NBL1 Women’s finals preview: Qualifying and Elimination finals

AFTER a week off due to Australian Opals commitments at the national side’s training camp in Phoenix, Arizona, the best Australian players return to their respective sides to try and win their National Basketball League (NBL)1 sides a title. Just eight teams remain with the form lines very different for some sides as the most in-form teams go head-to-head, whilst those found wanting in the back-end of the season will hope to rekindle their form as well.

QF1: BENDIGO BRAVES vs. KILSYTH COBRAS
Friday August 2, 7pm
Bendigo Stadium

Last time they met: Kilsyth Cobras (64) defeated by Bendigo Braves (70)

It was a tight contest throughout when Bendigo and Kilsyth last clashed right back in mid-April. The Braves got out to a five-point lead at quarter time, before the Cobras reeled them back in to head into the main break just two points down. The Braves regained ascendancy from there, but never looked entirely safe until the final buzzer, eventually getting up by six points. Gabrielle Richards (28 points, 12 rebounds) was phenomenal for the Braves, well assisted by Nadeen Payne (17 points, five assists) and Kelly Wilson (15 points, five rebounds, 11 assists and three steals). For the Cobras, Clare Camac (21 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Klara Wischer (16 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals) were the two key players in the defeat.

Recent form:

When you have only lost one game for the season, and saluted in the past 12 games, you have a fairly handy run of good form going and that is why the Braves are raging premiership favourites after a dominant regular season.

Considering Kilsyth was 1-4 to start the season, the Cobras have produced a remarkable fightback to finish fourth, dropping just two matches in the last 15 to be the third best form team heading into the finals series, which makes it such a terrific contest.

Key Players:

Kelly Wilson (Bendigo Braves) – 19.9 PPG | 6.3 RPG | 10.4 APG | 2.1 SPG

The pocket rocket guard has been absolutely sensational this season for the Braves, leading from the front and proving that height is not an obstacle in the league for the 170cm shooter. She is able to get to the foul line quite often, converting her free throws 88 per cent of the time, whilst having plenty of say across the court as well. Good defensively without giving away too many fouls, Wilson hardly ever plays a bad game and is a super talent.

Lauren Nicholson (Kilsyth Cobras) – 24.4 PPG | 5.9 RPG | 3.5 APG | 1.5 SPG

Like Wilson, Nicholson has been able to use all of her NBL experience to lead the Cobras on a sensational run. Having played 17 of the 20 matches, the 180cm guard has been a point-scoring machine in season 2019, but has also pickpocketed her opposition more often than not. She wins the ball back for her side and can do damage defensively as well as offensively, and whilst her shooting percentage could be higher, she puts up a high volume of shots.

How will it play out?

The teams are ranked second (Bendigo) and seventh (Kilsyth) on the offensive end, whilst defensively they are both ranked in the top three – Bendigo the lowest points conceded and Bendigo ranked third. Expect the Braves to play to the tempo, able to win whichever way the game is played, whilst Kilsyth would be keen to keep it low scoring and make the most of the opportunities. They are two of the most in-form sides of the competition so it is hard to not see this game as match of the round.

EF2: NUNAWADING SPECTRES vs. WAVERLEY FALCONS
Saturday August 3, 5.30pm
Nunawading Stadium

Last time they met: Nunawading Spectres (52) defeated by Waverley Falcons (62)

In a dour low-scoring affair, Nunawading could not seem to find the basket at home against the Falcons just over a month ago, going down by 10 points and putting just 52 on the board. By the final break they had 34 points to their name, and the Spectres were down by 12. Whilst they manage to pick up the scoring in the final term, they will be keen to find more avenues to the basket in this match. Tegan Cunningham (16 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists) was important for the Falcons, as was Carley Ernst (13 points, nine rebounds), whilst Rachel Brewster (18 points, seven rebounds and three assists) was a lone hand for Nunawading, putting up good numbers.

Recent form:

Back-to-back losses and losing a double chance was not the way Nunawading hoped to head into finals, but their form at times had been patchy. They should knock off the likes of Kilsyth Cobras, but have also dropped games to the struggling Eltham Wildcats. They have a home game here, but are not in the best of form.

Behind Bendigo, Waverley have the most form coming into the finals series of any side. They are the definition of underdogs and it would be hard for them not to be neutral’s team to watch because in a massive eight-game winning streak, they have knocked off three other finalists, but the worry was the softer run home that might have helped them grab eighth. Still, they are in good form which is the opposite to their opponents, and did beat them last time out.

Key Players:

Kathleen Scheer (Nunawading Spectres) 14.4 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 3.0 APG | 0.9 SPG | 1.3 BPG

May not have the high points tally that other key players have, but Scheer does her job week in, week out and is able to contribute in a number of ways across the board. She picks up rebounds, feeds the ball in to set up her teammates and can pick-pocket the opposition if required, as well as get up high to deny her opposition open space with timely blocks. The Spectres have an even team, but her experience will be invaluable.

Kelly Bowen (Waverley Falcons) 13.3 PPG | 8.2 RPG | 2.5 APG | 1.7 SPG | 0.4 BPG

Similar to Scheer, Bowen is not the highest volume shooter, but she gets around the court to contribute in a number of ways. A prolific rebounder that defies her size (183cm) compared to much taller players, Bowen has been a key component of Waverley’s run to the finish line and whilst her shooting can let her down at times (just 32.5 per cent from the field), she knows how to set up her teammates.

How will it play out?

The Falcons find a way to win and just get by, ranked fourteenth overall for points for, well below their opponents who are ranked fifth overall, but defensively the Falcons have been strong, ranked fifth to their opponents’ seventh. If form is the best indicator of how this game will go down, then Waverley are the team to beat, but if potential is what guides this game, then Nunawading have plenty of scoring options and will stretch the Falcons.

EF1: KNOX RAIDERS vs. DANDENONG RANGERS
Saturday, August 3, 6pm
State Basketball Centre

Last time they met: Knox Raiders (76) defeated Dandenong Rangers (65)

Knox controlled play for three of the four quarters when these sides last clashed at the start of June, racing out to a nine-point lead at the main break before the Rangers cut the deficit to three by the final break. Knox got back on top to embellish the margin thanks to a 21-13 quarter, running out 11-point winners. Lauren Scherf was the match winner with 33 points and an eye-opening 26 rebounds as well as four assists, while Marena Whittle (15 points, 11 rebounds) picked up a double-double and Abbey Wehrung (15 points, seven assists and four rebounds) was prominent as well for the Raiders. Colleen Planeta was the star for Dandenong, putting up 25 points and eight rebounds.

Recent form:

Knox come into the final series having lost three of the past four after stringing four consecutive wins together. Aside from a loss to Kilsyth in the middle, the Raiders had won nine of 10 games in the mid-season which catapulted them into title contention. They will be keen to find that form once again here.

Dandenong looked every bit a top four side early in the season, but have dropped eight of the past 10 games after sitting 9-1 at one stage. Instead, the Rangers fell into the finals with just the two wins in the second half of the season, and now remain as the most out-of-form side that will need to lift and regain its first half form.

Key Players:

Lauren Scherf (Knox Raiders) 21.5 PPG | 13.2 RPB | 2.9 APG | 1.0 SPG | 1.4 BPG

The prolific rebounding machine has been an asset for Knox and looms as the wildcard in the pack for the Raiders. She is averaging a double-double and is arguably the best rebounder in the competition. Not only does she get up on the boards, but she denies the opposition open looks, and sets up her teammates for crucial assists down the court. The player Dandenong must look to stop.

Colleen Planeta (Dandenong Rangers) 18.3 PPG | 9.5 RPG | 1.9 APG | 1.2 SPG | 1.9 BPG

The tall American has been unstoppable at her best, almost recording a double-double average across the season. She is defensively strong with rebounds, steals and blocks all in the elite category, whilst Planeta is also able to put scoreboard pressure on the opposition. At 196cm, Planeta is a tough player to curb, and the Raiders will no doubt put plenty of work into her to restrict her impact.

How will it play out?

Neither of these sides are in great form, and in comparison to the Bendigo-Kilsyth clash, this is the complete opposite with both sides needing to rekindle the form that put them in title contention to begin with. Dandenong’s best is as good as anyone’s, but the Ranges have failed to show it of late, and whilst Knox are the highest scoring team in the competition, the Rangers are ranked a lowly eleventh for points for. Defensively, Dandenong has the upperhand, ranked sixth to Knox’s tenth. Given recent form though, Knox is the team to beat, because patchy form is better than poor form.

QF2: GEELONG SUPERCATS vs. RINGWOOD HAWKS
Saturday August 3, 7pm
Geelong Arena

Last time they met: Ringwood Hawks (78) defeated Geelong Supercats (70)

Ringwood was the team that ended Geelong’s massive 14-game winning streak and just gave the Supercats a bit of a wake-up call ahead of finals. Given the visiting side was missing a number of players and had just six players take the court, fatigue and the loss of Ezi Magbegor would have no doubt disrupted their play. Full credit to the Hawks however, winning three of the four quarters to ensure they came away with the eight-point win. Antonia Farnworth posted 29 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Cassidy Mihalko (15 points, four rebounds and four assists) was also prominent. For the Supercats, Sara Blicavs (20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals) and Zitina Aokuso (12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists) were the best.

Recent form:

Whilst Geelong’s streak reads as two losses heading into finals, how quickly we forget that after a Round 3 defeat at the hands of Frankston by a point, the Supercats had strung together a massive 14 victories before losing the final two games of the season. Had that one-point game gone the other way, they could have headed into the final couple of matches with an 18-0 record.

Ringwood finished the season off strongly, winning seven of the last eight games, including against the Supercats, Falcons, Rangers and Spectres who are all in the finals. It would give the Hawks great belief they can upset the home side here, although Geelong is hard to beat on its home court with only Bendigo finding a way to do it.

Key Players:

Sara Blicavs (Geelong Supercats) 18.0 PPG | 8.8 RPG | 1.6 APG | 1.8 SPG | 1.7 BPG

A dominant player who just keeps on going throughout matches and like many of these key players, fills out the stat sheet across the board. Blicavs teams well with Magbegor, and the duo form a formidable partnership on both the attacking and defensive end. Blicavs wins the ball back from the opposition and can punish them on the counter attack, able to deliver from three-point range – the key differential between her and Magbegor – as well as from in close.

Cassidy Mihalko (Ringwood Hawks) 16.9 PPG | 7.6 RPG | 1.6 APG | 2.0 SPG | 0.6 BPG

Productive and consistent, Mihalko is one of a number of Ringwood players who plays her role week in, week out and is able to get points on the board whilst finding plenty of it off the boards. She is particularly impressive at stealing the ball, averaging two per game which is well in the elite category, while showing she can deliver from three-point range, albeit with some inconsistency. She is not a huge fouler which is important, and works hard both ways to win rebounds off both the offensive and defensive boards.

How will it play out?

The teams are very different with Geelong ranked third for points for, while Ringwood are ranked thirteenth. Defensively both sides are even, with Geelong ranked second and Ringwood ranked fourth, meaning they can restrict their opposition when required. It comes down to the fitness and fatigue of the players with Geelong having a number of players who have had big workloads over the journey and if the Supercats are at full strength you would expect them to get the job done. Ringwood are more than capable of an upset though and will be keen to likely avoid a road trip to Bendigo if they can win here.

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