Author: Vincent van Oorschot

Taipans slither away from the Kings, steal one-point victory in final minute

NORTH Queensland witnessed a theft last night as the Cairns Taipans snatched a Round 1 victory last night against reigning grand finalist Sydney Kings, 87-86, at the Cairns Pop Up Arena. The result was decided thanks to a last second miss at the buzzer by Casper Ware which bounced off the back of the rim.

Offence was free-flowing to say the least in the initial 10 minutes, with the Kings edging out a comfortable six-point lead after one and putting up 30 points in the process.

Most noticeably early on was the duel that presented itself between two of the best point guards in the entire NBL. Ware and Scott Machado each led their sides in scoring at the opening intermission, while Machado particularly was the Taipans’ sole facilitator with all six of his team’s assists through 15 minutes.

In areas such as three-point shooting, assists and blocks on the defensive end, the Kings made their mark on the scoreboard in other ways. This included points in the paint, from turnovers and from off the bench – enough to give Sydney the subtle one-point lead at half-time.

Mirko Djeric and Machado each led Cairns on the scoring front through 20 minutes with 12 points each, but the efforts made by Mike Kelly’s squad were upended by Ware’s ability to convert, putting up 15 points by the long huddle and holding a minimal 51-50 lead.

Picking up the intensity early on in the second half, Brad Newley and Dejan Vasiljevic started to provide some results for Sydney, but Cairns’ frontcourt weapons became prominent too, as Majok Deng and Kouat Noi started to become a nuisance down low.

The third quarter became a term of ups and downs with each team gaining the upper hand on multiple occasions. The lead would change hands at four different times in the period, but Sydney held serve with a minute to play going up by six points. A Mojave King layup with 40 seconds left before three quarter time made a two-point difference, but Newley’s put-back layup on the buzzer placed the score at 70-64 with a quarter to go and pushed the lead back out to six points.

It seemed that whenever the Taipans garnered momentum, the Kings had a way of re-establishing command of the game. Additional efforts made by Cameron Oliver and others in the starting five needed to come through in the last couple of minutes, and with 140 seconds left Machado handed his team the lead after his third three of the night. But again, second-year prospect in Jordan Hunter gave the lead back to Sydney after laying up his ninth point with a minute and a half left.

Free throws made by Oliver changed the lead once again, setting up a last second shot for Ware. Occurring on the three-point attempt and after a referee consultation, a last second foul on Machado placed the ball on the sideline with three seconds remaining. But Cairns would hold on after one last attempt by Ware for the win, securing their first win of the season by a single point.

All five of Cairns’ starters achieved totals of over 10 points with Machado at the forefront once again. He finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, as Djeric was effective from behind the arch per usual with four triples amongst his 15 points. Oliver left the floor with another 12-point and 11-rebound double-double, while Deng and Noi compiled 13 and 12 points respectively.

Ware concluded his night with a modest 18 points, as the rest of his fellow starters were relatively absent all night. Vasiljevic’s 15 points and four rebounds summarised a decent NBL debut, while league veteran Newley looked good with 14 points and six rebounds.

Cairns look for more good fortune when they face The Hawks to close out Round One on Monday and slow the roll of an outfit with a new sense of confidence. Sydney returns to the hardwood a week from now to exact revenge on the Taipans in the reverse fixture during Round 2.

Picture: Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images

Hawks make statement win over Bullets, Goorjian finds instant results

AS a part of an entertaining twist to the start of the season for last year’s wooden spooners, The Hawks toppled the Brisbane Bullets, 90-84, and consolidated their first win on their first attempt in hostile territory, thus ending a losing streak that dated back to middle stages of the 2019/20 campaign.

In front of their restless and eager home crowd, the Bullets made sure to get their noses in front right away, putting up seven of the first nine points in yesterday’s opener with Vic Law marking his NBL debut on an alley-oop jam.

Despite a somewhat sluggish start for The Hawks, Brian Goorjian’s side started to make some headway, hanging with their opponents throughout the opening quarter and ultimately tying the game up at 23-23 heading into quarter time with Nathan Sobey and Law putting up six points each for the Bullets, while Emmett Naar held six as well for the Hawks.

After what was an inconsistent opening period, the second proved to be more of a grind for both sides as each team had to go the extra mile in converting on field goals. However, key moments from individuals like Jason Cadee and his deadeye accuracy from deep provided Brisbane with extra motivation in the first half.

But the Hawks continued to stick around in the second term, leading 41-38 at half time in Nissan Arena and neutralising the home crowd in the process. Justin Simon led all scorers after 20 minutes with 11 points and four rebounds, while Law held a team-high eight points at the main break for the Bullets.

Obtaining three of the first four buckets, the visitors extended their lead to seven points and took a firm grasp of the game coming out of half-time. The Bullets answered back quickly getting back to within a possession and keeping those in attendance on the edge of their seats.

With scoring coming at a premium on both ends, Brisbane’s deficit remained at three points with just a quarter left to play even though marquee signings Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling were putting up substantial contributions. But Harry’s younger brother Sam Froling had other things on his mind, collecting his fifteenth point of the clash moments before the conclusion of the third.

Another triple from Cadee three minutes into the fourth gave Brisbane the lead, after which Cameron Bairstow responded back with a three of his own, commencing a high-octane final quarter.

Following a sequence of events in the final couple of minutes that saw Bairstow convert on numerous late baskets, another awesome alley-oop to Law and Sam Froling putting the exclamation point on his opening game of the season, the Hawks snapped a 10-game losing streak that dated back to mid-way through last season with Coach Goorjian starting his leadership at the Illawarra-based side with a massive win.

Excluding their average 43 per cent conversion rate, the Hawks relied on their second chance points (13) and their bench, who outscored Brisbane’s secondary unit 39 to 24, which was helped by forcing 12 takeaways from yesterday’s hosts.

Froling rounded out an impressive performance last night with 19 points and four rebounds credited to his name, as Naar was imperative off the bench with the second-highest 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Furthermore, Tyler Harvey (16 points and three rebounds) and Justin Simon (13 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists) each cracked double-digits for the Illawarra-based squad.

Despite taking the loss, the Bullets’ captain was instrumental for his side, as Sobey logged 19 points and three assists, but giving up the ball five times on the other hand. Law also impressed with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Drmic (14 points and five rebounds), Cadee (12 points from four threes) and Froling (10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) all made sizeable contributions.

The Hawks can continue their dream start with another win on Monday, but this time against an imposing Cairns Taipans side who are ready to initiate another championship push. As for the Bullets, they have until Thursday to get their act together before commencing their rematch against the Hawks once again.

Picture: Getty Images

NBL21 season previews: Sydney Kings

ARGUABLY the best performing side during the 2019/20 regular season, the Sydney Kings have perhaps the biggest level of motivation going into NBL21, despite not finding championship glory in last year’s Grand Final series.

Finishing a game above the eventual reigning champion Perth Wildcats after 28 regular season outings and a record of 20 wins and eight losses, many had the Kings as heavy-handed favourites given their form heading into finals. Unfortunately, this was not the case for former gaffer Will Weaver’s playing list. Later on, some key departures during the Free Agency period have made Sydney’s plans to work their way back to the top-four slightly more difficult.

With Australian basketball legend Andrew Bogut announcing his retirement recently, the Kings will be without a key component in the frontcourt and on the defensive end. Furthermore, the omission of Kevin Lisch from this season’s roster will also mean a major hit to the team’s leadership structure, but not necessarily for the worse, as many more returning players will look to step it up into more prominent roles.

Key pickups for Sydney in the offseason domestically came by way of two up and coming prospects ready to hit the ground running. 23-year-old Dejan Vasiljevic has made his return back home to Australia after a successful collegiate career at the University of Miami, while 22-year-old Angus Glover has made a less sizeable move from Illawarra to the big city.

In what will be his fifth season in the NBL and his second campaign in Sydney, Casper Ware returns as an import for last season’s runners-ups after leading the team in points (19.7 per game) and assists (3.7 per game) and being selected to the league’s All-NBL Second Team at the conclusion of the fixture in 2020. The second of the Kings’ two imports is Louisiana native Jarell Martin, a former member of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic (192 games and 40 starts) in the NBA.

Other internationals to arrive to Sydney this season include the returning Next Stars nominee Didi Louzada, who averaged a respectable 10.3 points per contest in NBL20 and contributed a substantial amount to last season’s outfit in his rookie year, and reigning NZNBL MVP and member of the Manawatu Jets, Thomas Vodanovich, who transfers from the New Zealand Breakers for his sophomore season in the Australian counterpart of New Zealand’s top league.

Familiar faces predominantly round out the remainder of new head coach Adam Forde’s side. Brad Newley prepares for his fifth season at the Kings, veteran Daniel Kickert arrives for his third fixture with the side and Shaun Bruce gets ready to undertake his seventh NBL season (second at Sydney). Additional individuals to return to the franchise such as Jordan Hunter, Craig Moller and Xavier Cooks will also wear the Purple and Gold in NBL21.

Harbouring an abundance of coaching experience, Forde certainly knows the formula to winning NBL titles after playing a pivotal role within the coaching staff during the Wildcats’ 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 championships. However, only time will tell if the squad he has assembled this time around holds that “special” combination of physical and mental talent.

NBL21 season previews: Brisbane Bullets

THE Brisbane Bullets were a cat’s whisker away from a second straight postseason back in NBL20, missing out on fourth position by just a handful of points determined on the last day of the season.

Three different sides finished with a home and away record consisting of 15 wins and 13 losses, in what was one of the tightest races to the end of the season in recent NBL history, with Melbourne United edging out the Bullets and the New Zealand Breakers. But coming so close to success, many of Brisbane’s faithful are on unstable ground determining whether their side can replicate the same benchmark of play they displayed last season to crack the finals this time in 2021.

A major talking point that came into the spotlight months ago was the release of last season’s MVP-candidate and member of the 2019-20 All-NBL First Team, Lamar Patterson, who recently committed to the Breakers. Patterson exhibited ridiculous numbers for the Bullets last season, averaging 21.4 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists in an all-around campaign. The loss of Patterson paired with the secondary loss of star big-man and now member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Will Magnay, means Brisbane will definitely have their work cut out for them.

The club acquired imports Orlando Johnson and Vic Law during the Free Agency period, adding much needed depth to the side’s wing positions with both signings having an abundance of experience at the NBA level. These additions backing up Nathan Sobey and returning sharpshooter Jason Cadee will make Andrej Lemanis’s backcourt a formidable one to say the least.

Following the departure of Magnay, Brisbane needed to fill that void. The club found their solution down in Adelaide in the signing of 211cm tall Harry Froling who will line up next to fellow 211cm center Matthew Hodgson who is fresh off re-signing with the side for another season. The second of the two signatures from the 36ers is 28-year-old Anthony Drmic, who spent three seasons at his old team before heading north for warmer weather and a more primary role.

Listing off the rest of the Bullets’ rosters is a litany of young and promising talents. The list includes 200-plus youngsters Blake Jones, Tyrell Harrison and Callum Dalton (Development Player), with forward Tanner Krebs concluding the list of talls. Meanwhile, NBA Global Academy member of the last three years in Canberra, Tamuri Wigness, will look to make a considerable impact in his rookie professional season at just 18 years of age.

Due to the large number of new faces set to don the blue and gold in just under a week, a few individuals from last season had to leave. Excluding Patterson, the Bullets relinquished New Zealander Reuben Te Rangi and Cameron Gliddon, both of whom have joined the league’s newest side in the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Uniquely, Brisbane’s ridiculous size across the roster will provide the Bullets with all the tools necessary to combat some of the NBL’s best offences. But, in order to translate good defence into positive results Coach Lemanis will need his offence to perform on a consistent basis in NBL21 with the season just around the corner.

NBL21 season previews: Adelaide 36ers

WITH a new look squad, a new head coach and a new sense of motivation heading into the 2021 NBL season, the Adelaide 36ers have been one of the busiest teams this offseason following a rather disappointing finish only a year ago.

Being led by former Orlando Magic assistant coach and scout for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Conner Henry, a new coaching scheme for his new side is to be expected by the other eight clubs in the competition, thus opening numerous doors on the floor starting from next week for the Sixers.

Familiar faces like five-man Daniel “DJ” Johnson, who is coming off arguably his best NBL campaign to date, averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game in NBL20, will provide essential stability in what is to be a season like no other in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other returnees such as Brendan Teys, Daniel Dillon, Alex Mudronja and Jack McVeigh will also look to make substantial impacts, as each player approaches a different area of their careers. Teys and Dillon in their twilight stages, while Mudronja and McVeigh are still in their infancy years, entering their second and third seasons respectively.

Major pickups for the South Australian side are extensive, notably the acquisitions of Donald Sloan and Tony Crocker, with both set to wear the import tag over the next few months. Sloan, a five-year participant in the NBA will be the side’s primary backcourt option following the departure of long-time talisman Jerome Randle. Meanwhile, Crocker’s insertion comes with an abundance of former success from his time with Turkish and Russian EuroLeague sides Pinar Karsiyaka and Khimki Moscow.

Australians making the 36ers their new home include former Arizona Wildcat Keanu Pinder, who has been widely touted as a rapidly improving prospect. Joshua Giddey, who opted for a season in the NBL rather than a year in college prior to nominating himself into the NBA draft at the end of this year. And many more like former G-League star and Kentucky alum Isaac Humphries who is set to join Johnson in the club’s frontcourt, as well as former Illawarra Hawks rookie Sunday Dech, traded to the club during the prolonged offseason. And most recently 212cm-tall Owen Hulland, who completes the roster as the side’s Development Player before Round One kicks off next week.

The 36ers organisation saw integral members leave the side over the break excluding Randle, farewelling the likes of Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling, both of whom have moved to the Brisbane Bullets, while Kevin White has made the transfer out west to the defending champion Perth Wildcats.

But with these withdrawals from the side, it creates new opportunities for a franchise that is looking for greener pastures compared to last year, hoping for a higher ladder position than seventh this time around. Furthermore, with a new crew of young, hungry and energised young players filled with talent and potential, Coach Henry’s Adelaide 36ers are ready to hit the ground running to say the least.

WNBL20 Season Review – Southside Flyers

IT was nothing but heartbreak for Cheryl Chambers and her Southside Flyers at the start of 2020. But after an even harder year that saw a WNBL season like no other, the Flyers can feel nothing but pure elation after they overcame the Townsville Fire to finally be crowned WNBL champions following six weeks of dominance.

Following the acquisitions of numerous elite talents, nobody was more excited to get WNBL20 underway than Southside, and unfortunately for the Bendigo Spirit, their heads were up first on the chopping block. As expected, the Flyers were to win their season-opener by an emphatic 42-point margin, setting the tone for the rest of the League evoking a sense of determination for the club.

A minor hiccup followed, however, to end Round 1 when Southside shockingly fell by 17 to the Melbourne Boomers, but one bad result would not linger in the minds of the Flyers for long, trouncing Sydney Uni Flames the next day, 99-72. A good momentum starter leading into Round 2.

Not for the first time this season, the Flyers would go undefeated for an entire week. First up for week two of the season were the Fire, who put up a valiant effort in the first of the two teams’ four encounters but fell 101-89 on this particular night. The latter of the week’s matchups were the Perth Lynx, who barely cracked 70 points against the Southside defence in what was a complete whitewash. The Flyers drubbing the West Australian side by 46 points.

Bad memories started to resurface from last year’s failures, when the Flyers once again fell to Paul Goriss and his Canberra Capitals by a whopping 23 points in Cairns, but this loss would mean a lot more to last year’s runners-ups, keen not to make the same mistakes as last season.

Kicking off what would be the longest winning streak of the season, another 40-point win over Perth reaffirmed the notion it was Southside’s season to lose. The Flyers then really started to kick up their margins of victories to end Round 3, beating Townsville by 24 (94-70) and then the Adelaide Lightning by 31 (110-79).

Two more double-digit victories in Round 4 over the Lightning for a second time and the Boomers built up even more steam within the Southside engine room with a round still to play, but coach Chambers’ main focus by this stage was to keep her side injury-free heading into the postseason.

A narrow four-point win over the Flames (81-77) secured the side their minor premiership, which preceded a much-needed revenge victory over the Capitals (101-82) to conclude their WNBL20 campaign with an impressive 11-win and two-loss record.

Setting up a semi-final with the Fire in a contest that would mean a Grand Final spot for the victor, the Flyers chose not to beat around the bush. Instead they burned it down, adding another double-digit triumph to their collection despite Townsville’s best effort, toppling the underdogs 106-93 and earning a spot in the big dance.

After four days off, Southside met with the season’s hosts in Townsville for a fourth time after the Fire knocked out the Boomers in the preliminary final thanks to their second chance opportunity.

Relying on the extraordinary effort made by WNBL veteran and WNBA superstar Leilani Mitchell paired with an efficient second half and returning captain in Jenna O’Hea, Southside reached the promised land, defeating the hometown side for a final time (99-82) and leaving the North Queensland hub as WNBL champions.

When the announcement was made that Liz Cambage was going to join the Flyers, it was not unexpected that she would be a major producer for the team. But nevertheless, she made an enormous contribution over the course of the season, leading the league in scoring with 23.5 points per game and blocks with 1.7 per contest, as well as averaging 8.7 rebounds in the process (ranked fourth league-wide), which resulted in an All-WNBL First Team selection and an MVP nomination. Next to Cambage in the All-WNBL side was Sara Blicavs, leading the team in minutes with 28.7 per game, averaging 13.5 points and 7.3 boards per game additionally.

Other Opals to make mention of included of course Bec Cole (15.5 points and 4.3 assists), Rachel Sporn medallist in Mitchell (11.2 points and 6.7 assists) and O’Hea (11 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists) amongst plenty of other contributors off the bench – rounding out one of the best starting fives and benches to ever grace a WNBL season.

It can be universally agreed that no other team deserved to emerge out of WNBL20 as champions more than the Flyers’ franchise. Looking down the track, whether all of Southside’s individuals return to defend their crowns happens or not in WNBL21, they certainly have a tough act follow from this season – that is for sure.

WNBL20 Season Review – Townsville Fire

BESIDES being the most improved team in WNBL20 by a country mile, this season’s hosts, the Townsville Fire performed at an exceptional rate over the entire six weeks, culminating in two All-WNBL team selections, a Coach of the Year, a Sixth Woman and a Youth Player of the Year recipient, as well as a Grand Final opportunity. After receiving the wooden spoon at the start of this year, the Fire improved at a rapid rate and despite missing out on the final piece of silverware will take plenty of positives out of their campaign.

After a busy offseason to say the least, a new look Fire squad took the floor in Mackay during mid-November, to commence the long-awaited season with a determined mindset. This was shown against the Perth Lynx in Townsville’s season-opener as the hub hosts ran away with a 25-point triumph. But it did not take long for the Fire to realise that this season’s competitors were not to be taken lightly, losing their second contest of Round 1 to the defending champion Canberra Capitals (67-78).

Round 2 of the season fixture for the Fire proved to be a pivotal point in the campaign for head coach Shannon Seebohm and her squad, as they had to work their way through a four-game week. After a successful three-point result over the Sydney Uni Flames, Townsville got to test their mettle against the WNBL’s top-contender in the Southside Flyers, but to no avail going down to the league’s benchmark side 89-101. Fortunately for the Fire, they performed well in their remaining games that week against both the Bendigo Spirit twice and the Melbourne Boomers, placing their record at five wins and two losses entering the middle portion of the season.

Going down again to the Flyers to conclude Round 3, Southside proved to be more than a nuisance as the season continued, with Townsville unable to find the solution to slow down the Flyers’ offence. While Seebohm and his side showed lapses throughout their season, it was their ability to repeatedly bounce back from negative results that helped in the long run.

A two-game split in Round 4 against the Lynx (75-84 loss) and the Capitals (84-71 win) put the Fire well within finals eligibility with the last round still yet to be played, but with a top-two seed still hanging in the balance.

Knocking off Adelaide Lightning in convincing fashion 95-66, Townsville now had the chance to steal the second seed in WNBL standings at the end of the season. To get to that goal, the Fire just scraped away with a six-point win over the Boomers and leapfrogged the Melbourne-based side in the process, nabbing the second-seed at the last possible moment.

The Fire found themselves face-to-face with a team they had yet to defeat during the season and one of the most talented domestic line-ups in Australian basketball history, Southside. That streak of defeats to the Flyers unfortunately continued for the Sunshine-State team, going down in the second semi-final of the day 93-106, meaning next up would be a win or go home preliminary final against the Boomers once more.

In a meeting drowned in defence, neither Townsville nor Melbourne would manage to accumulate over 65 points, as shooting efficiency was few and far between. Luckily for the hosts, they kept their noses in front for the majority of the encounter withstanding onslaught after onslaught from the Boomers. Eventually conquering Melbourne 65-62 and setting up the franchise’s first grand final in little more than three seasons.

For all of Townsville’s players, it was a dream come true to compete for a WNBL title in front of their home crowd at Townsville Stadium. But their final hurdle would be the most difficult to combat and overcome, given that the Fire had not been able to beat Southside in any of their three previous meetings throughout the campaign.

Despite having four players reaching double-digit totals in what was for the most part a tightly knitted affair, the Flyers’ marquee players made their presence felt. A near-perfect second half for the Flyers, as well as a performance to remember from Leilani Mitchell would be enough to silence their opponents 99-82 at the final buzzer, ending the Fire’s prominent season and redeeming themselves after last year’s Grand Final failures – breaking the hometown fans’ hearts in the process after a gallant year.

MVP-candidate, member of the All-WNBL First Team and new signing for Townsville, Lauren Nicholson reminded everyone why she is a force to be reckoned with averaging 18.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Next to her is perhaps one of the biggest success stories this season for another new signing in Shyla Heal. Heal ended her WNBL20 with averages of 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists and being named this season’s Australian Youth Player of the Year.

Other standouts included Sixth Woman of the Year, Zitina Aokuso (9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds), Nadeen Payne (8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds) and Megan McKay (7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds).

In a season that could have gone either way because of the major roster changes that were made before the season even began, Seebohm did an exemplary job alongside his coaching staff merging numerous personalities together to work as a collective unit. With Seebohm signing a two-year extension, the future possibilities for this Townsville side are limitless.

WNBL20 Season Review – Melbourne Boomers

FOR the third consecutive season the Melbourne Boomers have been knocked out of the finals without reaching the big dance, even though head coach Guy Molloy and his formidable side exhibited a ferocious brand of basketball all season long, proving to be one of the WNBL’s toughest opponents. Along with their preliminary final defeat to the Townsville Fire, Melbourne’s title drought extends to a twelfth season.

Commencing season play with a superior 15-point win over their Sydney counterparts, the Sydney Uni Flames, the contest everyone one was waiting eagerly for was the first Melbourne Derby of the campaign between the Boomers and Southside Flyers.

Leading into the derby, Southside had already made a loud announcement to the league with a 42-point drubbing of the Bendigo Spirit in their previous outing, but Melbourne would unleash their season’s biggest weapon – their defence. Holding the Flyers to 72 points, the Boomers ran out with a convincing rout of their cross-town rivals by 17 and led into Round 2 at optimal form.

Melbourne’s undefeated start continued to three games after a hard-earned 62-56 win over the Perth Lynx, but the two-time defending champion Canberra Capitals put the first blemish on the Boomers’ record, thoroughly outperforming their foes by 17 points and holding them to just 50 points. Melbourne’s second round got worse as the Townsville Fire started to pick up numerous successful outcomes, defeating the Boomers 87-75 and weakening Molloy’s record to three wins and two losses.

The Boomers re-established their form in Round 3 with a 40-point win over the Adelaide Lightning, the only game of the week for the purple and gold, as they would relish a weeklong rest before undertaking a four-game Round 4.

To begin the week, Melbourne exacted their revenge on the Capitals (73-67) and cap off the season double over the Flames (86-64). The same could be said for the Spirit, going down to the Boomers by 32 (84-52) meaning that last season’s semi-finalists were one win away from an undefeated four-game week. This time it was not the case however, with Southside redeeming themselves from their early season encounter with the Boomers, edging out their old foes 94-79.

Two expected wins against the Lightning (76-55) and the Spirit (91-70) preceded a season-concluding loss to the Fire (64-70), all but confirming a postseason position, although not in the top-two following their loss to Townsville.

Being one of three teams to finish the season with a record of nine wins and four losses, it represented just how even things were at the top of the standings. Melbourne now had to batten down the hatches and get results given they had not earned a double chance by finishing third.

First up on the finals docket for Melbourne was Canberra, a team they split their two prior meetings with during the regular season. But it was plain and simple for the Boomers – defend, defend, defend, and that is what they did against the reigning premiers. Holding the Capitals to just 68 points, the Boomers ran away 10-point victors, ending the Caps three-peat bid and putting in motion a much-anticipated preliminary final against the Fire.

In a tightly contested clash that lasted all 40 minutes of play, Townsville continued to fend off a resilient Boomers outfit and with Shyla Heal running the show based on her remarkable 28-point performance, Melbourne just could not get ahead of the host-city side, losing out in the final seconds 62-65 and ending their season one win short of their main objective in making the Grand Final.

Once again it was the expected trio of WNBA champion Ezi Magbegor (15.4 points and 8.8 rebounds), Cayla George (14.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists) and Maddie Garrick (10.5 points and 2.5 assists) that ran the show for Melbourne, however the addition of returning Boomer Tess Madgen (13.6 points, 6.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds) made Molloy’s core unit that much more potent throughout the entire season. But the late-season surge of Ashleigh Karaitiana (6.9 points and 1.8 rebounds) and consistency of Stella Beck (5.3 points and 2.5 assists) added another layer of depth to the WNBL20 roster. Furthermore, New Zealand Tall Fern Kalani Purcell (4.5 points and 3.7 rebounds) was able to add another successful season under her belt.

As a franchise, the Melbourne Boomers have an abundance of motivators amongst their ranks and because of the fact they have to wait another season to have a crack at that WNBL title once again, you can be dead serious that the club’s fire to get there is only burning brighter.

WNBL20 Season Review – UC Capitals

HAVING ruled the WNBL from late-2018 to early-2020, many were disappointed not to see the third three-peat in league history fulfilled by the University of Canberra Capitals. A lot of those who actively follow the WNBL had a glimmer of hope that Paul Goriss and his side might do it again, but it just was not to be.

The Capitals’ fairy-tale ending would fall short in WNBL20 following their Elimination Final loss to the team they knocked out in 2019/20, the Melbourne Boomers. Despite bowing out of this season earlier than they were hoping for, Canberra had a season to be proud of nevertheless.

To begin their campaign, the Capitals put their wrong foot first so to speak kickstarting WNBL20 with a major upset after being defeated by the Adelaide Lightning. Such a loss paired with the fact that their two star imports from last season could not suit up (Kia Nurse and Olivia Epoupa), brought into question just how far this Capitals unit could get.

Canberra quickly re-established themselves as a postseason contender with a bounce-back win against a highly touted Townsville Fire squad, squaring their season record up after Round 1 with a win and a loss under their belt.

A rather uncomplicated and straight-forward outcome over the Bendigo Spirit begun a successful three-game week for the two-time defending champs, most notably in their second game of Round 2 with a dominant 67-50 result over the Boomers in their first matchup. A third victory after their win against the Sydney Uni Flames to wrap up the second week of contests brought Canberra’s record to four wins out of five results, but the club’s exclamation point came at the beginning of the next week.

Once the Southside Flyers started to pick up form early on in the season it seemed like last year’s runners-ups were almost unstoppable, but the Capitals single-handedly sent shockwaves throughout the League at the start of Round 3 after a four-quarter demolition job of the eventual minor premiers by 23 points. Canberra continued their form by stringing together a second-straight undefeated week of games.

The Capitals’ winning streak of seven came to an end following their second meeting with the Boomers and in their closing contest of Round 4, again they would fall, this time to the Fire (Canberra’s only losing round of the season).

After a split in the results of the last round, firstly a win against the Perth Lynx, then a second less favourable result against the Flyers to end WNBL20, Canberra would finish the season on a record of nine wins and four losses (one of three teams to hold this record) and secure third position on points percentage thus setting up a date with the Boomers in the Elimination Final.

In a clash that demanded strong defence from both sides it was Melbourne that was able to stick to their guns that they had relied on all season, limiting the Capitals to just 68 points following their contest. More importantly, the Boomers were able to put 78 points of their own on the scoreboard, knocking out the reigning premiers in one fell swoop.

Top individual performers were various and many for coach Gorris’s side, with Maddison Rocci continuing her astonishing development over the past year averaging 16 points, 3.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds whilst leading the side in minutes with 29.4 per contest. As a result, Rocci earned All-WNBL Second Team honours solidifying her as one of the competition’s elite. It would be uncharacteristic for Canberra to have a successful season without key contributions from their co-captains Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo. Griffin concluded her season with averages of 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals, whereas Tolo’s statistics would read 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

Surprise standouts included Keely Froling who ranked fourth in the team’s scoring and rebounding departments with 9.4 points per game and 5.7 boards per outing. All of this while WNBL rookie Jade Melbourne turned many heads in her initial season averaging 8.3 points and two assists in 22.8 minutes of play each time out.

While Canberra’s dynasty may well possibly be in its twilight stage, many might wonder what form the roster will shape up to look like in the coming years. With young talent like Rocci, Melbourne, Froling and Abby Cubillo rising through the ranks, the nation’s capital can look forward to a competitive women’s basketball team for the foreseeable future.

Heal drops 28 as Fire return to Grand Final

THIS season’s WNBL Grand Final will have a home-court advantage, after Townsville Fire squeezed out a three-point victory against the Melbourne Boomers in last night’s preliminary final, 65-62. The Fire have managed a complete flip from a season ago, going from wooden spoon recipients in 2019/20 to now facing the Southside Flyers tomorrow afternoon in what will be a must-see season decider.

Neither of the two teams were able to take command of the prelim in the opening period, but good shooting and some terrific finishing allowed Townsville to hold a solid five-point advantage with Shyla Heal exhibiting some good shooting early on with seven points after one quarter.

Kalani Purcell kicked off the second with her first basket of the contest in a see-sawing affair throughout the first half. But the second term provided little scoring and inconsistent offence with both teams locking down on defence. Winning the second quarter 12-11, Melbourne trimmed the deficit to four points in time for the main break meaning that the contest still hung in the balance.

Early on in the second half, more of Melbourne’s usual producers started to make a difference such as Maddie Garrick, Cayla George and Ashleigh Karaitiana. Guy Molloy’s squad found the majority of their points in the third thanks to Tess Madgen’s ability to facilitate the ball. But the Fire returned serve with a six-point scoring run to give themselves a temporary buffer at an important stage of the game with 10 minutes to go, leading 54-47 at three-quarter time.

The Boomers had a formidable mountain to climb and Heal’s layup to get the fourth going did not help Melbourne’s cause. However, the purple and gold continued to stick around in a game as important last night’s.

Having not made a dent in the margin and actually falling behind by as much as nine points, the Boomers kicked into desperation mode with less than five minutes remaining before coach Molloy deployed his starting five back onto the court to finish the game. The same could be said for Shannon Seebohm with the only exception being Megan McKay because of foul trouble, thus allowing Zitina Aokuso the chance to help close the book.

A layup for Karaitiana, two buckets from Ezi Magbegor and a fast break layup for Garrick, sparked eight unanswered points for the Boomers in their last roll of the dice cutting Townsville’s lead down to just one point. But two made free throws with 21 seconds from none other than Heal put the Fire up by three.

Melbourne’s flurry of threes in the dying moments were not enough to save the contest, meaning Townsville would head to the grand final for the sixth time in nine years, a feeling of success that Townsville’s faithful feared they would not have for the next few years.

Adding to her collection of impressive performances in WNBL20, Heal finished her night with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists, while fellow backcourter Lauren Nicholson played a full 40-minute game compiling 12 points and eight rebounds. Adding to this was Aokuso, accumulating 10 points and five rebounds, as well as WNBL legend Mia Murray providing a much-needed presence on the glass with eight boards.

Melbourne’s frontcourt was its primary producer last night, with Magbegor (19 points and nine rebounds) and George (15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) putting up impressive statistics. Furthermore, despite no other Boomers gaining double-digit totals Madgen was instrumental yesterday even though the side could not get it done with nine points and six assists.

It is the end of Melbourne’s remarkable road, but Townsville’s triumph provides a first versus second seed grand final and a chance for the Fire to redeem themselves at the best possible moment. Even though the Flyers have two days of extra rest going into tomorrow, you can rest assured that the Townsville fans will provide their club with a massive chunk of adrenaline in 24 hours.