Author: Peter Williams

2019/20 WNBL Team of the Week: Round 14

IN a Draft Central Team of the Week first, our starting five players are made up of just two sides – the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals and Adelaide Lightning. Both sides had huge wins on the weekend, with the Capitals downing the top two teams, while the Lightning smashed Townsville Fire. In the 10-player Team of the Week, the sides made up 60 per cent of the representatives, with one player from four other sides – Perth Lynx, Sydney Uni Flames, Southside Flyers and Melbourne Boomers. After disappointing losses, neither Townsville nor Bendigo Spirit had a player in the team this round.

The UC Capitals’ trio of starters are the three that had absolutely remarkable weekends considering the mounting injury toll with star, Kelsey Griffin still out and Keely Froling also injured near the end of the first game. They smashed the Flyers on the road in a stunning performance, and along with the overtime win over Melbourne, earned three players in the Team of the Week. Kia Nurse averaged a massive 28 points, five rebounds and one steal per game on the weekend, joined in the side by two players who posted double doubles. Marianna Tolo makes the side again in center after recording numbers of 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steals, while Olivia Epoupa had 11.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 4.0 steals in a huge couple of games.

Adelaide Lightning’s damaging duo of Stephanie Talbot and Brianna Turner round out the side in the starting forward spots. Talbot put up 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and one steal against the Fire, shooting at 53.8 per cent from the field. Her partner-in-crime Turner had 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the big win. Nicole Seekamp also made the bench to make it three for the Lightning, and equal most with the Capitals in the side. The four remaining spots went to players of other sides, with Perth guard Katie-Rae Ebzery and Sydney Uni center Lauren Scherf in the side, as well as forwards from the top two sides in Sara Blicavs and Ezi Magbegor who put out two consistent performances for one win and one loss each.

Among those players in consideration and unlucky not to make the cut were Bendigo duo, Tessa Lavey and Carley Ernst, Townsville duo Tess Madgen and Darcee Garbin, Southside duo Rebecca Cole and Mercedes Russell, Adelaide’s Lauren Nicholson, Perth’s Marena Whittle and Melbourne’s Cayla George.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Olivia Epoupa (UC) – 11.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 4.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 30.8 FG%
G: Kia Nurse (UC) – 28.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 43.2 FG%
C: Marianna Tolo (UC) – 17.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks, 57.7 FG%
F: Stephanie Talbot (AD) – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steals, 3 blocks, 53.8 FG%
F: Brianna Turner (AD) – 15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks, 31.3 FG%

BENCH:

G: Nicole Seekamp (AD) – 12 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 45.5 FG%
G: Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL) – 17 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 46.2 FG%
C: Lauren Scherf (SU) – 14 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 35.7 FG%
F: Sara Blicavs (SF) – 14.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 39.3 FG%
F: Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 73.9 FG%

WNBL Round 14 review: Capitals make stand with top two scalps

IN what could well be a memorable round in hindsight come the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) finals series next month, the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals have made a stand by knocking off the top two sides. The now-fourth placed Capitals, along with the former-third placed Adelaide Lightning who also had a huge win, showed they are not making up the numbers and would be pushing for a top two spot in the final two rounds.

UC Capitals (76) defeated Melbourne Boomers (75)

The third last round of the WNBL could not have opened with a better game after two genuine title contenders went toe-to-toe until the reigning premiers emerged victorious following a one-point overtime thriller. The UC Capitals had to fight hard against Melbourne Boomers to keep their top two chances alive, sinking the Boomers in the first overtime by a point in what had been a see-sawing match to that point. The Capitals led by six points at quarter time, but the Boomers clawed their way back after that, reducing the margin to five by half-time, and then one by the final break before levelling the scores at the last buzzer. Despite the momentum of the past three quarters being with Melbourne, it was UC that stepped up and won thanks to a basket from an injured Keely Froling with great defence stopping the Boomers in the dying seconds of the match during the 76-75 Capitals’ win. Despite having a broken nose and cheek which was confirmed after the match following a collision with Sophie Cunningham in the fourth term, Froling played out the game posting 12 points, nine rebounds and two assists. She ably assisted the damaging duo of Kia Nurse (23 points, seven rebounds) and Marianna Tolo (22 points, nine rebounds), while Olivia Epoupa picked up eight points 16 rebounds, seven assists and six steals in a ridiculous effort from the French guard. For the Boomers, Cunningham reached a team-high 22 points, while Stella Beck (17 points, four rebounds) and Ezi Magbegor (14 points, four rebounds) were busy, as was Cayla George (eight points, eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks). Unfortunately for Froling, she will miss at least three weeks of action, bringing her up to the start of the WNBL finals series.

DC Medal: 3 – Olivia Epoupa (UC), 2 – Marianna Tolo (UC), 1 – Kia Nurse (UC)

Adelaide Lightning (77) defeated Townsville Fire (60)

Over in Adelaide, the Lightning consolidated their third spot with an important 17-point win over bottom two side, Townsville Fire. It was a shared effort by the Lightning who burst away after an even first term. Neither team could be split at quarter time, but it was all Adelaide after that as the Lightning piled on 18 points to 11 in the second term and extended that lead to 14 by the final break. They did not stop there, winning the last term 16-13 to run out 77-60 victors in front of their home fans at Titanium Security Arena. Adelaide’s forward duo of Stephanie Talbot (16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks) and Brianna Turner (15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks) again led the way as all starting five members reached double-figure points on the night. Lauren Nicholson (14 points, seven rebounds), Nicole Seekamp (12 points, four rebounds and nine assists) and Kathryn Westbeld (10 points, five rebounds) all provided presences off the boards, as Chelsea Brook got in on the action with eight points of her own off the bench. It was not as evenly spread for the Fire, with Tess Madgen leading the way thanks to 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Darcee Garbin (16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks) picked up a double-double after her work rebounding the baskets. Julie Vanloo reached double-figure points with 10, as well as two rebounds and three assists, while Bridget Carleton (six points, six rebounds) and Christina Boag (eight points, six rebounds) tried hard.

DC Medal: 3 – Stephanie Talbot (AD), 2 – Brianna Turner (AD), 1 – Tess Madgen (TF)

Sydney Uni Flames (62) defeated by Melbourne Boomers (76)

Melbourne bounced back from their heartbreaking one-point loss at the hands of the Capitals to rebound with a 14-point win on the road against Sydney Uni Flames on Saturday night. The Boomers got off to an ideal start in the match, leading by three points at quarter time and then extending the lead out to seven by the main break. Sydney Uni managed to stem the bleeding in the third stanza, but the visitors went all out in the last term, piling on 15 points to eight to run away with the contest, 76-62. Magbegor led from the front with a game-high 25 points, five rebounds and four assists, while George (14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Madeleine Garrick (13 points, four rebounds, seven assists and four steals) picked up some big numbers across the board. Coming off the bench, Monique Conti was busy with six points and four assists in a playmaking role, while Beck also reached double-figure points with 10, accompanying her two rebounds and two blocks. For the Flames, Brittany Smart showed her talent off the bench posting a team-high 18 points as well as three rebounds, while Lauren Scherf‘s dazzling form continued with a double-double of 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks in a huge effort despite the loss. They were the only two players to reach double-figure points as Jessica Kuster (six points, nine rebounds) and Alex Wilson (five points, six assists) both had inaccurate games on the scoring front but worked tirelessly.

DC Medal: 3 – Ezi Magbegor (MB), 2 – Cayla George (MB), 1 – Lauren Scher (SU)

Bendigo Spirit (76) defeated by Southside Flyers (91)

Southside Flyers’ remarkable season continued with a 15-point win over cellar dwellers Bendigo Spirit on the road. Heading into the match these teams were at opposite ends of the ladder and it showed in the first three quarters as the Spirit could not quell the fired-up Flyers. Southside burst out of the blocks to add 24-15 in the first term, and by half-time the margin was a whopping 16 points, The trend continued into the third with a 24-17 term to open up a 23-point advantage before Bendigo gave its home fans something to smile about with a solid final term to cut the deficit back to 15 but fell short 76-91. Rebecca Cole led the way for the Flyers with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Mercedes Russell‘s double-double season continued with 13 points, 12 rebounds and two assists on the night. Also racking up plenty of points were Leilani Mitchell (19 points, three rebounds, four assists and two blocks) and Sara Blicavs (18 points, eight rebounds and two assists) in a strong starting five effort. Coming off the bench, Kiera Rowe was efficient with eight points at 75 per cent from the field. For the Spirit, Tessa Lavey was the dominant points-scorer with 20, as well as three rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Carley Ernst (15 points, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks), and Abigail Wehrung coming off the bench (15 points, six rebounds) were also strong. After a big point-scoring effort last round, Shyla Heal only managed the four, but picked up a team-high eight rebounds on the night.

DC Medal: 3 – Rebecca Cole (SF), 2 – Mercedes Russell (SF), 1 – Sara Blicavs (SF)

Perth Lynx (95) defeated Townsville Fire (62)

Finals might be out of the question for last year’s fourth placed side, but it did not stop the Perth Lynx making a huge statement at the Bendat Basketball Centre on Sunday evening. The Lynx smashed fellow bottom four side, Townsville Fire on the way to a 33-point shellacking in front of home fans, winning three of the four quarters and putting in one of the most dominant 10-minute terms all season. The Lynx led by six points at quarter time and were out to a 13-point lead at the main break. Townsville reeled the home team back in by three to cut the deficit to 10 at the last change before Perth put the foot down in a one-sided affair seeing them slam home 37 points to 14 and blow the game out of the water in a massive 95-62 win. Alison Schwagmeyer came off the bench to lead the way for the winners, posting 21 points and four rebounds, while Marena Whittle (17 points, four rebounds and two assists) also provided great cover when injected into the game. Katie-Rae Ebzery was the Lynx’s best, picking up figures of 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists, while Lauren Mansfield (14 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals) and Nadeen Payne (10 points, six rebounds) also picked up double-figure points. For the Fire, it was Garbin who picked up the points, registering 19 points and five rebounds on the night, while Carleton had a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Madgen had 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.

DC Medal: 3 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL), 2 – Alison Schwagmeyer (PL), 1 – Marena Whittle (PL)

Southside Flyers (74) defeated by UC Capitals (98)

The Perth-Townsville game was not the only statement made by a WNBL team on Sunday night, with reigning premiers UC Capitals making sure the competition had not forgotten about what they were capable of in season 2019/20. Despite missing both Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling to injury, the Capitals banded together and produced a remarkable performance on the road against the premier team of the competition this season. They made their intentions clear from the get-go with a 30-20 opening term and by half-time, the home crowd was silenced as the Capitals led by a whopping 18 points. While many would have forgiven them for not running out the game given the extra rotations for youth, the Capitals stepped it up, scoring a further 21-14 in the third term to lead by as much as 25 at the final break before Southside managed to get some respect back with a 20-19 final term in what was a horror showing, going down 74-98. Nurse was unbelievable posting a round-high 33 points to go with three rebounds and three assists, while Epoupa (15 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and two steals) and Tolo (13 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks) both picked up double-doubles. Maddison Rocci thrived with season-high points of 19, as well as three rebounds and two steals, while Alex Delaney also impressed with 13 points and two rebounds. For the Flyers, Russell had a strong game of 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Blicavs had another good performance of 10 points and eight rebounds. Mitchell (14 points, five assists) was the other prominent scorer for the losing side.

DC Medal: 3 – Kia Nurse (UC), 2 – Olivia Epoupa (UC), 1 – Marianna Tolo (UC)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

29 – Mercedes Russell (SF)
28 –
27 –  Cayla George (MB)
26 –
25 –
24 –
23 – Stephanie Talbot (AL)
22 –
21 – Kelsey Griffin (UC)
20 – Brianna Turner (AL)
19 –
18 –
17 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL), Olivia Epoupa (UC)
16 – Lindsay Allen (MB), Alice Kunek (SU)
15 – Kia Nurse (UC)
14 – Alison Schwagmeyer (PL)
13 – Abby Bishop (TF)
12 – Colleen Planeta (AD), Darcee Garbin (TF)
11 – Keely Froling (UC), Leilani Mitchell (SF)
10 – Jenna O’Hea (SF), Ezi Magbegor (MB)
9 – Madeleine Garrick (MB), Marianna Tolo (UC)
8 – Carley Ernst (BS), Bridget Carleton (TF), Tess Madgen (TF)
7 – Jessica Kuster (SU), Sara Blicavs (SF)
6 – Imani McGee-Stafford (PL), Rebecca Cole (SF)
5 – Tahlia Tupaea (SU)
4 – Kelly Wilson (BS)
3 – Rebecca Tobin (BS), Lauren Nicholson (AL),  Tessa Lavey (BS), Sophie Cunningham (MB), Shyla Heal (PL), Mareena Whittle (PL)
2 – Crystal Langhorne (AD), Micaela Cocks (TF), Chelsea Brook (AD), Lauren Mansfield (PL), Nicole Seekamp (AL), Julie Vanloo (TF)
1 –  Ariel Atkins (PL), Alex Wilson (SU), Anneli Maley (SF), Stella Beck (MB), Abigail Wehrung (BS), Kathryn Westbeld (AD), Lauren Scherf (SU)

2019/20 WNBL preview: Round 14 – Make or break round for Capitals

CLASHES against the top two sides makes Round 14 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) a belter for the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. Aside from those couple of thrilling contests, Adelaide Lightning is still looking to keep a step ahead in third, while the Boomers and Flyers hope to solidify their top two spots ahead of finals.

UC CAPITALS vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Friday, January 17, 7pm
National Convention Centre

Opening up the weekend is a huge top four clash between reigning premiers, UC Capitals and Melbourne Boomers. With a four-game gap between fourth and fifth, the Capitals are secure in the knowledge they will play finals, but will hope to win this game to draw one win closer to the top two Boomers. Finishing fourth means the Capitals will not be able to host two home finals in the series, and will be travelling for the majority of the time – predominantly to Victoria. If they can win, then it leaves the race for second wide open, as the Southside Flyers look to have secured top spot on the WNBL table. In the two previous meetings the teams are one win apiece with the Boomers thrashing the Capitals by 35 points back in Round 3, before the Capitals earned a hard-fought three-point win a couple of weeks later. The Capitals have proven to be near-impossible to beat at home with a 6-1 win-loss record there, though the Boomers are just as impressive on the road with six wins from eight encounters. In the absence of injured star Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling has stood up of late to be a bonafide starter, posting 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season, teaming well with the equally impressive Marianna Tolo (13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks). Tolo will be particularly important to try and quell the influence of Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor of whom the pair of forward-center’s combining for 26 points and 15 rebounds.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Friday, January 17, 7pm
Titanium Security Arena

Down in South Australia, third placed Adelaide Lightning will be keen to take advantage of the result from the Capitals-Boomers clash and either move one win closer to Melbourne or one win further away from UC. The season is done and dusted for Townsville who sit four and a half games outside of fourth spot. The Fire will still be keen to have a strong finish to the year and push for fifth spot, and back-to-back wins over Round 14 would likely see them achieve that spot, albeit temporarily. The Lightning are fairly strong at home with a 6-3 win-loss record, while the Fire on the road have been shaky to say the least, winning just two of nine attempts this season. Both of the clashes between these sides in the 2019/20 season have been in Townsville with the Lightning easily taking the wins both times thanks to margins of 18 and 26 points respectively. Brianna Turner (16.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks) has been a ray of consistency this season, combining well with the all-round efforts of Stephanie Talbot (14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game). Nicole Seekamp has been steadily building in the guard position, while the inclusion of Kathryn Westbeld in replacing Crystal Langhorne as a forward has been a positive one. For the Fire, Abby Bishop has missed the last few games but it has not hurt the Fire who have recorded back-to-back wins and jumped off the bottom of the table. Tess Madgen (12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds) and Darcee Garbin (14.1 points, 6.2 rebounds) have been quite handy for the team over the course of the season.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Saturday, January 18, 5pm
Brydens Stadium

In what will be a quick turnaround for the Boomers, Melbourne heads from the nation’s capital to Sydney for a match against Sydney Uni Flames. A couple of wins could see them draw level with Southside Flyers, but a couple of  losses all but rules them out of a run for top spot. Not only could that be the case, but both third placed Adelaide and fourth placed UC would be on the Boomers case heading into the final two rounds of the season. Sydney Uni have won three of eight at home, while the Boomers are confident on the road and will start favourites despite the short turnaround. Player management will be crucial for the visiting side over the weekend as the Boomers have one eye on the finals series. In the two matches this year, Melbourne has brought home the chocolates on both occasions, winning by 13 points in Melbourne before toppling Sydney Uni by 23 points on the road. For the Flames to win they will need to be at their best, led by Alice Kunek (18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists) and Jessica Kuster (12.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks). Lauren Scherf had a standout game last season and is averaging eight points and eight rebounds per game, and will need another huge one to topple the likes of George and Magbegor. Restricting the Boomers’ bigs will be key to victory, though Sophie Cunningham (11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Lindsay Allen (15.3 points, 4.9 assists) are a couple of Americans who continue to cause headaches for the opposition.

BENDIGO SPIRIT vs. SOUTHSIDE FLYERS
Saturday, January 18, 7pm
Bendigo Stadium

In the most anticipated one-sided game of the round, top takes on bottom when Southside Flyers travel up the highway to face Bendigo Spirit. The Flyers have had a superb first season in the WNBL after the rebrand from Dandenong Rangers, sitting two games clear with 14 wins from 17 games, while Bendigo has struggled at times with just four wins from 13 games. The one positive heading into this match is the fact that all four of Bendigo’s wins have come at home, though Southside are 8-1 on the road. In their two previous encounters this season – both at home for Southside, the Flyers have won by eight and 13 points. Bendigo’s Carley Ernst is the key rebounder in the side, picking up 6.7 boards a game to accompany her 11.8 points. Kelly Wilson (8.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds) and Tessa Lavey (8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists) are others who have had strong seasons despite the unfavourable results for the Spirit. The Flyers have had no shortage of contributors, and Mercedes Russell has set the tone as the premier center in the competition, averaging a double-double of 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Rebecca Cole (16.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds) and Leilani Mitchell (15.9 rebounds, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists) are others have worked hard, playing as important guards in the ladder-leading side.

PERTH LYNX vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Sunday, January 19, 2pm
Bendat Basketball Centre

In one of two Sunday games, Perth Lynx play their first game of the round against a Townsville Fire side travelling across the border after their clash against the Lightning on Friday night. The Lynx would need incredibly favourable results to have any chance of making finals, sitting four games outside of the top four with just two rounds remaining. Realistically it is beyond last year’s finalists, though ensuring they do not finish in the bottom two would also be a huge motivation to win this match. The Lynx are 4-5 at home, while the Fire are only 2-7 on the road so expect the Lynx to be favourites without being a sure thing – especially considering Townsville toppled them back on November 2 in Western Australia by five points before Perth sought revenge with a five-point win of their own up in North Queensland. Perth has a number of players who have produced solid performances throughout the year, with an even team performance rather than standout individuals. Katie-Rae Ebzery (15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals) has led the way from the likes of Alison Schwagmeyer (15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Lauren Mansfield (9.7 points, 4.6 assists). While the Australian cohort of the Fire have been up and about, the international imports in Bridget Carleton (11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Belgian Julie Vanloo (8.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists) have also contributed this year.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS vs. UC CAPITALS
Sunday, January 19, 5pm
Dandenong Stadium

The match of the round could well be the final game of the weekend. The top-of-the-table Southside Flyers make the trip up to Canberra following a night clash with Bendigo Spirit the day before, to take on the UC Capitals in a ladder-defining clash. The Flyers can lock up top spot with a big weekend, while a couple of losses could see the Boomers pounce on top spot. Arguably the Capitals have even more to lose if they go down in their clashes against the top two sides because it would rule them out of a top two spot and a double home final. These sides have played twice this season with the Capitals winning on the road to hand Southside its first loss back in early November, before the Flyers knocked off the Capitals in their only loss at home. While Southside seldom lose at home, the Capitals have shown the formula to do it, and it could be a thrilling contest. The forwards have been good at providing some strong rebounding and point-scoring abilities with the likes of Jenna O’Hea (14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals) and Sara Blicavs (13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds) leading the way for the Flyers. The Capitals have an equal amount of enviable depth with other starters Kia Nurse (19.9 points, 3.8 rebounds), Olivia Epoupa (7.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists) and Maddison Rocci (7.6 points, 2.5 assists) all crucial in combining for a successful team this season.

2019/20 WNBL Team of the Week: Round 13

IT was an even round of action in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), with the 10 players in our Draft Central Team of the Week spread between seven of the eight sides. Only reigning premiers University of Canberra (UC) Capitals did not have a representative this week, with Adelaide Lightning, Townsville Fire and Sydney Uni Flames all having two representatives.

Adelaide Lightning had two starters in our Team of the Week, with Nicole Seekamp filling out a guard spot after 11 points, six rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks, joining Brianna Turner in the side who posted 23 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks, also shooting at 75 per cent from the field. Townsville’s Julie Vanloo is the other guard in the side after averaging 14.5 points, six rebounds and eight assists across two games, while teammate Bridget Carleton has earned a spot on the bench following a double-double. The other side with two players is Sydney Uni, with the Flames’ Lauren Scherf starting as center following 16 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocks, while Alice Kunek sank an equal round-high 30 points and earned a spot in the bench.

The final member of the starting five is Bendigo Spirit’s Shyla Heal who despite her side losing, posted 30 points, six rebounds and three steals at 68.8 per cent from the field. Looking to the bench, Perth Lynx’s Katie-Rae Ebzery is the other guard, while Ezi Magbegor slots into a forward role. In the center, regular Team of the Week nominee, Mercedes Russell has earned a place in the side. There were plenty of players unlucky not to make the side, including Southside Flyers’ trio, Leilani Mitchell, Rebecca Cole and Jenna O’Hea, UC Capitals’ duo Keely Froling and Marianna Tolo, Adelaide’s Kathryn Westbeld, Bendigo’s Carley Ernst, Townsville’s Tess Madgen, Sydney Uni’s Jessica Kuster and Melbourne’s Cayla George who all put up solid performances throughout the round.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Nicole Seekamp (AD) – 11 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 36.4 FG%
G: Julie Vanloo (TF) – 14.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 47.4 FG%
C: Lauren Scherf (SU) – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 53.3 FG%
F: Brianna Turner (AD) – 23 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, 75.0 FG%
F: Shyla Heal (BS) – 30 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 68.8 FG%

BENCH:

G: Alice Kunek (SU) – 30 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 50.0 FG%
G: Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL) – 14 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 45.5 FG%
C: Mercedes Russell (SF) – 18 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, 61.5 FG%
F: Bridget Carleton (TF) – 14.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 42.9 FG%
F: Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 58.6 FG%

NBL1 expands north as national game grows

IN a landmark agreement between the National Basketball League (NBL), NBL1, Basketball Victoria and Basketball Queensland, the 2020 NBL1 competition will be split into two conferences. The current league – with the addition of new side, Mount Gambier Pioneers – will be renamed NBL1 South, while the new league featuring 26 new teams will be based in Queensland and called NBL1 North. The NBL1 North replaces the Queensland Basketball League (QBL) with 13 men’s and 13 women’s sides.

The 13 clubs that have been awarded licences in the NBL1 North are Cairns Marlins (men’s) and Dolphins (women’s), Townsville Heat (men’s) and Flames (women’s), Rockhampton Rockets (men’s) and Cyclones (women’s), Mackay Meteors (men’s) and Meteorettes (women’s), Southern District Spartans, Sunshine Coast Phoenix, University of Sunshine Coast Rip, Brisbane Capitals, Logan Thunder, South West Metro Pirates, Gold Coast Rollers, Ipswich Force and Toowoomba Mountaineers.

NBL Chief Operating Officer Andy Crook said it was an exciting time for Australian basketball.

“We are excited to announce the establishment of NBL1 North and NBL1 South conferences,” Crook said. “This is a genuine partnership between the NBL, Basketball Queensland and Basketball Victoria and we look forward to the great rivalries that’s set to develop between the conferences. “We are also in active discussions with Basketball South Australia, Basketball Western Australia and Basketball New South Wales about introducing the NBL1 concept in those states.”

NBL1 South will tip off on Saturday April 18 while NBL1 North will begin a week later on Friday April 24.

NBL1 South and NBL1 North will hold conference finals in August, before an NBL1 finals series will be played on the first weekend of September with conference champions from NBL1 South and NBL1 North at the State Basketball Centre in Victoria. Further details of the NBL1 finals series will be announced soon.

The NBL1 North logo will have a maroon colour while the NBL1 South logo will be navy blue, creating a connection between the conferences and their main state.

Basketball Queensland Chief Executive and Secretary Graham Burns said the major competition in the Sunshine State was looking forward to holding a highly recognised second tier competition.

“We can’t wait for the inaugural NBL1 North season and look forward to the growth the league will have under the NBL’s banner,” Burns said. “Basketball Victoria and the NBL did an incredible job with NBL1 in 2019 and we are thrilled to be involved and continue the positive momentum.”

Basketball Victoria CEO Nick Honey said the success of NBL1 last season showed the concept was adaptable across the country and he looked forward to the growth of the conference system.

“It’s exciting to see the next phase of NBL1’s expansion begin this year with NBL1 becoming NBL1 South,” Honey said. “From where Basketball Victoria and the NBL started last year, it’s brilliant to see the model expand to other states.”

Last year’s NBL1 competitions were won by Nunawading Spectres and Kilsyth Cobras in the men’s and women’s competition respectively. Geelong Supercats’ Demarcus Gatlin and Bendigo Braves’ Kelly Wilson were named the respective competitions’ Most Valuable Players (MVP).

NBL Round 15 review: Mid-table logjam as finals approach

CAIRNS Taipans grabbed third spot, South East Melbourne Phoenix moved out of the bottom two, and Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings showed why they are the two teams to beat in what was a big round of action in the National Basketball League (NBL).

Cairns Taipans (85) defeated New Zealand Breakers (79)

Cairns broke New Zealand’s five-game winning streak with a thrilling six-point victory at home on Thursday night thanks to a strong second quarter. The Taipans trailed by five points at the first break, but turned the game around in the next quarter with a 30-19 term to lead by six at half-time. New Zealand got back on top in the third term, posting 20-14 and levelled the scores at the final break. It was the home side that stepped up in the last stanza, claiming a vital win to leapfrog Melbourne United into third spot on the NBL ladder. Scott Machado led the way with 29 points, seven rebounds and three assists, well helped by D.J. Newbill (20 points, four rebounds and three steals) and Cameron Oliver (14 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks) for the Taipans. Scotty Hopson had a costly 10 turnovers, but still managed 18 points for the Breakers, as well as eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals. Thomas Abercrombie (16 points, seven rebounds) was strong off the boards, while the Breakers’ best could well have been Robert Loe off the bench, posting a team-high 24 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

DC Medal: 3 – Scott Machado (CT), 2 – Robert Loe (NZ) , 1 – D.J. Newbill (CT)

Illawarra Hawks (77) defeated by Perth Wildcats (99)

Perth maintained a two-win gap inside the top two with an important 22-point victory over Illawarra on the road. The Hawks are anchored to the bottom of the table and barring a complete revival, will win this season’s wooden spoon. The Wildcats, with the introduction of seven-year NBA player Miles Plumlee coming off the bench, showed why they are a premiership contender with a strong first half. Perth posted 54 points to 36 in the first two quarters to lead by 18 points at the main break. Determined not to be blown away, the Hawks picked up after the break to win the third quarter, 24-19, but were soon outclassed again in the last with a 26-17 term as the Wildcats cruised to a 99-77 victory. Bryce Cotton led the way once again with 23 points, four rebounds, six assists and four steals on the night, while Nick Kay picked up a double-double courtesy of his 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Terrico White (17 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals) was strong once again, while Plumlee finished his debut with six points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks. For the Hawks, Todd Blanchfield was the standout thanks to 26 points and eight rebounds, while Sunday Dech (15 points, five rebounds) and Daniel Grida (11 points, three rebounds) were the other two players to reach double-figure points.

DC Medal: 3 – Bryce Cotton (PW), 2 – Nick Kay (PW), 1 – Todd Blanchfield (IH)

Sydney Kings (92) defeated Cairns Taipans (83)

After riding high from a win on Thursday night, Cairns Taipans were unable to topple the ladder-leading Sydney Kings at Qudos Bank Arena. The Taipans showed enough to suggest they are deserving of finals, matching it with the Kings for three quarters, but it was the first term that ultimately cost them. Sydney got away to a seven-point lead in the opening term and from there managed to hold the visitors at bay, winning the final two quarters by a point and breaking even in the second term to ensure the margin had enough breathing space with the eventual nine-point victory. Casper Ware and Daniel Kickert topped the Kings’ point-scorers with 18 apiece, the latter of whom set up the home side in the opening term. Jae’Sean Tate posted 15 points, eight rebounds and two steals on the night, while Brad Newley (13 points, three rebounds) and Andrew Bogut (six points, eight rebounds) were also impressive. Majok Deng was the top scorer for the Taipans, sinking 18 points, as well as six rebounds, while Machado (16 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals), Newbill (15 points, seven assists and three steals) and Mirko Djeric (14 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals) also contributed in the unlucky defeat.

DC Medal: 3 – Scott Machado (CT), 2 – Jae’Sean Tate (SK), 1 – Daniel Kickert (SK)

Adelaide 36ers (100) defeated Melbourne United (86)

A Jerome Randle inspired Adelaide 36ers survived a challenge from top four side Melbourne United to post a 14-point win at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Saturday night. The victory meant the home side moved just half a game out from United who look far from secured in the finals spots. The 36ers started strongly to lead by eight points at the first break, before United hit back to cut the deficit to five at the main break. Adelaide regained control in the second half and never let it go despite the visiting side’s best efforts, posting 47 points to 38 in order to run out 100-86 victors. Randle was a star throughout but stepped up in the last quarter, posting 23 points, three rebounds and three assists, well aided by big men, Eric Griffin (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Daniel Johnson (19 points, seven rebounds). Brendan Teys (11 points, four assists and three rebounds) and Anthony Drmic (nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals) were also impressive on the night. For United, Chris Goulding (26 points, three rebounds and two assists) led the way in scoring, while Shawn Long‘s sensational season rolled on thanks to yet another double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Mitch McCarron just missed out on a double-double following numbers of 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Melo Trimble was quiet with five points and five assists.

DC Medal: 3 – Jerome Randle (AD), 2 – Eric Griffin (AD), 1 – Shawn Long (MU)

New Zealand Breakers (85) defeated by Brisbane Bullets (95)

After five consecutive wins on the trot, Round 15 proved to be an unlucky one for the Breakers, dropping both games over the weekend, with the latest being a 10-point loss to Brisbane at home. Normally steady on home soil, it was not the Breakers’ night after the Bullets slammed home 34 points to 21 in the second term to race away to a 10-point advantage at half-time. New Zealand clawed its way back to a five-point deficit by the final break, but that went back out to 10 by the last buzzer following a 26-21 final term in favour of the visitors. Lamar Patterson was simply sensational again for the Bullets, putting up numbers of 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Matt Hodgson produced a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. EJ Singler was not far behind thanks to his 13 points, nine rebounds and two assists, while Taylor Braun also helped himself to 14 points and two rebounds. Hopson was a shining light for the Breakers with 14 points, four rebounds and six assists, aided by Abercrombie (17 points, four rebounds) and Sek Henry (17 points, three rebounds and two assists).

DC Medal: 3 – Lamar Patterson (BB), 2 – Matt Hodgson (BB), 1 – Scotty Hopson (NZ)

Illawarra Hawks (82) defeated by South East Melbourne Phoenix (90)

In the final match of the round, South East Melbourne Phoenix maintained a spot in the finals race thanks to an eight-point win over cellar dwellers, Illawarra Hawks. It was the Hawks’ second loss at home over the weekend, as the Phoenix moved ahead of the Breakers following their disastrous run of form over the past couple of months which saw the league’s newest side drop to eighth on the table. Now only a couple of games outside the top four, the Phoenix can regroup, which started with a come-from-behind victory against the Hawks. Illawarra led by eight points at quarter time, but it was the Phoenix after that, securing an eight-point lead themselves at half-time then blowing it out to 13 by the final break. The home side cut the final deficit back to eight by the buzzer, but it was to no avail, going down 82-90. Dane Pineau‘s form continued after a mammoth double-double with 14 points – at 100 per cent from the field no less – as well as 18 rebounds – 14 defensive – and three blocks. He was far from alone on the scoring front with Kendall Stephens putting up 20 points, six rebounds and two steals, while Ben Madgen (17 points, three rebounds and five assists) and John Roberson (12 points, two rebounds and seven assists) covered for Mitch Creek in his quietest game for the season with just eight points, four rebounds and two assists. For the Hawks, Blanchfield again led the scoring with 15 points, as well as two rebounds, two assists and three steals, while Sam Froling (13 points, 11 rebounds) was the home side’s best, and Dech (13 points, five rebounds and two assists) and Grida (13 points) equalled his scoring output.

DC Medal: 3 – Dane Pineau (SEM), 2 – Kendall Stephens (SEM), 1 – Sam Froling (IH)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

32 – Bryce Cotton (PW)
31 – Lamar Patterson (BB)
30 –
29 –
28 – Shawn Long (MU)
27 –
26 –
25 –
24 – Mitch Creek (SEM)
23 – Scott Machado (CT), Jae’Sean Tate (SK)
22 –
21 – Casper Ware (SK), Melo Trimble (MU)
20 – LaMelo Ball (IH), Jerome Randle (AD)
19 –
18 –
17 – John Roberson (SEM), Cameron Oliver (CT)
16 –
15 – Nick Kay (PW)
14 – Daniel Johnson (AD)
13 – Andrew Bogut (SK)
12 – Eric Griffin (AD)
11 –  Corey Webster (NZ)
10 – DJ. Newbill (CT)
9 – Terrico White (PW)
8 –
7 – Chris Goulding (MU), Nathan Sobey (BB), Scotty Hopson (NZ)
6 –  Kouat Noi (CT), Dane Pineau (SEM)
5 – Aaron Brooks (IL), Brad Newley (SK), AJ Ogilvy (IL), Anthony Drmic (AD), Todd Blanchfield (IH)
4 –  Dario Hunt (PW), Brandon Ashley (NZ), Ben Madgen (SEM), Tom Abercrombie (NZ), Matt Hodgson (BB)
3 – Sek Henry (NZ), Didi Louzada (SK), Glen Rice Jr (NZ), Finn Delany (NZ)
2 – Jason Cadee (BB), Sunday Dech (IH), David Barlow (MU), Mitch McCarron (MU), Tim Coenraad (IH), Robert Loe (NZ), Kendall Stephens (SEM)
1 – Majok Deng (CT), Craig Moller (SK), Jesse Wagstaff (PW), Keith Benson (SEM), Tohi Smith-Milner (MU), RJ Hampton (NZ), Angus Glover (IH), Emmett Naar (IH), Josh Boone (IH), Ej Singler (BB), Daniel Kickert (SK), Sam Froling (IH)

2019/20 WNBL preview: Round 12 – Finals race set to narrow

IT is make or break time in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) this round, with finals well and truly on the line. If the results go the way as planned, there could be as much as a four-game gap between fourth and fifth making it incredibly difficult for the sides outside the finals spots to force their way into the top four.

PERTH LYNX vs. SOUTHSIDE FLYERS
Friday, January 3, 6.30pm
Bendat Basketball Centre

In one of three Friday night games, a well-rested Southside Flyers returns to WNBL action against a Perth Lynx side that has been steadily improving after a mid-season slump. The Lynx have hardly made Bendat Basketball Centre a fortress this year, but remain stronger at home than on the road which is where their troubles have come from. The Flyers are coming off a rare loss, going down to Sydney Uni Flames back on December 21, which was their last game prior to the Round 12 clash. They are sitting pretty on top of the table, two games clear, and after missing a couple of key players in that game, will be keen to bounce back with an important win here. These teams have played twice so far this season, with Southside getting up at home both times, including in Perth with an 82-68 triumph back on November 29. Alison Schwagmeyer has been a force this season off the boards for the Lynx, leading their points scoring with 16 per game in 2019/20. Katie-Rae Ebzery and Lauren Mansfield have also provided plenty with their movement across the court despite both being sub-180cm. Mercedes Russell missed the last game for the Flyers, but has been superb this year, averaging just about a double-double when it comes to points (16.1) and rebounds (9.9), to be the standout center in the competition. Jenna O’Hea also missed the last game, with the Opals star another standout player this year for the top-of-the-table side. Southside head into this contest as strong favourites, but you can never discount the Lynx.

TOWNSVILLE FIRE vs. ADELAIDE LIGHTNING
Friday, January 3, 7.00pm
Townsville Stadium

With a line now all but put through their name for season 2019/20, Townsville Fire host their first game of 2020 on Friday night in a bid to try and wreck the Lightning’s chances of making finals. The Fire have slipped to three consecutive losses, including a disappointing one-point loss to Bendigo Spirit which all but ended their hopes of making finals this season. Five games adrift of the fourth placed Lightning makes it difficult given the time remaining in the season, but there is still plenty to play for in the last month. For Adelaide, it is much higher stakes, needing a win to retain the breathing space ahead of Sydney Uni and Perth who have both been sniffing around for that all-important top four position. The last time these two teams met was back in October, when Adelaide triumphed up in Townsville with an 86-68 victory. The Lightning will be hoping for much of the same in this clash, having won just one of the three encounters from the 2018/19 WNBL season. The two standouts for the Lightning are Stephanie Talbot and Brianna Turner. Talbot is averaging more than 16 points and eight rebounds per game, whilst getting close to a couple of steals and more than a block per game in a strong all-round effort. Turner on the other hand is a rebounding machine, averaging a double-double of points and rebounds, whilst providing a great defensive option close to the defensive basket, blocking opponents’ shots almost twice per game. For the Fire, Abby Bishop has had an outstanding season, and while her game last round was quiet by her standards, she still averages a team-high 15.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Darcee Garbin (13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals) and Tess Madgen (12.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists) are handy contributors, while Bridget Carleton picked up a double-double last round and averages 11.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game following her 19 and 12 respectively last round. Adelaide should get the win here, as the Lightning have a good record in Townsville, though the Fire would love to cause a few headaches for the visitors.

BENDIGO SPIRIT vs. UC CAPITALS
Friday, January 3, 7.00pm
Bendigo Stadium

In the third and final game of the Friday night trio, reigning premiers UC Capitals travel to Bendigo to take on the last placed Spirit. Whilst finals is out of reach for the potential wooden spooners, last round was a positive when the Spirit snapped a nine-game losing streak to down Townsville Fire. The Capitals have been able to make the best of an absence of Kelsey Griffin who is currently out due to an ankle injury. Last round’s win against Perth Lynx showed the Capitals have the depth to match it with anyone, as Olivia Epoupa, Marianna Tolo and Keely Froling all picked up double doubles. These sides have played twice in the past month, with the Capitals naturally getting up both times given the Spirit’s form of late. The wins were by 25 and 10 points respectively, though the Spirit will hope to ride on last week’s performance and put in a much better effort at home than the December 6 drubbing. The Spirit have three players averaging more than 10 points per game this year, with Carley Ernst leading the way with 11.4 as well as 6.5 rebounds. Demi Skinner (10.6 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Abigail Wehrung (10.3 points, 2.4 rebounds) have been busy this season, while Kelly Wilson (9.3 points, 5.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals) has been a balanced contributor. Coming off an important confidence-boosting win at home last week, the Spirit have had all three of their wins in Bendigo, with a 3-5 record there. The Capitals have been a little more shaky on the road with a 4-3 record, but should get the job done against the bottom side. Given what is on the line, being level with the Boomers in second spot, it is crucial for the Capitals to make up the 32-point differential between them and the second placed Melbourne to try and push their way into the top two.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING vs. SOUTHSIDE FLYERS
Sunday, January 5, 1.00pm
Titanium Security Arena

Playing their second game of the round and back-to-back games on the road, Southside Flyers head to Adelaide where they take on Adelaide Lightning at Titanium Security Arena on Sunday afternoon. The Lightning crucially held onto their top four spot last round, triumphing in style over reigning premiers, UC Capitals, and would love nothing more than a win against Southside Flyers here. These two teams have faced in South Australia this season already, with the Flyers getting up 91-85 back on December 1. After such a long break between games, it will be interesting to see how Southside pulls up in a second match two days after the first. Adelaide also plays its second game of the round, and will have more travelling to do, heading home from Townsville after the Friday night match, but will at least be at home for the match. Along with Talbot and Turner who have been the two standouts this year, Lauren Nicholson and Nicole Seekamp have shared in more than 25 points, six rebounds and nine assists between them. They are among a starting five that all average a steal per game, while Chelsea Brook has shown she is capable of putting up solid numbers when called upon to do so. The Flyers might have missed two of their top stars back in Round 10, but the likes of Rebecca Cole, Leilani Mitchell and Sara Blicavs ensures the league’s newest rebranded side has no problem with depth. Anneli Maley might not have a lot of points to her name, but she provides good rebounding depth off the bench and will be one who continues to be an option coming onto the court throughout games. The Flyers can almost secure top spot, and one would think a top two spot, with back-to-back victories in this round.

UC CAPITALS vs. PERTH LYNX
Sunday, January 5, 2.00pm
AIS Arena

Two sides who go at it for a second time in Round 12 are the UC Capitals and Perth Lynx who head to Canberra to face-off at AIS Arena from 2pm on Sunday. The Capitals return from Bendigo to host the clash, while the Perth cross to the eastern seaboard after a home game on Friday night. Depending on the Capitals’ result against Bendigo – which in fairness to the Spirit is expected to be a win against the bottom side – UC could well go outright second with a second victory here. The Boomers play a few hours later against the Flames in a day that if both sides win, the finals race is just about decided. Given the Capitals’ 6-1 record at home and Perth’s 2-5 record on the road, it is clear to see which team is favourite heading into this clash. Also taking into account the fact the Capitals knocked off the Lynx by a comfortable 17 points in the last outing just a week earlier – in Perth – showed they have the form and confidence to knock over the sixth placed side. There are a lot of permutations this round, but if Adelaide Lightning get the win over Townsville as expected and the Lynx lose both games, it would mean the Lynx must chase down a five-game deficit outside the top four with just four rounds remaining. It will be the third time these teams have faced off with the 17-point win to UC actually the lesser of the two victories from the reigning premiers in this head-to-head. The Capitals also won by 18 points in Canberra back in November. While the double-double trio caught headlines last round for the Capitals, you cannot forget the impact Kia Nurse has each and every week, averaging a handy 20.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The other starter is Maddison Rocci who has been flying under the radar with more than seven points and almost three assists per game. Add in Gemma Potter who has received court time every game to average almost three points and a rebound per game, and the Capitals have some youth coming through the ranks. Perth would hope to piece together a much better performance this week against the Capitals and along with Schwagmeyer and Ebzery, they need more consistency standing up each week. Imani McGee-Stafford and Ariel Atkins are a couple of American imports who show signs of breaking games open and the former is averaging 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, while the latter is 9.8 and 4.6 respectively. With Mansfield and Nadeen Payne also putting up solid numbers and Marena Whittle coming off the bench, the Lynx have the talent, they just need to build greater consistency, particularly on the road. This will be a tough game to win but give them a world of confidence if they can pull it off.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Sunday, January 5, 5.00pm
Brydens Stadium

In a game that will likely have some big ramifications for the finals race, fifth placed Sydney Uni Flames take on top two side, Melbourne Boomers. With the UC Capitals having the luxury of already having played two games prior to this tip-off, the Boomers could find themselves fighting for second spot in this game. The Flames have shown they are capable of knocking off some serious talent, taking down the Flyers in Round 10, but will still be hurting from the loss of Colleen Planeta for the season. The Boomers will have an eye on the WNBL finals considering their season, and with their depth will be favourites in this one. These sides have only played once thus far this season, with the Boomers getting up by 13 points at home. They have not played in Sydney since October 21, 2018, where the visiting side also got the chocolates on that day in an 87-75 triumph. Neither of these sides have played earlier in the round, so earn a nice break heading into this final game of Round 12. Alice Kunek is the Flames’ leading points scorer, and will share the load left by Planeta with Jessica Kuster and Alex Wilson who both average double-figure points. Lauren Scherf is an underrated player coming off the bench with seven points and eight rebounds per game, and could be the one who stands up and consolidates her starting spot with Tahlia Tupaea rounding out the five. The Boomers also have plenty of firepower across the court with Lindsay Allen and Cayla George averaging more than 30 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and three steals between them. Sophie Cunningham, Ezi Magbegor and Madeleine Garrick are the other three regular starts, all of whom average double-figure points. Last round was the first time the Boomers had a different starting five, with Cunningham absent, and Antonia Farnworth stepping up to play that role. Expect Melbourne to go all-out to try and hold onto second spot, but Sydney Uni will be keen to cause yet another upset.

WNBL Round 11 review: Spirit snaps nine-game losing streak

IT was a massive round of Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) action, with Bendigo Spirit snapping a nine-game losing streak to draw level with Townsville Fire in the bottom two spots, while the top four seems almost done and dusted with a two and a half-game gap between fourth and fifth.

Adelaide Lightning (78) defeated UC Capitals (68)

It took until overtime, but Adelaide Lightning managed to get the job done at home against the reigning premiers, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals by 10 points. The Lightning proved to be a crowd-pleaser in Adelaide, desperately needing a win to retain fourth spot with the likes of Sydney Uni Flames and Perth Lynx edging closer, while the Capitals had to claim victory in order to temporarily take second spot. It was the Capitals who started the stronger of the sides, piling on 21 points to 16 in the first term, then led by seven at half-time to look pretty solid at the main break. But the third term out of nowhere saw the Lightning take back the momentum and completely dominate the play, sinking 17 points to nine to remarkably lead at the final break, albeit by a solitary point. A high scoring final term resulted in the Capitals drawing level by the end of regular time, but the momentum was with the Lightning who shot 17 points to seven in the overtime to run out as comfortable winners as an overtime victory goes. Stephanie Talbot led the charge for the home side with a massive 21 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks, teaming well off the boards with partner-in-crime, Brianna Turner (11 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks and one steal). Lauren Nicholson (15 points, two rebounds and two steals) and Nicole Seekamp (seven points, seven rebounds and nine assists) provided good support, while Chelsea Brook showed how bright of a future she has with 14 points and four rebounds off the bench. The Capitals had a couple of standouts in the absence of Kelsey Griffin, with Marianna Tolo starring thanks to 22 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks, while Kia Nurse sank 16 points, and had five rebounds, five assists and three steals. Olivia Epoupa (seven points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four steals was prominent across the board, while Maddison Rocci (eight points, five rebounds) and Keely Froling (seven points, six rebounds and four blocks) provided plenty of rebounding power.

DC Medal: 3 – Stephanie Talbot (AD), 2 – Marianna Tolo (UC), 1 – Brianna Turner (AD)

Melbourne Boomers (77) defeated Townsville Fire (61)

Melbourne took full advantage of a UC Capitals loss with both games on simultaneously, as the Boomers gained some vital breathing space in second spot as they grabbed their tenth win in their final game of 2019. Playing at home against bottom two side, Townsville Fire, the Boomers were strong favourites to take it out, and despite some resistance in the first term which saw both sides head into quarter time with 20 points apiece, Melbourne clicked after that. The Boomers scored 23 points to 16 in the second term to lead by seven at half-time, and had increased their lead to 11 by the final break. Not willing to take the foot off in the final term, Melbourne added 18 points to 13 in the last quarter to secure a fairly comfortable win, 77-61. Cayla George was the standout on court, sinking 27 points and helping herself to three rebounds and two steals. Lindsay Allen (10 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals) was the other player to reach double figures from the starters, while Stella Beck (14 points, three rebounds and two assists) did it coming off the bench. The home side dominated rebounds, 38-29, with the likes of Ezi Magbegor (nine) and Kalani Purcell (nine) leading the way, with Purcell also picking up six assists and four steals to be the ultimate team player as she contributed just four points. For the Fire, Abby Bishop again led proceedings in the scoring department, adding 19 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Tess Madgen helped herself to 13 points, three rebounds and four assists. Julie Vanloo (10 points, two steals) also reached double figures, while Darcee Garbin might have had a night to forget in terms of shooting (one from seven from the field), but still recorded seven rebounds and three assists. Kate Gaze came off the bench for five points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in a solid performance.

DC Medal: 3 – Cayla George (MB), 2 – Abby Bishop (TF), 1 – Stella Beck (MB)

Bendigo Spirit (79) defeated Townsville Fire (78)

Last placed Bendigo Spirit snapped a nine-game losing streak by holding on in a one-point thriller over fellow bottom two side, Townsville Fire. While Bendigo’s hopes of making finals were all but over prior to the game, the Spirit effectively ended the Fire’s chances by toppling them in the contest. It also meant Bendigo moved to within points difference of the Fire in seventh place on the ladder. In the match, neither side could be split at quarter time, before Townsville hit the front by two points at the half. Bendigo regained control by the final break with a powerful 27-21 third quarter, which earned a response from the visiting side. In one of the nail-biters of the season, Townsville scored 15 points to 12 in the last quarter, but it would not be enough to get the points. Carley Ernst led the way for the Spirit, sinking 24 points and picking up six rebounds and two assists in the process, while Abigail Wehrung helped herself to 18 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Demi Skinner (16 points, five rebounds) and Shyla Heal (12 points, five rebounds) also reached double figures in what was a terrific team effort. For the losing side, Bridget Carleton shone across the board to be arguably the best-on despite the loss, picking up 19 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Tess Madgen (17 points, five rebounds and two assists) and Darcee Garbin (13 points, four rebounds) also were prominent in the starting line-up, while Micaela Cocks (10 points, two rebounds) contributed coming off the bench.

DC Medal: 3 – Bridget Carleton (TF), 2 – Carley Ernst (BS), 1 – Abigail Wehrung (BS)

Perth Lynx (59) defeated by UC Capitals (76)

The University of Canberra (UC) Capitals have drawn level with Melbourne Boomers in second spot after a dominant second term helped the reigning premiers overcome Perth Lynx on the road by 17 points. Neither side could be split in the opening term, but a 26-11 rout in the second stanza saw the Capitals race out to a 15-point half-time lead. Perth cut the deficit to 12 by the final break, before the Capitals put the foot back on the pedal with a 17-12 last term to run out 76-59 winners at Bendat Basketball Centre. Three Capitals picked up double doubles, with Tolo (21 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and four blocks), Froling (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Epoupa (10 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists) all reaching the milestone. Nurse was not too far behind to make a dominant starting four with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Rocci had six points, three rebounds and six assists in the win. For the Lynx, Katie-Rae Ebzery was a lone hand in attack with 25 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. The next highest scorers were Ariel Atkins (eight points, four rebounds and two steals) and Imani McGee-Stafford (eight points, six rebounds), while Marena Whittle amassed 13 rebounds to go with four points.

DC Medal: 3 – Olivia Epoupa (UC), 2 – Marianna Tolo (UC), 1 – Keely Froling (UC)

Sydney Uni Flames (72) defeated by Adelaide Lightning (80)

Adelaide has consolidated fourth spot with a crucial eight-point win over Sydney Uni Flames on the road. The Lightning moved two and a half games clear of the Flames in fifth, with Perth Lynx’s loss also helping give the Lightning a crucial break inside the finals spots. The Lightning got off to a good start to lead by two points at quarter time, but the Flames refused to throw in the towel, maintaining the narrow deficit by the main break. It was the third term where Adelaide kicked away with a 17-10 quarter to open up a nine-point advantage. Wary of a comeback in front of their home fans, the Lightning did not allow the Flames to gain too much momentum in the fourth term, with Sydney Uni only cutting the deficit by one at the final whistle to go down 72-80. Kathryn Westbeld continues to improve for the Lightning, starting and producing 17 points, four rebounds and three assists for the afternoon, while Talbot was best-on for the Lightning, sinking 13 points, and having nine rebounds and nine assists – just one rebound and one assist away from a triple-double. Nicholson (13 points, three rebounds and two assists) and Seekamp (13 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals) also contributed plenty of points for the evening. For the losing side, Alice Kunek was a standout with 26 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Jessica Kuster (14 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) and Alex Wilson (14 points, two rebounds, four assists and three steals) also reached double-figure points.

DC Medal: 3 – Stephanie Talbot (AD), 2 – Alice Kunek (SU), 1 – Kathryn Westbeld (AD)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

25 – Mercedes Russell (SF), Cayla George (MB)
24 –
23 –
22 –
21 – Kelsey Griffin (UC)
20 – Stephanie Talbot (AL)
19 –
18 –
17 –
16 – Lindsay Allen (MB)
15 – Brianna Turner (AL)
14 – Alice Kunek (SU),
13 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL), Abby Bishop (TF)
12 – Alison Schwagmeyer (PL), Colleen Planeta (AD), Olivia Epoupa (UC)
11 – Kia Nurse (UC)
10 – Jenna O’Hea (SF), Keely Froling (UC)
9 – Madeleine Garrick (MB), Darcee Garbin (TF)
8 – Leilani Mitchell (SF), Carley Ernst (BS),
7 – Jessica Kuster (SU), Bridget Carleton (TF)
6 – Imani McGee-Stafford (PL), Sara Blicavs (SF), Marianna Tolo (UC)
5 – Tahlia Tupaea (SU), Ezi Magbegor (MB)
4 – Kelly Wilson (BS), Tess Madgen (TF)
3 – Rebecca Tobin (BS), Rebecca Cole (SF), Lauren Nicholson (AL),  Tessa Lavey (BS)
2 – Crystal Langhorne (AD), Micaela Cocks (TF), Chelsea Brook (AD), Lauren Mansfield (PL), Nicole Seekamp (AL)
1 – Sophie Cunningham (MB), Ariel Atkins (PL), Alex Wilson (SU), Anneli Maley (SF), Stella Beck (MB), Abigail Wehrung (BS), Kathryn Westbeld (AD)

2019/20 WNBL Round 11 preview: Top four spots on the line to close out the year

FIVE Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) games will be played between Christmas and the New Year with the top of the table Southside Flyers to have a week off, while University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, Adelaide Lightning and Townsville Fire all play two games.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING vs. UC CAPITALS
Friday, December 27, 7:00pm
Titanium Security Arena

In the first game post-Christmas, fourth placed Adelaide Lightning will be keen to bridge the gap between themselves and third spot on the ladder, UC Capitals. This top four clash could well determine if a spot in the top three is still up for grabs, or whether or not the reigning premiers can consolidate their position with the top two Victorian sides. For Adelaide, a win keeps the Lightning in touch with the top three, while a loss throws them back to a mid-table log-jam. These teams have played just once this season, with the Capitals getting up at home by seven points. With Kelsey Griffin missing last round, it was the likes of Keely Froling who stood tall, picking up 30 points and taking her average to 14.3 points per game as well as 6.8 rebounds. Kia Nurse has been a consistent scorer for the Capitals with 20.4 points per game, while Olivia Epoupa continues to rack up the stats across the board, averaging 8.3 points. 6.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.3 steals per game. For the Lightning, the damaging duo of Stephanie Talbot (16.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game) and Brianna Turner (15.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals) have been the key players throughout the 2019/20 WNBL season.

MELBOURNE BOOMERS vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Friday, December 27, 7:30pm
State Basketball Centre

In Victoria, Melbourne hosts Townsville in a bid to retain second spot on the table after snatching it last round. The Boomers host the Fire who are just about out of finals contention, winning just three games from 12 so far this season and are three games outside the top four. For the Boomers, grabbing a top two spot will be crucial in their hopes of making it one step further than last year, and have a 5-2 win-loss record at home, while Townsville is just 1-5 when on the road this season. In these side’s only other head-to-head, Melbourne got up by nine points up in Queensland, with them previously winning both fixtures at home in the 2018/19 season, albeit by a combined 10 points. One can expect this will be an exciting contest, with the likes of Boomers Lindsay Allen (16.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.3 steals) and Cayla George (13.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks) leading the charge, while Ezi Magbegor has been in good form of late. Abby Bishop continues to dominate games for Townsville, standing up each and every week to average 16.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals per game, while Darcee Garbin (14.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game) and Tess Madgen (11.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals) have also been strong performers.

BENDIGO SPIRIT vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Saturday, December 28, 7:00pm
Bendigo Stadium

Townsville has less than 24 hours to turnaround from the contest against the Boomers in order to face bottom placed Bendigo Spirit up at Bendigo Stadium. It is fair to say a loss for the Fire here would rule them out of the finals race, and join the Spirit as the other team out of contention. Bendigo has a chance to draw within points difference of the Fire if it can get a good result here, but with nine consecutive losses, the Spirit have not had the start to the season they would have liked. The good news for Bendigo is they are better at home than on the road, winning both their games there, but they came early in the season, though Townsville are worse on the road with the 1-5 record. Carley Ernst was again prolific in the Spirit’s performance last round, averaging 10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season, while Demi Skinner has progressed from the bench to the starting line-up, averaging 10.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Kelly Wilson is the other standout player this season for the Spirit, posting up numbers of 9.9 points. 4.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Bridget Carleton has been a valuable addition to the fire this season, with the Canadian putting up numbers of 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while Belgium’s Julie Vanloo averages the 8.1 points and 3.6 assists.

PERTH LYNX vs. UC CAPITALS
Sunday December 29, 1:00pm
Bendat Basketball Centre

Staying in the finals race last weekend, sixth placed Perth Lynx will hope to stand up against the reigning premiers, UC Capitals at home when the teams clash on Sunday afternoon. The Lynx are just half a game outside of fifth from Sydney Uni Flames, and a game and a half from fourth placed Adelaide Lightning as both those teams clash in Sydney later on in the afternoon. In this match, the Capitals will eye off second spot once against after Melbourne snatched it in Round 10. The Capitals have only played five games on the road, registering a 3-2 win-loss record, while the Lynx have split their home games at three wins and three losses apiece. In their only other encounter this season, the Capitals easily got the win at home, producing an 18-point win over the Lynx. Alison Schwagmeyer (16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists) has been important for the home side this season, as have Katie-Rae Ebzery (14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.4 blocks) and Imani McGee-Stafford (11.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks). The Capitals have no shortage of contributors this season, with others who have been strong performers across the board including Marianna Tolo (11.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks), Maddison Rocci (7.1 points, 2.4 assists) and Gemma Potter (2.8 points, 1.2 rebounds) who have been involved in all games when available.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES vs. ADELAIDE LIGHTNING
Sunday, December 29, 5:00pm
Brydens Stadium

To round out the weekend, Sydney Uni Flames will be eyeing off fourth spot with a do-or-die clash against Adelaide Lightning. Adelaide has first crack at retaining fourth spot courtesy of a match against UC Capitals on Friday night, but lose that and it is game-on here. The winner will secure fourth in that scenario, and while Sydney Uni’s points difference is a concern (minus 64), it has started to build some good form of late, winning both games last weekend, including an all-important victory over Southside Flyers. The Flames were able to topple the Lightning just a couple of weeks ago in Sydney and will be aiming to repeat the dose in this Round 11 match. Back in Round 1, Adelaide got the chocolates with a 10-point win in South Australia. Sydney holds a positive 3-2 record at home, while the Lightning are two from six when on the road. Alice Kunek has mirrored the team’s form as she racks up double doubles with ease, averaging 18.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, teaming well with Jessica Kuster (12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals). Colleen Planeta (15.7 points, 6.8 rebounds) has been constantly along the best and will leave a hole in the line-up after it was confirmed she injured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the Flames’ last game, while Alex Wilson (11.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists) is always prominent. Talbot and Turner have been the key duo this season for the Lightning, but Lauren Nicholson (14.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game) and Nicole Seekamp (11.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists) are always carefully monitored by the opposition. A crucial game to close out the round and the year.

2019/20 NBL preview: Round 13/14 – The look ahead

IN a special National Basketball League (NBL) preview, we take a look at each NBL side and their upcoming games in Round 13 and Round 14 to determine where they might be situated heading into the final month of basketball action.

1 SYDNEY KINGS

Position: 1st
Wins: 13
Losses: 4
Points: 26
Difference: +105

vs. Perth Wildcats | Saturday, December 28, 5:30pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Tuesday, December 31, 5:30pm | WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Saturday, January 4, 8:00pm | Qudos Bank Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 3rd

The Sydney Kings come into the top of the table clash against Perth Wildcats in somewhat shaky form, but remain a win clear with the Wildcats ahead of the big game at Qudos Bank Arena. The Kings will still start favourites, but the Wildcats had been on a nice run before dropping a game to Melbourne United last round which saw them miss the opportunity to steal top spot temporarily. The Kings then take on Illawarra Hawks on the road and will celebrate the New Year in Cairns this year, before a four-day break ahead of the big game against fifth placed Adelaide 36ers who will be in the top four by that stage. There is a reason the Kings are on top of the table, with enviable depth, but mostly because of the top-end talent. Some sides have players that are great that fill the same roles, while the Kings seem to have found a player to fill each role to perfection. NBA center, Andrew Bogut continues to be a force to be reckoned with despite some inconsistent form of late, while Casper Ware is a points-scoring machine this season. Jae’Sean Tate is one player touted to earn an NBA spot at some stage if not next season, while draft hopeful Didi Louzada has been flying under the radar this season. Throw in Australian bigs, Brad Newley and Craig Moller, and the Kings have a really strong starting five and one. Still the team to beat given the depth of the side, plus the three A graders and a couple of B graders in their starting line-up.

2 PERTH WILDCATS

Position: 2nd
Wins: 12
Losses: 6
Points: 24
Difference: +45

vs. Sydney Kings | Saturday, December 28, 5:30pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Wednesday, January 1, 5:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Brisbane Bullets  | Sunday, January 5, 5:00pm | Queensland State Netball Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 3rd

Reigning champions Perth Wildcats might have shown some inconsistencies at the start of the season, but hit their straps midyear to sit second heading into the last game prior to 2020. They would love nothing more than to take the scalp of the top-ranked Kings and eye off top spot, but still have to get the job done with two games in the New Year over the next couple of weeks. They will rack up the frequent flyer miles with three consecutive games on the road, starting in Sydney on December 28, before flying to Adelaide for the New Year’s Day clash against the 36ers, before the trek up to Queensland for the battle against the Bullets on January 5. They are pretty secured inside the top three, but the first two games in particular are ones they will want to win to assert their dominance and put themselves in the best position for the extra home final and a chance at back-to-back flags. Bryce Cotton has continued his remarkable 2018/19 season form, averaging around 22 points per game, well aided by Terrico White who has the 16.3 points per game average. Nick Kay has been a third scorer for the Wildcats with 14 points and 7.7 rebounds, but the knock will be the depth after that. Dario Hunt has proven handy, and is the next highest with 8.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, but no player averages more than four assists or rebounds, or seven points per game – aside from Clint Steindl (8.2) – so they will need others to stand up if the likes of Cotton and White are held like they were against United. Still plenty of youth cycling through to force competitiveness amongst the roster.

3 MELBOURNE UNITED

Position: 3rd
Wins: 10
Losses: 7
Points: 20
Difference: +63

vs Cairns Taipans | Thursday, December 26, 5:30pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Brisbane Bullets | Sunday, December 29, 5:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Saturday, January 4, 5:30pm |  WIN Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 1st
Worst Possible position post-R14: 5th

They took a while to gel, but once they got going, United became a damaging force within the NBL. They have won seven of their past 10 games, including two on the trot which given the evenness of the competition, is the equal most of any side with New Zealand Breakers the other. In the three games they have over the next two rounds, Melbourne take on the two Queensland sides back-to-back at Melbourne Arena with a handy three-day preparation in between, before a six-day break before travelling to Cairns on January 4 in what is set to be a blockbuster game against the new-and-improved Taipans. Melo Trimble gets to face his old side once again, and the 191cm guard has been in all sorts of terrific form, averaging 22 points per game, and more than four rebounds and four assists as well. Shawn Long crossed the ditch from the Breakers over the off-season and has been absolutely phenomenal this year, earning the nickname “Mr Double Double” and he has rarely missed out on the opportunity to stuff the stats sheet. In 17 games this season, Long has averaged 19.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game to be the premier center and set to be named in that role for the Team of the Year, and potentially take the MVP off fellow center, Bogut. Chris Goulding is the other exclusive scorer who has put up more than 17 points per game, while Mitch McCarron and David Barlow are always contributing strongly. Similar to the Kings, United has a variety of damaging players who fill different roles, rather than all of the same kind. Long and Trimble are good enough to lead this team to a title, with the next three durable and consistent as they come. United cannot afford to lose all three games though and potentially drop out of the top four.

4 CAIRNS TAIPANS

Position: 4th
Wins: 8
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: +22

vs. Melbourne United | Thursday, December 26, 5:30pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix | Tuesday, December 31, 8:00pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. Brisbane Bullets | Friday, January 3, 7.30pm | Cairns Convention Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 7th

Cairns handed its fans an early Christmas present with a win last round to grab fourth spot back from Adelaide 36ers. The 36ers dropped a home game to bottom of the ladder Illawarra Hawks, while the Taipans – who lost back-to-back games in Round 11 – took back the spot they had worked so hard to earn after a slow start. Dubbed the most exciting team in the NBL by plenty on social media, the Taipans might not have the same star factor as other sides, but they have proved that they can impact a game outside the stats. A tough few games are coming up with a Boxing Day clash against United in Melbourne the biggest of the lot, before back-to-back games in Cairns either side of New Year, with matches against South East Melbourne Phoenix and Brisbane Bullets. The Taipans will need to win at least two games to retain fourth spot, but a third win would likely guarantee it given the 36ers have games against the top two teams as well as the bottom two ones coming up. While the Taipans might lack the star power other sides have, it would be remiss not to consider American import, Cameron Oliver in that star power bracket, with the 203cm forward shooting 16.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. While he averages less than an assist per game, he has his role off the boards to give it to the likes of Scott Machado (14.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game) who does all the playmaking for the side, whilst pickpocketing the opposition with 1.5 steals per game. While those two have been the standouts all season, Majok Deng (13.2 points and 3.9 rebounds) and Kouat Noi (11.4 and 6.5) have also been strong off the boards. Cairns’ rebounding is a strength in the game, and the Taipans can move it end-to-end really well. Wins are just crucial now given the mid-table log-jam.

5 ADELAIDE 36ERS

Position: 5th
Wins: 8
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: -37

vs. New Zealand Breakers | Sunday, December 29, 3:00pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Perth Wildcats | Wednesday, January 1, 5:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. Sydney Kings | Saturday, January 4, 8:00pm | Qudos Bank Arena
vs. Illawarra Hawks | Monday, January 6, 7:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 2nd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

Finalists last year, the 36ers would be ruing their missed opportunity when they went down to Illawarra at home last Friday night. They have a chance to atone in the New Year at the same venue, and have been treated to a relatively good fixture for a team having to play four games over the next couple of weeks. First they host New Zealand Breakers on Sunday, then welcome Perth in a New Years Day classic, before travelling to Sydney three days later for a date with the Kings. They round up their four-game schedule over Rounds 13 and 14 with a home match against the Hawks on Monday, January 6. Over the off-season, Adelaide lost a star in Nathan Sobey, but recruited one of the best talents in the NBL in Jerome Randle. The pure scorer has put up 20.2 points per game this season to go with 4.5 assists per game, while Daniel Johnson is averaging another couple of rebounds a game to go with his 16.8 points. Eric Griffin has had an impact off the bench and got better as the season has worn on, teaming well with Johnson in the forward-center role, as has Harry Froling who is another 211cm giant. Jack McVeigh has been an influence over the last couple of weeks and would not be far away from earning a start, while Ramone Moore has played both starting and bench roles this season. This next couple of weeks could determine Adelaide’s season, with the 36ers playing the top two sides and the bottom two sides, but remarkably could end up anywhere from second to last based on other team’s results. Expect them to maintain a spot in the mid-table, but it is fascinating just to see how much of a knives-edge their season is on.

6 SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

Position: 6th
Wins: 7
Losses: 9
Points: 16
Difference: -6

vs. Illawarra Hawks | Saturday, December 28, 8:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Cairns Taipans | Tuesday, December 31, 8:00pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. New Zealand Breakers | Sunday, January 5, 3:00pm | Melbourne Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

The Phoenix started like a house on fire in season 2019/20, but have just been smouldering since, losing eight of the past 11 and just doing enough to stay in touch with the top four. They desperately need to start racking up the ‘Ws’ if they are not to fall behind, and have a kind enough draw over the next couple of weeks to do so. They have home games either side of the New Year against bottom two teams, Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers which if they are to be a real contender this season, should bank them without too much problem – especially given the Hawks and Breakers have a combined 3-12 record on the road – two of which came last round. Round 13 and 14 is make or break for the Phoenix, and realistically, with the exception of Mitch Creek every week, they have not had the consistency the teams above them have had. Creek has been phenomenal as expected and would be a challenger for the MVP this season, posting numbers of around 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one steal per game. John Roberson has shown his clutch ability, such as against the 36ers a couple of rounds ago when he sank 21 points in six minutes to win the game in overtime. Ben Madgen has been solid without being outstanding, while Dane Pineau and Adam Gibson have shown glimpses at times. They just need to find more consistency in their game, with more regular support for Creek from players that have potential, but just cannot fire together at times. The Phoenix could lift themselves up into the top four with wins here, or drop into the bottom couple if they lose them all. Three losses would spell danger for their finals hopes and no doubt there would be some reaching for the panic button if three losses eventuated.

7 BRISBANE BULLETS

Position: 7th
Wins: 7
Losses: 9
Points: 14
Difference: -41

vs New Zealand Breakers | Friday, December 27, 7:30pm | Queensland State Netball Centre
vs. Melbourne United | Sunday, December 29, 5:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Cairns Taipans | Friday, January 3, 7.30pm | Cairns Convention Centre
vs. Perth Wildcats | Sunday, January 5, 5:00pm | Queensland State Netball Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 3rd
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

Brisbane has shown this season that it is that genuine mid-table team that on its best day can challenge the top sides – such as knocking off the Kings last week – but does not quite have the firepower of the top three sides. They have a huge couple of weeks coming up with limited rest between games. Luckily for the Bullets, they have three of the four games in Queensland, starting with a must-win home clash against New Zealand Breakers on Friday night. They then make a trip down to Melbourne two days later for a tough assignment against United, before returning to the Sunshine State in the New Year for a head-to-head against the Taipans, and then at home two days later against reigning premiers, Perth. Like Adelaide and South East Melbourne, Brisbane’s season is on a knives-edge. Win all four and all of a sudden the Bullets have fired into the top four. Lose them, and they will be staring down the barrel of a bottom two finish. The Breakers should be a non-negotiable win given New Zealand’s track record on the road, while Brisbane genuinely play well at home (5-2) compared to their away trips (2-7) which means the Bullets will likely finish Round 14 with an additional two wins to their name, but potentially a third if they can grab the win against Cairns. Lamar Patterson (19.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists) deserves Team of the Year honours, working hard with recruit Nathan Sobey (15.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists). The area of concern for the Bullets is the inconsistencies of the rest of the team, with Will Magnay starring in his first start last week and will likely remain there from here-on, while Matt Hodgson and Jason Cadee have been solid this season. Brisbane does not have the A-grade talent outside of Patterson and Sobey, but with more internal improvement such as Magnay’s double-double performance last week, they could trouble a few sides on the run home.

8 NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS

Position: 8th
Wins: 6
Losses: 10
Points: 12
Difference: -33

vs. Brisbane Bullets | Friday, December 27, 7:30pm | Queensland State Netball Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Sunday, December 29, 3:00pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre
vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix | Sunday, January 5, 3:00pm | Melbourne Arena

Best Possible Position post-R14: 4th
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

A week ago this side was dead and buried, the fans were frustrated given the bad luck they had endured between injuries and suspensions, and their star player in Corey Webster was loaned to China in order to bank $150,000 with the season seemingly gone. A week later, New Zealand banked back-to-back wins, trumping the Phoenix at home, then finally breaking its road win drought with an important late win over the Illawarra Hawks. While the money for Webster will be crucial for the club, fans might begin to wonder what could be if the Breakers can build on the form from last round. They actually have a few friendly games coming up over the next couple of weeks with three sides outside the top four in Brisbane, Adelaide and South East Melbourne all on the schedule. The problem? They are all on the road, and with six consecutive losses when travelling until New Zealand finally broke the drought, the Breakers are not a side that travels well. They have to head to Queensland on Friday, before jumping on a plane to Adelaide for a second game two days later. They have a week’s break before crossing the ditch again, this time to try and repeat their efforts against the Phoenix, albeit on Australian soil. The bad luck that has plagued the Breakers this season has included injuries to NBA top five draft pick hopeful, RJ Hampton and Scotty Hopson, with Hopson’s replacement Glen Rice Jr coming into the side, having a massive impact in three games before having his contract torn up for ill-discipline off the court. Webster has since been loaned so with only Hopson in the side of late, it has been a real time of change for the Breakers. Others have had to stand up, which they have in recent weeks, with Sek Henry, Thomas Abercrombie and Brandon Ashley all playing important roles, as Robert Loe is beginning to become the starting center they had hoped. Realistically, unless the cards all fall their way and they can continue on the form they have shown – and more importantly learn to be a threat on the road consistently – finals are not something many would expect for the Breakers this season. They have some good young players coming up and could be a team to watch in 2020/21, but for now, it is about playing as well as they can and proving some doubters wrong for the rest of the season.

9 ILLAWARRA HAWKS

Position: 9th
Wins: 4
Losses: 12
Points: 8
Difference: -118

vs South-East Melbourne Phoenix | Saturday, December 28, 8:00pm | Melbourne Arena
vs. Sydney Kings | Tuesday, December 31, 5:30pm | WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Melbourne United | Saturday, January 4, 5:30pm |  WIN Entertainment Centre
vs. Adelaide 36ers | Monday, January 6, 7:30pm | Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Best Possible Position post-R14: 5th
Worst Possible position post-R14: 9th

It is not often the bottom side on the ladder is the most watched and attended team in any competition, but it goes to show just how much of a drawcard potential number one pick in the 2020 NBA Draft LaMelo Ball is to basketball fans. Destined to be a terrific talent in the future, Ball puts bums on seats and helped the Hawks smash plenty of attendance and viewing records. It has been equally disappointing for the Hawks that Ball has been missing the last few weeks due to injury, with an expected return date early in the New Year. Aaron Brooks was set to form a really dominant one-two partnership with Ball in the NBL this season, but he managed just seven games before going down with injury and ruled out for the remainder of the 2019/20 NBL season. Without the pair in the side, the Hawks effectively lose 35 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists per game which is the combined average of the pair. They now have an incredibly tough draw over the next four games with a trip to Melbourne on Saturday against the Phoenix a challenging encounter, before a couple of games at home either side of the New Year, though both come against title contenders, Sydney and Melbourne. They wrap up the four-game schedule with a visit to Adelaide to face the 36ers in the last game of Round 14. Todd Blanchfield is the only Hawks player to have started every game this season, averaging 11.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per match, while AJ Ogilvy has been a consistent player off the boards with 10.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Theoretically, the Hawks could move as high as fifth, but would need so many results to fall their way. Though if they can win three of the four games somehow, then they put themselves in contention for finals. Realistically though, they are still three and a half games outside the top four, and it would take a miracle to get back from here.