READING Rockets ladies battled bravely but were ultimately beaten 80-67 by defending WNBL Division One play-off champions Anglia Ruskin University.

Although ARU were never firmly in control of the contest, they always found a way to do just enough to keep their noses in front.

Reading battled throughout, but could never find the key basket or momentum-shifting play to take the game in their favour.

MVP honours for the second year running went to Ruskin captain Katrin Hulme after a double-double performance of 21 points and 16 rebounds to go with three assists and three steals.

In the early going there was plenty to suggest Reading could be the dominant side in the game as Andrea Gomez De La Vara (12 points, four rebounds, six assists) scored 10 in the first quarter to push Reading into a 22-14 lead.

It was a nervy start from Ruskin as they turned the ball over nine times, further aiding their opponents' cause and halting their ability to find some early rhythm.

One bright spot for ARU in the opening frame was the play of Hulme as she scored seven points before adding a further nine in the second quarter to get her side up and running.

A 9-0 run helped erase the deficit before the Rhinos forged ahead themselves, with Reading’s offence now taking a turn to misfire.

That left the game evenly poised at 37-33 to Ruskin at half time.

The third stanza was a back-and-forth affair as Reading probed for a way to get back on level terms, and ARU denying their advances.

Hulme’s pace slowed, but the slack was picked up by Sofia Koutsourelaki (nine points, seven assists) and Ilaria Zaffaroni (10 points, three rebounds) who both kept the ARU lead intact.

In return, Reading leant on D1W Team of the Year selection Monica Herranz De Antonio (23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, six steals), but ARU increased their advantage to 57-49 thanks in part to some dominant play on the boards and cashing in on second chance points.

For everything Herranz and Reading could throw at their opponents, ARU stood firm.

As Maria Valdeolmillos Gomez dropped a tricky jumper with 4:35 remaining, the Rockets had pulled within four at 64-60.

That was close as Reading would come though as ARU scored the next six points in the game to once again move their advantage back to double digits.

That took the wind out of coach David Sanchez’s team and ultimately produced a final score which wasn’t a true reflection of how close the final had been.

And Sanchez admitted: “As we said before the game, the key to the game was likely to be the rebounds and I think we defended decently, but they did grab rebounds and scored some second chance points from that and for me that was a big part of the game.”

Meanwhile, Anglia Ruskin coach Michael Hanson-Morris said: “It was really pleasing. It’s been a long season and we really ground it out. I think we’re 18-5 now as a team this year.

"We thought we deserved the opportunity to win a trophy coming into the game and we played really well, so I’m happy with that.”