Category: Sydney Uni Flames

WNBL Season Review – Sydney Uni Flames

ONE of the biggest improvers following on from last season was without a doubt the Sydney Uni Flames, despite moving up just one spot in the WNBL standings after placing fifth overall in North Queensland with five victories in their 13 contests.

Winning just one third of their outings in 2019/20 (seven wins, 14 losses), Katrina Hibbert and her side fell just a win and a half behind a .500 record after a major face-lift during the free agency period.

New additions to the Flames like Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer who both arrived from the Perth Lynx, and former Southside Flyer Anneli Maley, made tremendous contributions to their new team in WNBL20 in bunches, making Hibbert’s job a little easier in the process.

After a valiant effort in their season opener against the Melbourne Boomers, the Flames would begin their season on a loss going down by 15 points. But a bounce back trouncing against this season’s wooden spooners the Bendigo Spirit, quickly brought back confidence into the Sydney Uni locker room before closing the books on Round 1.

Sizing up the Flyers in their third contest of the fixture, like many, Sydney Uni found out just how good Southside’s outfit really was. Eventually going down 72-99 to this season’s championship-favourites, the Flames would have a losing record after the opening sequence of matchups with no easy matchups ahead in Round 2.

In an expectedly hard second round of games against the Townsville Fire and the Canberra Capitals where they both bested the Flames unit, Sydney Uni’s by-line fell to one win and four defeats, signalling a need for some urgent results for coach Hibbert’s side before the season started to get away from them.

Round 3 provided slightly better outcomes, with the Flames scraping away with one win out of three clashes knocking over the Perth Lynx 74-67 to obtain their second victory of the campaign. But similar to their final record from last season, Sydney Uni were on track for another season with a .333 win percentage with six losses to their name after three weeks of play.

A second win against the Spirit would trade off another loss to the Boomers in the penultimate round of the season, meaning that the Flames would fall out of finals contention. This fact was unfortunate given the final week of the season that Sydney Uni had.

With victories to end their season against the Lynx and the Adelaide Lightning in Round 5, the Flames were able to steal the fifth seed away from the latter on points percentage, providing evidence that Sydney Uni’s season held an abundance of good fortune as well as promising signs heading into 2021.

Point guard and one of two Lynx players to be traded to the NSW-based team, Mansfield adjusted to her new team almost seamlessly based on the 2020 season she had. Averaging 14 points per game and 4.5 assists in 31.9 minutes each game, Mansfield led the side in all three of these categories, putting her in good stead for a contract extension for WNBL21. The second of the two Perth signatures acquired in the offseason, Schwagmeyer was a pivotal part of the Flames rotation with 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists being her averages during the five weeks of the regular season. Nevertheless, easily the most visible improvement was the dominance on the glass by 22-year-old Maley. Leading the WNBL in rebounding, Maley averaged a whopping 12.1 boards per game, almost three more per game than the next highest rebounder (Cayla George – 9.4), while also averaging 7.9 points as well.

Falling one spot out of the postseason this time around, it is obvious what the club’s ultimate objective will be for next season. Bearing this in mind as well as the fact that the franchise has not made the finals since the 2017/18 campaign, Sydney Uni would consider anything less than a top-four finish next season a failure in their eyes.

2020 WNBL Awards recap

IT has been a big week of WNBL action with the finals announced and awards handed out at the conclusion of the home-and-away season. There were plenty of contenders given the number of impressive and consistent performers throughout a condensed season, however there could only be one MVP winner.

After a strong showing with Adelaide throughout their 2020 campaign, it is no wonder Steph Talbot received the Suzy Batkovic Medal for the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Lightning captain was a consistent figure, averaging 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting at a solid 47.9 per cent from the field. The accolades did not stop there for Talbot, who walked away with the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year award as well, capping off a spectacular season despite not making finals.

Talking of finals, it is only fitting that Townsville Fire coach, Shannon Seebohm was awarded the top gong  and title of Coach of the Year, with his side enjoying a rapid rise up the ladder. Seebohm has guided the Fire to nine wins and four losses this season to claim second spot on the ladder in what has been an unconventional campaign to say the least.

Keeping on the Townsville vibe, youngster Shyla Heal has more than made a name for herself this season, collecting the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year while teammate Zitina Aokuso also made a splash and was recognised for her efforts, named the Sixth Woman of the Year. Heal has been a solid contributor throughout the season, recording an average of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals while shooting at 40.6 per cent from the field. Fellow award winner, Aokuso has played a strong cameo role for the Fire, able to bound onto the court and cause a ruckus with figures such as 9.5 points a game, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game.

Moving away from individual awards, the All-WNBL First Team and All-WNBL Second Team were announced with a couple of familiar faces returning. The all-conquering Liz Cambage took out the center position in the Firsts with the Southside Flyers representative impressing in most facets of the game to average 23.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Her accuracy from the field was also notable, going at 62.6 per cent. MVP winner Talbot also earned a nod along with Cayla George, Lauren Nicholson and Katie Ebzery. The Second team consisted of a couple of Melbourne Boomers in Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen, while UC Capitals’ Maddison Rocci also earned a spot. Heal was further rewarded for her breakout season, included in the All-WNBL Second Team while Sara Blicavs rounds out the side.

ALL-WNBL First Team

Lauren Nicholson (TF) – 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.08 steals, 48.1 FG%
Steph Talbot (AL) – 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 47.9 FG%
Liz Cambage (SF) – 23.3 points, 8.2 rebounds 1.0 assist, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, 62.6 FG%
Cayla George (MB) – 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 43.2 FG%
Katie Ebzery (PL) – 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 43.1 FG%

ALL-WNBL Second Team

Maddison Rocci (UC) – 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0 blocks, 40.5 FG%
Shyla Heal (TF) – 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0 blocks, 40.6 FG%
Sara Blicavs (SF) – 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 52.1 FG%
Tess Madgen (MB) – 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 44.7 FG%
Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1..5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, 56.2 FG%

Draft Central: WNBL Team of the Year

WITH the WNBL home and away season done and dusted, Draft Central has compiled its own Team of the Year taking into consideration a host of elements such as consistency, scoring ability, rebounding prowess and so on. It is no surprise that top four teams such as Melbourne Boomers and Townsville Fire have a couple of players named in the squad while ladder leaders, the Southside Flyers only have the one given their bench depth and frequent rotation.

Lauren Nicholson has been a spark for Townsville Fire with the side enjoying a rise up the ladder and the guard in scintillating form. Nicholson is as consistent as they come and has been a real general since crossing to the Fire this season with her ability to regularly attack the rim, averaging an impressive 18.5 points a game. The other guard to accompany Nicholson in the starting five is the ever-reliable Steph Talbot who once again has led the charge for Adelaide. Despite missing out on finals, Talbot has been a solid contributor throughout the season plying her trade on the scoreboard and has fallen just short of a double-double with an average of nine rebounds and 18.2 points.

It is hard to go past the services of WNBA star and Opals stalwart Liz Cambage who has well and truly made a splash in her debut season with Southside Flyers this year. Cambage is crucial cog in the Flyers outfit and is a key reason for their continued success in 2020 and will be hoping to get another piece of silverware if things go to plan in the upcoming finals series.

Melbourne Boomers captain, Cayla George is another no brainer with the forward able to have an influence across the court, registering a solid 14.7 points and 9.2 rebounds each time she steps out on court. George is a menace in all areas of the court, however able to get hands to ball and regain possession for her side. New recruit Darcee Garbin did not skip a beat throughout the 2020 season with the forward finding the basket with great ease, knocking back an average of 16.5 points for Perth while also amassing 7.2 rebounds in a solid season.

Looking at the bench, UC Capitals youngster Maddison Rocci has enjoyed a strong run of form and been a key contributor for the side amassing, 16.2 points along with an average of two steals per game. Following the theme of young players making a splash is Ezi Magebegor, with the Melbourne Boomers regular plying her trade effectively at a 56.2 per cent clip and proving to be a handful out on court thanks to her 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds. The move to Townsville has done wonders for Shyla Heal with the 19-year-old enjoying the extra court time and her numbers reflecting that with the guard averaging 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and a handy 1.2 steals.

Carley Ernst was a steady stream of points for Bendigo Spirit who have languished at the bottom of the ladder, collecting an average of 14.8 points per game while the other bench spot goes to Lauren Scherf. The Sydney Uni Flames center played an integral role throughout their campaign, managing 11 points, 7.2 rebounds and a couple of blocks per game.

Please take into account the statistics are a reflection of averages per game.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Lauren Nicholson (TF) – 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.08 steals, 48.1 FG%
G: Steph Talbot (AL) – 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 47.9 FG%
C: Liz Cambage (SF) – 23.3 points, 8.2 rebounds 1.0 assist, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, 62.6 FG%
F: Cayla George (MB) – 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 43.2 FG%
F: Darcee Garbin (PL) – 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 41.2 FG%

BENCH:

G: Maddison Rocci (UC) – 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0 blocks, 40.5 FG%
G: Shyla Heal (TF) – 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0 blocks, 40.6 FG%
C: Lauren Scherf (SUF) – 11 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, 34.6 FG%
F: Carley Ernst (BS) – 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, 34.7 FG%
F: Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1..5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, 56.2 FG%

Fire overcome fast-starting Boomers to secure second spot

THE TOWNSVILLE Fire announced themselves as serious finals contenders, downing Melbourne Boomers by six points in an epic contest (70-64). In a fight for top four position, the two sides went head-to-head with the lead ebbing and flowing throughout the game, showcasing what was at stake and the high intensity both sides can bring to the table.

The Boomers got out to a flyer of a start, establishing a seven-point margin at the first break and keeping the Fire to single digits in the opening term. But Townsville showcased its grit and determination, finding a groove in the second term and piling on the pressure to turn the tables on the Boomers, who seemed to have things their own way in the opening period of play. The Fire made light work of Melbourne, notching up 31 points to 17. Things evened out in the second half with both teams establishing their rhythm and unable to be separated, but in the end the Fire had done enough to throw the Boomers and clinch a hard-fought victory.

Accuracy from the field was down for both sides, however the Fire managed to boast a higher percentage – sitting at 42 per cent compared to the Boomers’ 38. The Fire also starred from two point range, converting at a 50 per cent clip in nailing 21 of their 42 attempts, while the Boomers did not have the same luck sitting at 41 per cent. However, when it came to triples, that is where the Boomers impressed nailing eight of their 25 attempts at 32 per cent as opposed to the Fire’s 28 per cent. Shooting statistics aside, the Boomers seemed to have the upper hand in the majority of the other categories; recording a higher rebound count (40-39) and more assists (24-14), highlighting the different way the two clubs go about it on court. They also earned a higher steals and blocks tally (10-7) and (4-2), respectively showcasing their defensive intent but were somewhat costly on the turnover front (16-13).

Lauren Nicholson once again impressed for the Fire, with the guard dropping 23 points at 50 per cent from the field along with four assists, six rebounds and a steal, highlighting her ability to be constantly involved in the action. Teammate Shyla Heal was down on her usual output, only recording the seven points in her 33 minutes on court, however she still managed to have an impact off the boards with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Kate Gaze was another key contributor with 11 points while Zitina Aokuso starred for the Fire with her 16 points at an impressive 87 per cent from the field. Aokuso also managed seven rebounds, six of which were defensive, along with a steal to cap off an impressive performance from the youngster. Nadeen Payne also chimed in for a handy eight points and seven rebounds to help get her side over the line.

There were three main contributors for the Melbourne Boomers who were unable to generate as much impact as they would have liked off the bench, but still had key figures that were able to keep them in touching distance of the Fire. Ezi Magbegor led the charge for Melbourne, with the forward proving to be a menace and recording a team-high 20 points at an all-round 64 per cent accuracy. It did not stop there for her, amassing 10 rebounds to collect another double-double while also picking up three assists and one steal. The ever-reliable captain, Cayla George was the next best with 18 points across her 36 minutes on court, but she did the most damage off the boards with a staggering 17 rebounds which accompanied her three steals, three blocks and four assists. Tess Madgen also contributed for the Boomers knocking back 11 points while also collecting eight assists and four rebounds.

The Fire look ahead to ladder leaders Southside Flyers in the semi-final on Wednesday while Melbourne faces off against the Caps early in the day.

Flyers flex their muscles with convincing win over Caps

Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

It was always going to be an exciting battle between back-to-back premiers UC Capitals and the star studded line-up of Southside Flyers, but in the end it was the latter that prevailed in a convincing performance to run out with a 19-point victory (82-101).  The ladder leaders are building some serious momentum heading into the finals and are clearly primed as premiership favourites, as shown by their dominant performance on Sunday.

It was a high scoring match from the opening minutes of the game with both sides renowned for their attacking mentality and ability to hit the scoreboard with great ease. The Flyers got out to a handy start and did not look like giving up the lead at any stage, continuously pushing to extend their margin. Despite a better quarter in the second from the Caps nailing 23 points to 20, the Flyers still had the momentum and the lead. But they dealt the most damage in the third quarter when they went on a scoring spree, nailing 32 points to 19 to all but seal the deal. The Flyers had a real sense of desperation and urgency in their gameplay and that showed throughout the game, outscoring their opponents in the final term as well.

Scoring proved to be no issue for the Flyers who managed an impressive 51 per cent from the field, nailing 40 of their 77 attempts while the Caps travelled at a 40 per cent conversion rate. Southside starred from downtown, sitting at a whopping 62 per cent in slotting 18 from their 29 attempts, while it was a different story for the Capitals who only managed a mere 26 per cent from outside the arc. When it came to rebounds UC had things all their own way, recoding 47 to 34 to showcase their strength off the boards, but the Flyers seemed to have their number in all the other aspects such as assists (29-23), steals (6-4) and blocks (5-1). The ladder leaders were also cleaner with ball in hand and treasured possession, only notching up 10 turnovers as opposed to 15 while when it came to points in the paint, the Flyers also had the upper hand recording 42 to 28.

Despite being in the losing side there was no shortage of options with the likes of Marianna Tolo leading the way for the Capitals with her 23 points, six rebounds and two assists. The scoring dropped off after her with Jade Melbourne the next closest with 12 points in a strong performance off the bench. Madison Rocci and Kelsey Griffin were both handy options for the Capitals, combining for 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists while Keely Froling also chimed in with 10 points of her own in her 25 minutes on court. Although Mikaela Ruef did not have a profound impact on the scoreboard thanks to her six points, her strength off the board was unquestionable, reeling in 12 rebounds with eight of them defensive.

Six players all managed double figures for the Flyers with Rebecca Cole headlining the side with her 23 points and eight rebounds. Cole took the game by the scruff of the neck and starred while the ever-reliable Liz Cambage continued her merry way with another dominant performance collecting 18 points at 53 per cent and 12 rebounds. Aimie Clydesdale managed to have an influence thanks to her 13 points, two rebounds and six assists as did teammate Leilani Mitchell who just fell short of a double-double with nine rebounds and 14 points. Sara Blicavs dominated off the bench in a stats stuffing performance thanks to her 16 points, six rebounds and five assists haul while Stephanie Blicavs managed 11 points of her own in the win.

Looking ahead, the Flyers prepare for Townsville Fire in the semi-final on Wednesday while the Caps gear up for Melbourne.

Flames end season on a high

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After somewhat of an up and down season for both sides it was the Sydney Uni Flames that got the last laugh, securing a 26-point victory over Adelaide Lightning (86-60). With both teams out of the running for finals it was a matter of pride and determination which the Flames oozed plenty of as they kicked it up a gear in the final term to really ram home the win.

It was an even start to the game with the Flames and Lightning settling into the action and feeling each other out before Sydney found its mojo in the second term and put on the afterburners. Sensing a blowout, Adelaide turned the tables in the third term, going toe-to-toe with the Flames and scoring 18 points apiece, but that was not enough to worry Sydney who still had a handy buffer. The final quarter of action was where things really started to unravel with the Flames attacking the rim with great ease and piling on the scoreboard pressure thanks to their 29 to 14 point term to notch up their fifth win for the season.

Field goal percentage for both sides was down with the Flames converting at 39 per cent while Adelaide managed 35 per cent. The Lightning had better luck when it came to two point range sitting at 42 per cent while Sydney only managed 37 per cent. The roles were reversed when it came to three-pointers with the victors holding the upper hand, nailing eight of their 18 attempts at 44 per cent while the Lightning only managed 24 per cent. The Flames collected more rebounds (48-41), steals (14-7) and had less turnovers (10-20) while when it came to assists Adelaide impressed with 16-12.

Lauren Mansifeld seemed to have her own ball out on court for the Flames, sinking a game-high 31 points in a dominant shooting display from the guard. She also managed four assists and an uncharacteristic three turnovers. Mansfield was well-aided by Alison Schwagmeyer who recorded 16 points but could have had more had she been more accurate from the field, sitting at 33 per cent while also amassing seven rebounds and two assists. Anneli Maley was a commanding force off the backboards, recording a whopping 15 rebounds, 12 of which were defensive while Lauren Scherf plied her trade sinking 11 points in the win.

Although it was not the way the Lightning would have liked for the game to have gone down, there were a couple of key contributors with Steph Talbot once again leading the way. Talbot had a hot hand converting 22 points at 56 per cent while also dragging down 13 rebounds to record yet another double-double. Alex Wilson was the only other player to reach double figures with her 12 points and proved to be a real playmaker with ball in hand, amassing seven assists and a steal. Abigail Wehrung had an influence on the scoreboard, albeit limited, but still managed eight points in her 32 minutes on court.

UC Capitalise on first half blitz to end Lynx’s season with a loss

UNIVERSITY of Canberra (UC) Capitals showed no mercy during an impressive and dominant first half, leading to a 27-point win over Perth Lynx to set up a top of the table battle for the minor premiership against Southside Flyers. The Capitals dominated the first half with 53 points to 29, then holding firm in the second half to run out 96-69 victors.

The Capitals raced away to a 26-19 lead by the first break, and then hit the half century at half-time courtesy of a one-sided 27-10 second quarter. It meant the Capitals were all but home with a half to play, though the Lynx made it more difficult after the main break. Scoring 23 points to 22, the Lynx actually won the third term, but the Capitals got back on top in the fourth, winning it 21-17 to round out an all-round strong performance.

The Capitals were on top in nearly every area, dominating the rebounds (44-34), assists (27-16) and steals (12-7), whilst also having less turnovers (9-16). They punished their opponents on the counter attack, putting up 25 points to six, while also scoring 18-14 fast break points, and capitalising with 12-5 second chance points. The reigning premiers’ depth had plenty to say with 37 points to seven, preparing themselves for the crunch match with the Flyers.

Maddison Rocci was electric from long-range, hitting four of six triples, and nine of 14 from the field as she knocked up 27 points in just 26 minutes. She also picked up five rebounds, four assists and one steal without turning the ball over. Kelsey Griffin was huge off the boards thanks to 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals, while Keely Froling also picked up 11 points, three rebounds and three assists. Not scoring a point, Abby Cubillo thrived from her first start, dishing off seven assists, as well as recording three rebounds and three steals.

Coming off the bench, Marianna Tolo (12 points, six rebounds) and Mikaela Ruef (11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals) both provided size and experience. Brittany Smart gained the most minutes of the season with 22, scoring nine points, four rebounds and three assists.

For the Lynx, Katie-Rae Ebzery had a night out with 24 points – including three of five from long-range – three rebounds and two steals. Darcee Garbin scored 17 points and seven rebounds, while Ashley Sharp was equally influential off the boards with eight points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. Alex Ciabattoni (six points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Kayla Steindl (seven points, three assists and two blocks) were both strong.

The Capitals finish their season off on the right note on Sunday when they clash with the Flyers, as the Lynx prepare to head home and set themselves for a big 2021.

Flyers snatch unbelievable win against Flames

Southside Flyers’ Sara Blicavs competes for the ball against Anneli Maley. Picture credit: WNBL

SOUTHSIDE Flyers have found a way back from the brink to post a nail-biting four-point win over a plucky Sydney Uni Flames to remain on top of the WNBL ladder heading into the Flyers’ final match of the season. Trailing by nine points with 2:51 on the clock after Lauren Mansfield had drained a triple, the Flyers managed to score the last 13 points of the game with a Sara Blicavs triple with 11 seconds on the clock helping the Flyers hit the front and then last second free throws cementing the narrow 81-77 victory.

It was quite the contest between a side locked into the top two and one that was already out of finals contention, but the Flames showed they could match it with the best on their day. The first half saw the Flames race out to a five-point lead at the main break, then having won the first three quarters, lead by six with 10 minutes to play. At one point, the score was 77-68 with the Flames ahead 17-14 in that last stanza. Somehow the Flyers found a way to win, with Leilani Mitchell having a massive last minute thanks to a defensive rebound off a Lauren Scherf miss, the assist to Blicavs and then finishing the match with two successful free throws to seal the deal.

Both teams had their fair share of little wins on the night, with the Flames surprisingly dominating the usually unbeatable Flyers’ bigs, winning 51 rebounds to 30. However the Flyers were better with ball-in-hand picking up 19-15 assists, 11-3 steals and punishing the Flames for their extra turnovers (21-15) with 25-19 points from turnover. Southside also capitalised off the fast break with 20-4 points. Their accuracy of 57 per cent from the field was much higher than the Flames’ 42 per cent, though the latter managed to hit 10 of 26 triples, much better than the Flyers’ six of 22 which kept the losing side in the game.

Liz Cambage had 24 points and five rebounds in another game-high points performance, aided by the remainder of the Flyers’ starting five who scored nearly all of the team’s points. Mitchell (15 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals) was prolific, while Blicavs (13 points, eight rebounds) was dominant off the boards. Rebecca Cole had 14 points, five assts and four steals, while Jenna O’Hea finished with 11 points and three rebounds. Aimie Clydesdale was the one contributor off the bench for the winning side, scoring two points and had five assists and two rebounds in 22 minutes as the Flyers could not utilise their bench as much as usual.

For the Flames, Mansfield had a massive night out picking up 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Anneli Maley‘s rebounding efforts were out of this world. The former Flyers’ forward showed her team what they were missing, notching up 19 points and 17 rebounds in a huge performance. Alison Schwagmeyer had 14 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Natalie Burton picked up 10 rebounds to go with six points and two assists. Funda Nakkasoglu came off the bench for 11 points to round out the top performers.

Both teams set their sights on Sunday, where the Flyers face off against the Capitals for top spot, and the Flames take on Adelaide Lightning in the final game of the regular season.

Melbourne weathers the Lightning, 21-point victory over Adelaide

AFTER their 76-55 win over the Adelaide Lightning, an impressive Melbourne Boomers roster has regained the third seed in the WNBL standings to kick off the fifth and final round of the season. The win also sets the tone for the rest of their final week with two more games still yet to be decided for one of the competition’s favourites.

Melbourne looked to do damage early, following a triple from Ashleigh Karaitiana on the opening play. However, Ally Wilson answered back with a mid-range jumper of her own to commence proceedings in Cairns.

Trading buckets early, both sides put up consistent numbers for the majority of the first quarter and remained within earshot of one another in that time. But a 10-0 run from the Boomers, allowed the purple and gold to take a superior stance with a double-digit advantage early in the game.

A three-pointer off the inbound pass to Cayla George would drop, as the opening quarter buzzer went off, giving Melbourne a huge 17-point lead at the first break. Now being down 14-31, Adelaide head coach Chris Lucas pleaded with his side to make some changes and talk to one another for the remainder of the contest, a focus point that would do little good.

Despite holding a 20-point buffer approaching the second intermission, the Lightning were able to construct a 7-0 scoring run of their own to ultimately win the second term exclusively, narrowly cutting the deficit to 13 at halftime.

The Lightning’s main issue to address at half-time was George’s accuracy, as she converted 66 per cent of her shots (compared to her team’s 48 per cent) which translated to 14 points, seven rebounds and a couple of assists up to the halftime stoppage. Meanwhile, Stephanie Talbot was accumulating statistics as per usual, with 10 points and four rebounds for her side after 20 minutes.

The efforts in the third quarter from the likes of Ezi Magbegor, Maddie Garrick and Kalani Purcell was enough to maintain a lead over 10 points at the conclusion of the period, but Adelaide’s efforts in the middle quarters was enough to keep the Boomers within striking range with just 10 minutes left to play, especially with sharpshooters Abbey Wehrung and Taylor Ortlepp starting to find their range.

To the Lightning’s credit they worked their way to just an 11-point defici early in the fourth, but Guy Molloy’s roster depth grounded down a struggling Adelaide side, piling on and continually enlarging the lead for the remainder of the meeting.

A massive credit to their work inside the paint, the Boomers totalled 42 points in the key which completely dwindled the Lightning’s 16 points in this area of the game. Such a difference in an extremely important facet of the contest ultimately led to Melbourne’s convincing 21-point win and bumped up the side to third in the WNBL standings as a result.

One of the by-products of Melbourne’s dominance inside the key was their resulting 45 per cent shooting overall, and with Adelaide barely making a quarter of their total attempts (27 per cent) the Boomers made the most of their passing, out assisting the Lightning 25 to 12.

Perfectly fitting for the veteran and future hall of famer, George’s double-double effort (22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists) led the way from start to finish for her side. While supporting frontcourt acts on the night like Magbegor (14 points and 10 rebounds) and Purcell (11 points, nine rebounds and four assists) made her job a little easier in securing the side’s eighth win of the campaign.

Unsurprisingly it was the Lightning’s main two threats that were the team’s only double-digit producers on the scoreboard, with Wilson accumulating 14 points on the night, along with three rebounds and two assists, whereas Talbot finished with 11 points and six rebounds – a more quiet outing than usual for the MVP candidate.

While Adelaide has essentially lost their ability to make a run at the postseason, they need to recover quickly if they are to bounce back tomorrow and topple the Bendigo Spirit, as more of the team’s secondary unit will have extended runs in the last round of the fixture. For the Boomers, they will look to consolidate a precarious third seed when they face off with the Spirit two days later, in what will be a favourable matchup for the title contenders.

Flames snatch victory from Lynx AND halt Perth’s winning streak 

Pic: WNBL

WITH neither the Sydney Uni Flames or the Perth Lynx eligible for the WNBL Finals, it did not stop both sides from playing with a sense of urgency and determination when they collided in the second of last night’s two games, as the former escaped with the win by a mere three points, 71-68.

In the infancy stages of Tuesday’s closer, both teams were able to display formidable tactics defensively throughout the first 10 minutes of play. Evidently this was the case purely based on the fact that both sides would only combine for 23 points, with Perth harbouring the narrow 13-10 lead heading into the first break.

The subsequent quarter to follow proved fruitless in terms of one team taking control over the game, as the Flames outscored the Lynx 20-19 in a more offence-filled second period, putting the half time deficit at just two points.

But with both teams shooting the ball at a rather poor rate, it seemed like just a matter of time before one of the two sides would start to get going. Nevertheless, Flames’ center Lauren Scherf was rejecting the status quo in those regards, compiling 12 points and five rebounds on 44 per cent shooting in her productive first half. Meanwhile, no Perth players on the other side managed to get quite as hot in the first half as Scherf, but Katie Ebzery gave it a red-hot crack with seven points of her own.

Ebzery continued her efforts on the scorecard, doubling her totals in the next 10 minutes while Sydney Uni continued to hang in there and close the distance. With rebounding superstar Anneli Maley continuing her dominance on the glass, as well as 150-gamer Nat Burton and Alison Schwagmeyer providing supplementary supports elsewhere, Katrina Hibbert’s side found themselves a single point the lesser at the final break, 45-44, and looked to get a running start at the turn of the fourth period.

This aim would be fulfilled as the Flames knocked down the opening two baskets of the final term, momentarily holding a one-point lead over the in-form Lynx. But a return three from Alex Ciabattoni 80 seconds in handed back the lead to Ryan Petrik and his side, further prolonging the Flames’ comeback efforts.

Even though Perth managed to hold onto the lead for essentially the whole last term, the Flames would just not go away, tying things up with two and a half minutes remaining and then regaining the lead a minute later off of a Schwagmeyer triple. Known for her shooting, Funda Nakkasoglu put Sydney Uni up by four with 55 seconds left, where Ebzery answered back with a three of her own with 24 seconds to play, putting Perth behind by just a point. But Scherf’s two made free throws with just 10 seconds on the clock iced the game and end the Lynx’s three-game winning streak.

Both teams shot at a surprisingly low efficiency, where Sydney Uni converted on 36 per cent, which was slightly higher than Perth’s 34 per cent. The Flames held the higher ground in a number of categories to name a few. Particularly noticeable was the side’s plus-11 in rebounding (52-41) and superiority off the bench (30-14), while also winning statistically in areas such as assists, second chance points and three-point shooting.

Schwagmeyer (four assists and three rebounds) and Scherf (11 rebounds and five assists) each scraped away with 19 points apiece, whereas Burton (10 points and two assists) and Maley (eight points, 14 rebounds and four assists) were also instrumental in the win.

Despite the Lynx’s best efforts last night, only two individuals managed over 10 points. Ebzery showed off her scoring abilities at the point guard position, with a game-high 24-point performance, as Alex Sharp fought for her 11-point and 12-rebound double-double last night. A major downfall for the side was Darcee Garbin’s lack of impact, as the Opal only managed nine points and seven rebounds in her 37 minutes of court time.

Perth returns to Townsville Stadium on Thursday to try and emerge victorious for the fourth time in five games against the Canberra Capitals, while the Flames will take the court directly after when they try to upstage a Southside Flyers outfit that has not been defeated since the 23rd of November.

2020 WNBL Round 5 preview: Last chance for teams to make mark

ROUND 5 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) is finally here. The last round of the season, and five teams are fighting for four spots, with the top two unable to be moved, and the next two almost there, whilst the fifth placed side has a huge week to try and grab a late spot in the post-season series.

Adelaide Lightning

Position: 5th
Wins: 4
Losses: 5

To make finals?

The Lightning need to win all four games and hope either the Fire or Boomers lose all of their games. Could finish as low as seventh if Perth and Sydney Uni win games in the final round.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Cairns vs. Melbourne Boomers
Wed, Dec 9 @ Cairns vs. Bendigo Spirit
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Townsville Fire
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni Flames

After starting off strongly with a 4-1 start, the Lightning have slumped to a four-game losing streak to now be perilously close to missing out on finals. They need a lot to go right in the run home, though one benefit is playing both the Boomers and Fire who hold onto the spots they needs. If they can win those, they should go 4-0, but even then need at least one of those sides to have a shock loss.

Steph Talbot has been the standout this season, averaging 20.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 block per game, providing some continuity to the side along with Chelsea Brook (10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists). Abigail Wehrung (11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Alex Wilson (11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists) have certainly shone but they need to have a big finish in the final round.

 

Bendigo Spirit

Position: 8th
Wins: 0
Losses: 11th

To make finals?

They can’t. In fact they cannot even get off the bottom. Just pride on the line for Bendigo in the Spirit’s final two matches.

Round 5 fixtures:

Wed, Dec 9 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Melbourne Boomers

It has been a disappointing season for the Spirit, but not completely unexpected given the youth they have been pushing through the program. Having lost the likes of Shyla Heal and Abigail Wehrung over the off-season, the Spirit were quite inexperienced, and while they have been overawed, have had some promising moments for the future.

Tessa Lavey (16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals) and Carley Ernst (15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 block) have ben the standout players all season, and have just been searching for more consistent support across the side. Demi Skinner (6.9 points, 2.4 rebounds) and Mary Goulding (5.9 points, 4.0 rebounds) have provided some special moments, while Piper Dunlop (2.7 points, 1.8 rebounds) is one for the future.

 

Melbourne Boomers

Position: 3rd
Wins: 7
Losses: 3

To make finals?

Not lose every game and allow the Lightning to win every game. It is a certainty barring a massive disaster. In fact, even defeating Adelaide tonight guarantees them a spot.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Bendigo Spirit
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Townsville Fire

The Boomers can lock up a finals spot with a win tonight over Adelaide, but realistically they should have no issues casting aside Bendigo on Friday. A grudge match against Townsville looms as a massive final day encounter, with the winner potentially taking third spot, and the loser left for fourth.

Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George combine to be two of the best bigs in the league with the way they have really begun dominating each game of late, not that it should come as any surprise. The two Opals are experts at their craft, and George is averaging 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals, while Magbegor has put up 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 block. Tess Madgen (14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists) has provided all-round support for the Boomers, while Maddie Garrick (10.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists) is the other top scorer on the side.

 

Perth Lynx

Position: 6th
Wins: 4
Losses: 7

To make finals?

They cannot. Unfortunately the Lynx left their run a little too late, and even two wins in the final round sees them fall short.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni
Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. UC Capitals

After a poor 1-7 start and only a victory against the winless Bendigo, the Lynx have found their feet in the past week, winning three straight games, and boosting themselves to a 4-7 record which saw them leapfrog Sydney Uni Flames. A win over the Flames tonight guarantees them a top six spot, while they could derail the Capitals plans with a victory on Thursday. Perth will be the first team to finish the WNBL season after Thursday.

Darcee Garbin has had a remarkable season and just keeps getting better, with the ex-Fire talent now up to 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, sharing the load perfectly with Katie-Rae Ebzery (17.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists). Alex Ciabattoni has been a welcome addition to the squad as a two-way player with 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steal per game, while the rebounding duo of Alex Sharp (8.7 points, 7.8 rebounds) and Kayla Steindl (6.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) has ensured the Lynx remain competitive.

 

Southside Flyers

Position: 1st
Wins: 9
Losses: 2

To make finals?

Never looked like not making it, with top spot to likely be decided in the final round clash against the Capitals.

Round 5 fixtures:

Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. UC Capitals

Now on a five-game winning streak and having taken care of the Boomers after an earlier loss, the Flyers face their other nemesis in UC Capitals in the final round. Southside has plenty of talent with the Capitals and Boomers arguably the only two teams able to have their measure, and as such should have no problems against the Flames on Thursday, then decide top spot with the Capitals on Sunday.

Liz Cambage has been unstoppable at the level since coming back from the WNBA, racking up 24.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Sara Blicavs (14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals) has relished the focus going off her this season, while Rebecca Cole (13.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds) and Jenna O’Hea (11.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals) have also provided all-round support. It is hard to forget Leilani Mitchell who has been an assist-machine, picking up 6.5 dimes per game to go with her 8.1 points.

 

Sydney Uni Flames

Position: 7th
Wins: 3
Losses: 7

To make finals?

They cannot, but they could leap as high as fifth if they can win their last three games and results go their way in other matches.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Townsville vs. Perth Lynx
Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Southside Flyers
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Adelaide Lightning

The Flames cannot make finals, but have the potential to pick up a couple more wins in the run home and rise as high as fifth on the table. While the top of the table Southside Flyers will be tough to knock off, the Lynx and Lightning either side of that game, tonight and Sunday are winnable matches for Sydney Uni.

Ex-Perth stars Lauren Mansfield (12.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists) and Alison Schwagmeyer (12.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals) have combined brilliantly in the back court this season since crossing the country. Lauren Scherf has remained steady in the five spot with 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, whilst Anneli Maley has been a revelation thanks to 11.4 rebounds to go with her 6.8 points.

 

Townsville Fire

Position: 4th
Wins: 7
Losses: 4

To make finals?

Similar position to Melbourne, needing one win to secure a Top 4 spot, and can only drop out if they lose them all and the Lightning win them all. Will know if they have to play for a finals spot by the time their first game rolls around.

Round 5 fixtures:

Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Melbourne Boomers

The Fire are on the verge of bouncing back from last year’s wooden spoon to playing finals this year, but must knock off Adelaide Lightning on Friday. They do that and it will be all secure, before a huge playoff for third takes place against Melbourne Boomers on Sunday. Until Friday, the Fire have the longest rest leading up to the final round.

The back court duo of Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal is the best in the competition with the pair providing the majority of the team’s points throughout the 2020 season. Nicholson has put up 18.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals, while Heal has managed 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals in their 10 games this season. Zitina Aokuso just keeps getting better and got the start last match, and is almost up to 10 points per game (9.7) coming off the bench, to go with 5.9 rebounds per match. Nadeen Payne (8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds) has provided great support in that area.

 

UC Capitals

Position: 2nd
Wins: 8
Losses: 3

To make finals?

They are in, and like the Flyers, have looked in since bouncing back from a surprise opening night loss. Top spot will be up for grabs in the last match against the Flyers if the Capitals win their first match.

Round 5 fixtures:

Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Perth Lynx
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Southside Flyers

The reigning back-to-back premiers had a disappointing loss to Townsville Fire which saw them slip to second on the table, and now they have to bounce back with wins against Perth Lynx, and finish off against title favourites, Southside Flyers. The Capitals beat them last time they faced off and will be hoping to do so again, with their defensive mindset key to containing the Flyers’ bigs.

Kelsey Griffin has just been building all season for this pointy end, now averaging 11.8 points. 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, teaming up well with co-captain Marianna Tolo (10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks). The youth coming through the guard spots in Maddison Rocci (15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.3 steals) and Jade Melbourne (8.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists) has been a delight for the future, while Keely Froling (9.7 points, 6.0 rebounds) has pieced together a really strong season.

Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Flames survive second term scare from Spirit

SYDNEY Uni Flames survived a forgettable second term to put away the winless Bendigo Spirit in the first of four games on a Super Sunday of Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) action. The Flames started strongly, but found themselves down at half-time against a spirited Bendigo outfit, though they steadied in the second half to run away with an eight-point win, 62-54.

The Flames lit up the court in the opening quarter, racing to a 23-14 lead at quarter time. Though they were expected to get the job done, it was an impressive start to the game, but Bendigo was not to fade away easily. The Spirit picked up in the second quarter to pile on 19 points to eight and actually take the lead by two heading into the main break. The penultimate quarter turned into a low-scoring slog with just total 18 points scored – less than Sydney Uni in the first term and Bendigo in the second – with the Flames levelling the match at 41-apiece.

The Flames bolted out of the gates early in the final term to pile on 13 points to three in the opening six-and-a-half minutes of play. They were firmly in control leading 54-44, though the damaging duo of Carley Ernst and Tessa Lavey refused to give in, cutting the deficit to two plays after back-to-back jumpers. The Flames steadied, and whilst Lavey hit another triple with 38 seconds left on the clock to cut it to six, it would not be enough as the Flames controlled the play and then a last second layup off an offensive rebound from Lauren Scherf put the icing on the cake for a 62-54 victory.

The Flames’ dominance off the boards was the crucial difference between the teams, racking up a whopping 57 rebounds to 38, which allowed them to also control second chance points, putting in 25-6 and making the most of poor accuracy. Sydney Uni will certainly want to sharpen up their shooting for the next match, only scoring at a 32 per cent clip. The Spirit were not much better at 34 per cent, but they matched it with the Flames for the most part, winning the assists for the first time (17-16), and having a couple more fast break points (8-6).

Alison Schwagmeyer was put up 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals in an impressive performance for the Flames. Christina Boag did not have the same accuracy issues that some of her teammates did, hitting 63 per cent of her field goal attempts to finish with 16 points, as well as six rebounds and two blocks. It made up for an uncharacteristically inaccurate performance from star guard Lauren Mansfield who hit just one of 14 from the field – including one of eight from long range and none of six from two-point range – but the former Lynx talent picked up seven assists, three rebounds and two steals.

Scherf (seven points, six rebounds) and Natalie Burton (six points, seven rebounds and four blocks) were strong throughout, but it was Anneli Maley who again decimated the opposition near the basket with a whopping game-high 11 rebounds to go with five points.

For the Spirit, Lavey had the 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds, while Ernst picked up 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Sharing the points evenly elsewhere, Mary Goulding had seven, plus four rebounds and two assists, whilst Cassidy McLean (five points, four rebounds), Demi Skinner (five points, five rebounds) and Amelia Todhunter (five points, two rebounds, two assists and three steals) all contributed in some way.

Sydney Uni now have a two-day break until facing the Perth Lynx on Tuesday, while the Spirit come up against Adelaide Lightning on Wednesday.

Picture credit: WNBL

Flyers exact revenge on Boomers

Liz Cambage had a huge day out against the Boomers. Picture credit: WNBL

SOUTHSIDE Flyers have bounced back from their loss to Melbourne Boomers earlier in the 2020 WNBL season to post a commanding 15-point win over their Victorian counterparts today. In a performance led by Liz Cambage who put up a massive 35 points to go with seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals, the Flyers were just too good after quarter time, particularly in the middle two quarters where they outscored the Boomers, 48-35.

The first term was even with Southside getting the edge by a point at the early break, heading in after a high-scoring quarter to lead 22-21. They continued their scoring prowess in the second term, but managed to restrict the Boomers’ impact on the scoreboard, putting up 20 points to 12 and leading by nine at half-time They continued that momentum after the break to win the third quarter solidly with 28 points to 23, before finishing off marginally ahead in the final stanza, saluting 24-23. It allowed them to post a 94-79 victory and remain equal on top with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals.

Southside was deadly from the field, hitting 62 per cent of their shots, and despite having 10 less field goal attempts, managed to slot six more overall, including 10 of 17 from long-range in a three-point shooting bonanza. The boomers hit 44 per cent from the field, largely let down by their two-point shooting which ran at less than 50 per cent, but their three-point efforts were relatively strong with 10 from 26.

The teams were evenly poised across the stats with the Boomers picking up one extra rebound (32-31), as well as more steals (11-7), bench points (19-11) and second chance points (6-4). The Flyers were controlling the offence with 29 assists to 22, whilst also having six blocks to two and scoring four more fast break points.

Aside from Cambage who was clearly best on court in the win, the Flyers had three others who contributed double-figure points. Fellow big, Sara Blicavs hit 18 points – seven of nine from the field – along with nine rebounds and four assists, while Rebecca Cole (16 points at 87 per cent efficiency, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals) and Jenna O’Hea (11 points at 66 per cent efficiency, two rebounds) both emphasised how accurate the Flyers were.

Steph Blicavs was also effective off the bench, hitting three of her four shots to finish with six points, three rebounds and two assists. Leilani Mitchell only put up three shots for three points, but dished off dimes like there was no tomorrow with a massive 11 assists.

For the Boomers, Ezi Magbegor scored a team-high 20 points to go with five rebounds and two assists, hitting 69 per cent of her shots from the field, including nine of 11 from inside the arc. Cayla George (12 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals) could not have done much more on a losing side, while Ashleigh Karaitiana (10 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Tess Madgen (10 points, four assists and three rebounds) were also busy. Kalani Purcell (nine points, three rebounds and four steals) was the standout coming off the Boomers’ bench.

Boomers dominate first half to extinguish Flames

MELBOURNE Boomers have won their second of four matches their week, putting away the Sydney Uni Flames in a strong 86-64 victory in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) clash last night. The win was set up by a huge first half, dominating by scoring 48 points to just 21 and effectively shutting out the Flames before they could even ignite. To Sydney Uni’s credit, the Flames did hit back in the second half to make it a contest with 43-38, but the Boomers were able to manage their stars and ensure they were well rested ahead of their third game coming up on the weekend.

The Boomers dominated the assist count with 27 to 12, able to slice through the Flames’ defence, whilst stopping their opponents in their tracks. The Flames were not helped by the fact they could not finish off ,hitting just 32 per cent of their field goal attempts, despite having 10 more chances than the Boomers who went at a much higher 53 per cent. Melbourne also led the rebounds (45-38), fast break points (12-10) and bench points (22-8), and had eight blocks to zero, constantly denying the Flames close to the rim.

The Flames would have been a lot closer had it not been for the accuracy, because defensively they held up well, earning nine steals to five and having five less turnovers (12-17). Both teams scored 16 points off turnovers, while the Flames managed to have an extra point off the second chance (16-14), and had four less personal fouls (12-16). Overall, it was more about chances, and the Boomers took them in the first half.

Ezi Magbegor led the way with a double-double of 23 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two assists. Most impressively, she nailed 10 of her 11 chances and did not miss any of her three free throw attempts in a stunning performance. Maddie Garrick hit the 15 points, but it was Tess Madgen‘s 13 points, nine assists and five rebounds that caught attention, slicing up the opposition defence and only having three less assists than the entire opposition team.

Cayla George almost recorded a double-double in the win with eight points and 10 rebounds, as well as four assists, while Penina Davidson came off the bench to score 10 points in nine minutes. Also gaining some extra minutes was Stella Beck who had seven points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal in the win.

For the Flames, it was the former Perth duo that were left to carry much of the load as Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer combined for 43 of the Flames’ 64 points. Mansfield had 22 points, two rebounds and three assists, while Schwagmeyer hit 21 points, eight rebounds and two steals in the loss. Anneli Maley was huge off the boards with 11 rebounds to go with five points – only two from 11 – while Funda Nakkasoglu had six points and two assists.

Melbourne faces a tough weekend, coming up against Bendigo Spirit on Saturday, before taking on top of the table Southside Flyers on Sunday, Meanwhile Sydney Uni will have a break until Sunday when they face the winless Bendigo Spirit.

Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

2020 WNBL Round 4 preview: Competition for finals spots heats up

MELBOURNE Boomers will have the toughest Round 4 schedule of any side after a more relaxed Round 3 in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), having to play four games in six days, including two matches against last year’s grand finalists. Adelaide Lightning, Bendigo Spirit, Perth Lynx and University of Canberra (UC) Capitals will play three games apiece, while Southside Flyers, Sydney Uni Flames and Townsville Fire have the two games this week.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING

vs. Southside Flyers @ Cairns on Wed, Dec 2
vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

It is a make or break round coming up for the Lightning, following two losses in Round 3, that were also accompanied by two big wins. They lost by 40 and 31 points to Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers respectively, but accounted for Bendigo Spirit and Sydney Uni Flames by 40 and 22. They now have to back up to try and turn the tables on the Flyers, before two sets of 48-hour breaks to take on reigning premiers, UC Capitals and then the struggling Perth Lynx. If the Lightning can come away with two wins, they will be in a good position to play finals, but even 1-2 could leave them in the lurch if results do not go their way.

Steph Talbot has been the star this season, putting up 20.8 points 9.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, joined by the likes of Abigail Wehrung (13.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and Alex Wilson (13.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals) in the top points scorers. Marena Whittle has also been crucial off the boards with seven rebounds to go with eight points per game.

BENDIGO SPIRIT

vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Cairns on Sat, Dec 5
vs. Sydney Uni Flames @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

The Spirit are out of contention for the finals race, but could try and finish on a high, playing the other two bottom three sides in the next week. Yet to win a game, a win over the Lynx would be a confidence-boosting effort, whilst the Flames on Sunday is a possible chance as well with their opponents’ best impressive, but their worst pretty bad. The Boomers in between will be a tough ask, but even the likely finals-bound side has shown to have chinks in the armour. With only two games left after this round, the Spirit need to break their winless drought here.

In season 2020, much of the work has been left up to the experience of Carley Ernst and Tessa Lavey. Ernst has been enormous off the boards with 7.3 rebounds to go with 16.7 points and a block per game, while Lavey has put up 16.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds and a steal per game. Both have been crucial in transitioning from offence to defence, but have made up the bulk of their team’s scoring with Mary Goulding (6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.1 assists) the next best, and Lavey has recorded about half of the team’s assists, an area the Spirit have struggled in.

MELBOURNE BOOMERS

vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Sydney Uni Flames @ Cairns on Thu, Dec 3
vs. Bendigo Spirit @Cairns on Sat, Dec 5
vs. Southside Flyers @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

If we are talking make or break, then the Boomers have that this round. Four games in six days starting tonight, Melbourne can launch a finals campaign by the end of the week. However, a terrible week would likely see them not only slip back into the back, but also put their finals chances right in doubt. They have a mixed bag this week with likely wins over the Flames and Spirit, but they also take on top two sides, Southside Flyers and UC Capitals. They did account for the Flyers back in Round 1 and would love nothing more than to upset their closest Victorian rival, but coming off three games in five days while the Flyers will have had a few days rest off their only other Wednesday night fixture, it will be tough. Four wins and they are genuinely in the hunt for a top two spot.

Tess Madgen was in scintillating form prior to her ankle injury but she should be back and raring to go this round, averaging 18.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 2020 since crossing from Townsville Fire. The experienced four and five combination of Cayla George (16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals) and Ezi Magbegor (11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks) has also been a highlight of the year for the reigning semi-finalists.

PERTH LYNX

vs. Bendigo Spirit @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Townsville Fire @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

There is no doubt that for Perth to have a shot at finals, they would need a near-impossible set of results to occur. Having played two extra games to their biggest threats in Melbourne and Adelaide, Perth would need to win its remaining five games, and hope the Boomers and Lightning lose them all – bar the one they face against each other. Despite their 1-7 start, the Lynx have been competitive for the most part despite some one-sided defeats too. They have a very winnable game first up against the only side they have beaten so far in the Spirit, before taking on finals contenders in Townsville Fire and Adelaide Lightning. Whilst it is anticipated they end the week with 1-2 added to their tally, they could catch the Lightning off guard and derail Adelaide’s finals chances.

Katie-Rae Ebzery has been the dominant player, averaging 16.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, whilst former Fire talent Darcee Garbin has thrived in the move out west, putting up 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals. Much like the Spirit, the points drop off though both Alex Ciabattoni (8.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Alex Sharp (8.3 points, 6.9 rebounds) have been prominent, as has Kayla Steindl off the boards with 7.9 rebounds.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS

vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Cairns on Wed, Dec 2
vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

After a busy couple of weeks, the Flyers have a relatively smooth week with just two games in the seven days, coming up against Adelaide Lightning and Melbourne Boomers in Cairns. Tomorrow night’s clash against the Lightning will go a long way to securing a top two spot, with a victory over the Boomers just about confirming it. They have only lost the two games – to the Boomers and Capitals – and will be keen to bounce back against the Boomers in their second fixture. Either way, finals is sewn up for the Flyers who are the title favourites despite the losses.

Liz Cambage has made the mark everyone expected her to on-court with 22.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game thus far. She has plenty of talent around her though, with Sara Blicavs (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 steals) having a ripping season with Jenna O’Hea (10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game) in the front court. In the back court, Leilani Mitchell (8.7 points, 5.9 assists) and Rebecca Cole (13.2 points, 4.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds) have been slicing and dicing opposition defences and leading their side to some big wins.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES

vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Carins on Thu, Dec 3
vs. Bendigo Spirit @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

Sydney Uni is a side whose season is on life support, though there still is a pulse there if they can capitalise this round. With only five games remaining, they will need to win at least four, but preferably all five, starting with the Boomers and Spirit this week. The Spirit is an obvious must-win on Sunday, but to knock off the Boomers on Thursday would help the Flames at least leapfrog them, and potentially sit equal fourth by the end of the round. With Perth and Adelaide amongst the opponents in the final round, their fate is still in their hands, but they cannot afford to slip-up.

Former Perth duo, Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer have taken to the east coast like ducks to water. Mansfield is averaging 12.6 points, 4.8 assists and 2.1 rebounds while Schwagmeyer has put up 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals. The impact of five, Lauren Scherf with 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 blocks should not be underestimated, while Anneli Maley might be the most underrated player in the competition, putting up 7.3 points and 1.3 steals to go with a whopping 11.5 rebounds in her eight games since crossing from the Flyers.

TOWNSVILLE FIRE

vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

Much like the Flyers and Flames, the Fire complete the trio of ‘F’ sides only playing the two games this weekend. Both are at home in Townsville this week, and the Fire get to rest up until Friday, the last team to commence action in Round 4. They go head-to-head with Perth Lynx up first, and are able to put a line through the Lynx’s season. The Capitals on Sunday will be a tougher challenge, and they will need to be at their best, but the Fire have shown to be capable throughout matches they just need to do it for longer periods of time, having gone down to the Capitals back in Round 1 by 11 points.

Lauren Nicholson (16.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals) and Shyla Heal (16.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.0 steals) have been one of the best back court duos in the league this season. They have dominated the vast majority of Townsville’s points since crossing from Adelaide and Bendigo respectively over the offseason. Zitina Aokuso (9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds), Megan McKay (5.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Nadeen Payne (8.0 points, 5.7 rebounds) are the bigs who cause headaches for opposition sides off the boards.

UC CAPITALS

vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Townsville Fire @Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

The UC Capitals are sitting pretty at the moment with seven wins from eight games and in prime position for top spot. With a last-day matchup against the Flyers set to potentially determine top spot, there would be one eye on the semis despite having the five games remaining. They have the three this weekend, and none are easy, taking on the likely finals-bound Boomers and Fire either side of the team that beat them in overtime back in Round 1, Adelaide Lightning. The form that a full-strength Capitals outfit has shown over the journey is better than any other side, and they will be hard to beat, but before they can focus on finals, they need to keep ticking over the wins and it starts tonight against the Boomers.

Maddison Rocci (15.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals) leads all-comers in terms of points, with the co-captains Marianna Tolo (11.6 points. 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks) and Kelsey Griffin (10.8 points. 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals) building into the season nicely. Jade Melbourne‘s season has been impressive (9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists), while Tahlia Tupaea‘s work off the bench (6.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists) should not be understated.