrugia.

DEPIRO 55

HIBERNIANS 46

(20-13, 15-9, 6-8, 14-16)

Hibernians have looked like a much stronger side than what had been in the opening stages of the league campaign but could not get past a solid Depiro side that is slowly creeping to the the top two spots with consistent play.

Paolites centre Julija Dabic opened the game’s scoring with a mid-range shot 20 seconds into proceedings, hitting the next one too with a close-range layup. At the other end of the court, the Paolites defence held firm in the opening minutes before a Julia Xerri three-pointer brought Depiro into the game.

Nicole Agius gave Depiro their first lead before grabbing the assist for a Jose Ann Johnson finish as Adrian Baldacchino’s squad took over the game’s offence. In fact, it took a 9-0 run for Hibs to hit back, bringing the game’s margin to three points with a pair of Lyndsey Whilby freethrows before the US forward hit a dagger of a pass to Dabic under the hoop for the easy layup.

Depiro’s top-scorer for the past two games, Julia Borg, this time with 15 points, hit her first two of three three-pointers to restart her team’s scoring with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, combining with Kristy Galea for 11 points to give their team a double-digit lead. However, a late Jasmine Abela three-ball brought Hibs back to single digits right before the buzzer.  

Claire Ciantar hit first for Depiro as the second quarter started, with Hibs’ Abela replying to keep the margin at seven points. A 5-0 Depiro run later, Iona Agius hit from deep for the Paolites but Depiro’s Borg hit one herself, ahead of a Galea layup to send the Mtarfa side into a 14-point advantage.

Hibs’ Whilby opened the second half by driving through the Depiro defence to try and get back into single digits. However, Sophie Abela and Johnson replied for the Mtarfa side before the game turned more defensive at both ends of the court as points became a rare sight for the rest of the quarter.

11 points behind at the start of the fourth, Hibs hit first again through Whilby, before once more, Abela hit back, this time from three-point range. The Depiro guard drove up to make it a 13-point game but Sandro Farrugia’s clan were not about to die down as Marie Buhagiar was accurate with a mid-range jumpshot and Whilby pushed through contact to fight back and force a timeout.

It was as close as possible in the final five minutes of the game but with Depiro guarding their lead, the Paolites had to settle for defeat at the final buzzer.

DEPIRO S. Abela 7, N. Agius 4, J. Xerri 4, L. Sciberras, C. Ciantar 3, J. Borg 15, J. Johnson 12, K. Galea 10.

HIBERNIANS M. Buhagiar 4, F. Fabok 2, I. Agius 8, L. Whilby 15, J. Abela 8, K. Calleja 1, K. Caruana 2, J. Dabic 6.

Referees Z. Dobrosaviljevic, N. Da Silva.

STANDINGS

Starlites JSD 14; Luxol 13; Depiro 12; Hibernians 8; Fusion 7.

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