As we count down to the first home double-header of the season, now seemed like as good a time as any to count back through some of the most memorable matches we’ve seen in our 13 years of VBL/Big V competition.
Of course, picking a top 10 list after 13 great seasons was always going to be tough, and I’ve tried to pick matches that cover all the different groups of players that have gone through the program for the top 10. So here (in no particular order) are some of the other memorable players, matches and moments that didn’t quite make the cut – I’m sure there are more as well!
- Game 2 of the 2010 Grand Final series against Geelong (Phil heckles Hutchy!) – this one missed out simply because the semi-final series that season was better...
- Andrew Walker scores 30 points as MU defeat Chelsea and avoid a humiliating relegation in round 21 of 2007
- The Division 2 Womens grand final series against Diamond Valley in 2005 (we still don’t know what happened to that banner after a disappointing loss)
- And some fantastic individual performances that didn’t quite make the list: Scott Cuffe’s triple-double (the only one in club history) against Whittlesea in 2003, Melanie Fidler scoring a club record 33 points in a must-win game for the Black Angels against rivals Camberwell in 2011, Sophie McAllister’s 9-block effort in 2012, Renee Tuck's 8 3-pointers against Eltham in 2004, Scott Cuffe's 39pt, 24reb, 5stl, 3blk, 4ass game vs Frankston in 2003
But now, as the #1 Fan of the Black Angels, here are my top 10 moments in MUBC VBL/Big V history:
1. 10. A Strong Beginning
2000 Division 1 Men – Grand Final Series: Horsham d Melbourne University
The Black Angels first graced the court in VBL competition back in the year 2000, and what a splash they made in their first season, with Lucien Boland and Jamie Cemm leading the team all the way to the grand final. While the Black Angels were heavily favoured to win, they were up against a highly talented Horsham team that included youngsters Aaron Bruce and Liam Norton. However, it was another Hornet, Brett Goodgame, who dominated a highly entertaining match at the Sports Center, pouring in 30 points to win his team the match. While the Black Angels didn’t win the championship, the grand final series gave us the first big crowd at the sports center and certainly started something special...
1 9. Ollie’s Farewell Game
In what was a pretty miserable season for the Black Angels, this game provided the high-point. With star player Andrew Olechnowicz played his last game before heading overseas on military service, the Black Angels took on old rivals Southern Peninsula at the sports center, in what must be close to the most physical contest we’ve ever witnessed. 4 unsportsmanlike fouls were called in the first quarter alone (3 of those on Southern Pen) in a match that more closely resembled rugby than basketball. Finally, the Sharks coach erupted, yelling at the refs and getting ejected, then smashing a window on his way out the door. The Black Angels took advantage, with Ollie the main beneficiary, as his finished up with a club-record 41 points in his final game for the team.
8. Claire Steps on the Line
This was the first ever match-up between two uni teams at the Sports center, and the stakes couldn’t have been higher- in a phenomenally competitive division (in which each team won at least 6 out of 20 games), this game took place on the very last day of the season, with the loser destined to finish in last place. The Black Angels built a big lead in the first half, before falling apart in the third quarter. In the final term, Claire Pownell was phenomenal, dragging the team back into the game, and winning herself some free throws to tie the match with just seconds remaining. She made the first... and the second... but was called for stepping on the line on the second shot. This unfathomable call gave LTU a 1-point victory and early bragging rights in the rivalry between the two uni clubs.
7. The (in)famous Pub Crawl Game
Believe it or not, it took until the third season of VBL action for MU to run a pub crawl prior to a match as a way of bringing in the crowd – and what a game we started with! While my memory is a little bit hazy, the stats confirm the little bits I do remember. From the first whistle, the Black Angels dominated, jumping out to a 68-38 half-time lead, at which point the crowd basically gave up on watching the match and resumed the pub crawl. However, the second half saw an unbelievable Sunbury comeback – the Black Angels scored just 22 points for the half as the Jet guards (Nathan Sellwood and Luke Valentine) torched them all over the court. As the crowd got restless and Sunbury hit the front, coach Tony Holden called a time-out. At that point, a certain club member (who will remain nameless) jumped onto the side of the court and flashed the players from the sideline. This drastic action got the result it deserved, as the Black Angels somehow managed to rally and win the game. Pub crawls have been a fixture of the season ever since, but I don’t think we’ve ever quite managed to top that first match, on or off the court...
6. Scotty and the Black Angels Crowd demoralise Buster
Hard to split these two matches from the same series, so I’ve included them together. The Black Angels were definitely the underdogs in this match-up, but had a secret weapon for game 1 at the Sports Center as word spread around before the match that the Suns hulking import (and league MVP), ‘Buster’ Watkins hated being called by his given name. Of course, this led to the inebriated MU crowd chanting “Terrence... Terrence” throughout the entire match (or every time Watkins touched the ball, at least). It worked (backed by some tough MU defence) – after scoring heavily in the first quarter, Sherbrooke fell apart in the second half, making just 1-19 three-pointers as the Black Angels took a 1-0 series lead. After Sherbrooke won game 2, the deciding contest was a tense contest throughout – the Black Angels led early on, before a big third quarter gave the Suns what appeared to be a match-winning lead. However, the Black Angels rallied down the stretch, and finally took the lead on a Scott Cuffe buzzer-beater. ‘Buster’ scored 65 points in games 2 and 3, but the Black Angels went through to the grand final.
5. THAT Werribee Loss...
Of all the grand final losses the club has experienced, this might be the one that hurts the most. Led by Scott Cuffe, the Black Angels easily won game 1 of the grand final series and travelled to Werribee expecting to close out the series. However, game 2 got out of hand with a series of “interesting” (code for egregiously bad) foul calls going against the Black Angels, leaving them several players down in the last quarter. Werribee got the win in dubious circumstances and were able to back it up the following day – but even today, Werribee supporters at the game will admit they got lucky, while the loss was a bitter pill for the Black Angels that was only partially erased by the championship the following year.
4. The Invincibles
This Black Angels team deservedly won the grand final in a nail-biter at the Sports Centre, capping off a truly dominant season in which their only loss came in game 1 of the grand final series. This match was phenomenal throughout, with the Black Angels awesome trio of Scott Cuffe, Nick Masunda and Tom Bicknell combining for 67 points and 34 rebounds. Horsham stuck around though, and even had a chance to tie the game inside the last minute on a Tim Pickert shot. There remains some controversy over whether Pickert might have been fouled, but no call was made, and the Black Angels closed out the win in front of a huge sports center crowd to secure a second championship for the club. 2009 represents the only season in which both the mens and womens teams have played in the grand final – so the celebrations afterwards were suitably enormous, even if the decision to remain at Star Bar until after 4am was regretted by a few the following day...
3. Norto saves the day - AKA the Warrnambool Miracle Part 1
An unbelievable ending to a great series. Despite a fantastic home crowd at the Sports Center (led by a certain heckler who spent the whole weekend harassing Nathan Sobey), the Black Angels trailed by 13 points with 1:38 to go in the game, before Liam Norton took control of the match. Norton scored 11 points in the last 90 seconds, taking advantage of a Warrnambool choke (which featured the great Bobby Cunningham missing 2/2 free throws), to tie the game on a layup with 1 second left that sent the crowd absolutely beserk. The match went see-sawed through two overtimes before the Black Angels finally prevailed – paving the way for a second consecutive grand final win two weeks later.
2. Back From the Dead - AKA The Warrnambool Miracle part 2
You could make a case for either number 2 or 3 on this list going ahead of the other, but for me, this game wins out simply because it was so unexpected. Warrnambool (featuring 2 WNBL players) were basically undefeated throughout the year (their only loss prior to the semi-final series coming in a game in which they were low on numbers due to state team commitments), and had won game 2 of the series by a ridiculous 43 points. Plus, MU had to show up again on the Sunday undermanned, with starting guard Shannyn Kelly dislocating her shoulder the night before. MU somehow managed to hang on all match, even after star player Claire Pownell fouled out just after half time, but it still took an amazing sequence of events to get the win – Warrnambool had the last possession but missed the open shot, before WNBL superstar Louise McLean gave up a foul contesting the rebound and giving Simone Steele the chance to shoot free throws with 1 second on the clock. She made the first to complete a phenomenal individual effort (including a then club-record 28 points) as the Black Angels bench went crazy. An unbelievable victory inspired by former MUBC player Louise Pownell getting engaged via a beach-front proposal before the game, as well as the wisdom of the Cheeseworld Oracle, and the legendary hash-stack.
1. The First Championship
While it wasn’t the most thrilling finish we’ve seen, this game remains the most memorable simply for the celebrations that went along with it. After 3 grand final losses in 4 years, the Black Angels finally, finally, won their first Championship. Scott Cuffe scored 31 points and Liam Norton scored 28 as a dominant MU team completed a clean sweep of the grand final series – but it wasn’t easy, as Matt Willmott hit 8 x 3-pointers for Southern Pen in the deciding match to keep it close right up until the last few minutes. Some of the others on this list might have been better matches, but I can’t remember any being this tense, or featuring as high a standard of basketball, and none at all saw a better party afterwards, so this one gets the top spot!
Of course, this is just my list, and I'm sure everyone has their own special memories. But this week, it all starts up once again, with our first double-header at the New-Look Sports Center, starting at 1pm. Be there to be a part of the next special Black Angels moment!
If you do think I've left something off the list, let us know on Facebook and we'll see whether we can add it for you as well... best suggestions will win a free drink at Toga night on May 5th...
**** Please note - Most of the above is based on my admittedly shaky memory. If you see anything that needs to be fixed, let us know!