THE top four and top eight are all but set barring disaster for the teams in fourth and eighth, but stranger things have happened in sport and all eyes are on the penultimate round of the Melbourne United Victorian Junior Basketball League (MUVJBL) Under-16 Girls Championship Division.
Diamond Valley Eagles (3rd, 12-4) vs. Knox Raiders (15th, 5-9-2)
Knox Raiders are already out of finals contention barring a complete miracle that sees Melbourne drop both games and the Raiders pick up two wins. They have a tough ask up against third placed Diamond Valley Eagles who are very keen to try and grab back a top two spot and play a home final. They must take care of business here and officially rule the Raiders out of the finals race. With a 6-2 record at home, the Eagles are more than comfortable there, while the Raiders are three wins and a draw from eight games on the road. Eleanor Bollands leads the way for Diamond Valley with 11.0 points per game, while Jaida Reid is the highest Knox Raiders’ scorer with 8.2.
Melbourne Tigers (10th, 8-8) vs. Bulleen Boomers (2nd, 12-2-2)
Melbourne Tigers hold the coveted eighth spot on the table in terms of Championship Division sides, but they must pick up at least one win to secure their spot in the finals series. They have one of the toughest challenges this round in Bulleen, with the Boomers out of the running for top spot, but need to keep winning to ensure they maintain second spot – and a home final – given Diamond Valley is just two points behind with a much superior percentage. The Tigers are four wins from seven games at home, while the Boomers have five wins and a draw from seven matches away. The Tigers rely on Amy Kurkowski (12.4 points) and Leila Davis (11.0) as their top scorers, while the Boomers have a mix of shooters including Tabitha Betson (9.7) and Ella McIntyre (9.3).
Dandenong Rangers (1st, 15-1) vs. Ballarat Rush (5th, 10-6)
Dandenong Rangers have a couple of dead rubbers to finish the season, easily 30 per cent clear of second placed Bulleen, even if they dropped both games. They could officially rule out the Rush from making top four with a win here, although given the rush need to recover almost 15 per cent on fourth placed Keilor Thunder in the final two rounds – as well as win both and need the Thunder to lose both – it is a tough ask even without the rough fixture. The Rangers dropped their only game at home in six appearances, while the Rush have five wins from eight games both home and a away. Dandenong Rangers have the biggest spread of shooters up the top-end, as Dallas Loughridge (12.8 points per game), Nyadiew Puoch (12.7) and Myah Healey (12.0) all rank inside the top 10 shooters. For the Rush, Georgia Cox is the dominant scorer with 11.2 points per game just ahead of Milly Simpson (10.6).
Sandringham Sabres (6th, 9-6-1) vs. Keilor Thunder (4th, 12-4)
In arguably the game of the round, fourth placed Keilor Thunder can officially rule out any mathematical chance of missing top four. Better still, they are still in the hunt for second with Bulleen and Diamond Valley both within two points, although percentage is the big difference. The Sabres currently have a home final lined up, but with back-to-back losses and Nunawading having the easier fixture this round, they could drop to seventh and take their fate out of their own hands in the final round. Keilor is strong on the road too with six wins from seven games, while Sandringham have a 50 per cent win-loss ratio at home. Hannah Wickstrom leads the way when it comes to points scorers for the Sabres with 13.4 – ranked second overall, while the only player ahead of her is Tess Heal (Keilor) who has sank a massive 17.7 points per game, while Jaz Salon (12.0) has also been prolific.
Nunawading Spectres (7th, 9-7) vs. Hawthorn Magic (14th, 6-9-1)
In the final game of the round, Nunawading Spectres should be able to take care of Hawthorn Magic, though the Magic still have a mathematical chance of making finals if the Tigers drop both and the Magic can pick up two wins. Taking it one week at a time, the Spectres will be no easy beats, though a 2-5 record a home does not inspire terrific confidence for the home side, especially when the Magic have split their road trips with four wins from eight games. Evie Curtis averages 10.6 points per game for the Spectres, while Olivia Morris is just behind with 10.4, while for the Magic, Amy Ohara has an average of 10.7.