Tag: brianna turner

2019/20 WNBL preview: Semi-finals – Flyers a win away from grand final as Lightning look to even series

GAME 2 of the semi-finals between Adelaide Lightning and Southside Flyers will help decide which team progresses through to the next stage of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) finals.

Adelaide Lightning v. Southside Flyers

After a disappointing three-point loss, Adelaide Lightning play host to an in-form Flyers outfit that will be looking to inflict more pain on opposition this season. The Lightning will be hoping to draw on the home crowd advantage with the boisterous fans spurring them on at every point. The home side had their chances in their first clash but simply let it slip away when it counted while the Flyers on the other hand capitalised on every tiny error.

It was a relatively even match-up throughout Game 1 of the semi-final series with both sides posting similar numbers on the scoreboard and shooting at around the 36 per cent mark from the field highlighting just how evenly poised both sides were. The Lightning reaped in the rewards of their bench players outscoring their opponents 16 to seven showcasing just how dangerous they can be and the variety of options they have when going to basket. Another key difference proved to be the points in the paint (32-40) with the Flyers unable to convert in close but sinking them from down town sitting at 35.3 per cent while the Lightning lingered at 22. 2 per cent instead, doing most of their damage up close and personal.

The Flyers will have the belief that they can stand up to the pressure and whatever the Lightning throw at them having rode the wave only two days ago. Three players recorded double figures for Southside in their narrow win with Mercedes Russell leading the scoreboard assault with 20. Russell was unstoppable at both ends of the court racking up a huge 19 rebounds to accompany her 20 points to reel in yet another double-double and guide her side to a hard-fought victory an effort she will be hoping to replicate in her second semi-final. Teammate Rebecca Cole was just as handy posting up 13 points of her own and showcasing her rebounding knack with six and an impressive four steals. Leilani Mitchell was solid knocking back 15 points while Sara Blicavs had a relatively quiet game by her lofty standards an area she will want to rectify coming into this clash.

With the loss still fresh in their mind expect the Lightning to come out firing and most importantly with a point to prove. They have the talent and the depth to topple the highly touted Flyers having done it previously in the season and will be looking to knock them off their perch with the likes of Lauren Nicholson and Stephanie Talbot at the helm. Both have proven they can tear a game wide open with their strength and commitment. Import Brianna Turner fell just short of another double-double last game recording 11 points and nine rebounds but considering that was one of her quiet games could kick it up a whole other level in front of her home crowd. Throw in the likes of Chelsea Brooks and Kathryn Westbeld who had strong showings in their last encounter and the Lightning might just have what it takes to get the win.

If the Flyers are to get over the top of Lightning once again, they will have to shut down their bench players’ ability to come on and have an impact while continuing to attack the basket themselves. On the other hand, the Lightning must limit the Flyers second chances under the ring and deny any easy avenues to goal.

WNBL Semi-final 1 review: Southside escapes slow start to run out three-point winners in Dandenong

MINOR premiers, Southside Flyers are a win away from a 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Grand Final place after downing Adelaide Lightning by three points at Dandenong Stadium last night. Given Southside’s strength at its home court and Adelaide’s less-than-ideal road record, the Flyers were heavily fancied to move through to the season decider without too much fuss.

Unfortunately for the home fans, the visiting team was not on board with the script and came out all-guns blazing in the first term, piling on 25 points to 17 to race out to an eight-point lead at the first break. The Flyers made inroads back into the contest in the second term with a 17-14 quarter and drew within five at half-time. Needing a special effort in the second half, the Southside team that everyone had come to know returned to the court, powering its way to a massive 22-7 term, restricting the Lightning in every way possible to go from a five-point deficit to a huge 10-point lead at the final break. Adelaide was determined not to give up however, as the Lightning hit back in the final term, drawing within five points midway through the term, but the firepower of the premiership favourites gave the home team some breathing space. Leading by 10 points with less than four minutes on the clock, the Flyers looked home and hosed, but one last effort from the visitors resulted in them scoring eight of the last nine points to get within three, but ultimately fall short, 68-65.

Center, Mercedes Russell again stood tall for the Flyers, having a ridiculous game of 20 points and 19 rebounds, with an even spread of 11 defensive and eight offensive, while also picking up three assists and a steal in a clear best-on-court performance. She was not alone however, as Leilani Mitchell – who shot a crucial three midway through the final term to draw within five points – finished with 15 points, four assists, two rebounds and a steal. Rebecca Cole also reached double-figure points with 13, as well as six rebounds, four assists and four steals in a real team effort. Elsewhere, Anneli Maley‘s effort of the bench was strong, only recording four points, but having seven rebounds, a steal and block on the night. Sara Blicavs had a quieter night with nine points, but had five rebounds, two steals and an assist.

For the Lightning, Lauren Nicholson stepped up as one would expect from a player with her experience, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Stephanie Talbot (13 points, nine rebounds, six assists and three steals) was unsurprisingly Adelaide’s best, as Brianna Turner (11 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two assists) was also strong. In terms of scoring, the other player of note was Chelsea Brook coming off the bench to contribute 11 points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal, while Nicole Seekamp had four points, but five rebounds and five assists.

With Southside holding a 1-0 lead in the three-game series, Adelaide will try and force a deciding third game if the Lightning can get up at home when the teams face off at Titanium Security Arena on Saturday night from 7pm.

2019/20 WNBL preview: Semi-finals – Southside Flyers looking to continue home dominance against Lightning

THE finals battle between the Southside Flyers and Adelaide Lightning is set to tip off tonight with both sides vying to get their finals campaign off to a hot start. It is the first of three games and given their recent form should make for a cracking match-up between the two teams.

The Southside Flyers finished on top of the ladder for a reason and will be hoping to romp it home against the fourth placed Lightning. They are in hot form winning four of their past five games highlighting just how dominant they can be. On the other hand, the Lightning have had a scattered past dropping three of their past five but finals is a completely different ball game. The last time these two sides played the Flyers ran away with a 12-point victory but the Round 12 clash saw the tables reversed with Adelaide collecting an 11-point win, something they will take a lot of confidence out of. The Flyers have an impressive record at home winning eight of their 11 clashes, while the Lightning have struggled throughout the season on the road only registering four wins from their 10 games, tilting the scales in favour of Southside.

Since changing their name at the start of the 2019/20 season the Southside Flyers have not skipped a beat, taking their game to a whole other level. Their variety of scoring options makes them a constant threat with players able to pop up if their teammate is well held. Rebecca Cole is a scoring machine leading the way for her side with an average of 16.9 points per game and 3.2 rebounds. The combination of Leilani Mitchell and Mercedes Russell proved to be a deadly duo and the two will be hoping to replicate their hot form to get their side over the line. Mitchell is a real play maker able to dish off passes with an average of 5.2 assists per game while her scoring prowess is just as impressive with 15.9 points per game. Sara Blicavs can do damage on the scoreboard while Jenna O’Hea oozes composure and experience across the court.

The Adelaide Lightning have a plethora of players that can hit the scoreboard with Brianna Turner the number one go-to girl for the visiting side. She is a real barometer for the side with her drive to the basket and scoring prowess averaging a double-double with 16.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. She can single handily change the outlook of a game while teammate Stephanie Talbot is no stranger to the big stage. Talbot is strong both in attack and defence racking up a whopping 60 blocks for the season while averaging 14.1 points per game highlighting her versatility on the court. Guard, Nicole Seekamp is another key contributor for Adelaide and will be hoping to use her height and strength to advantage to have an influence on the court.

It will have to be a full court effort from the Lightning if they are any chance to topple the Flyers who have been in scintillating form as of late. If Southside can contain the Lightning’s key players they will be able to dictate the flow of the game.

2019/20 WNBL Team of the Week: Round 16

ALL eight Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) teams are represented in our Draft Central WNBL Team of the Week for Round 16, with Melbourne Boomers and Adelaide Lightning recording two players each in our 10-player team, while the other six sides had one representative each.

Adelaide’s damaging duo of Stephanie Talbot and Brianna Turner again produced some huge numbers, as Talbot averaged 14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists over the weekend, while Turner put up numbers of 12 points and 18 rebounds. They have found a way up either end of the court, while Melbourne’s Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor both fill out the center positions. While Magbegor picked up a clear double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, it was George’s almost triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks that was absolutely outstanding.

There were plenty of double-doubles in our Team of the Week this week with Christina Boag standing up in a disappointing loss for Townsville Fire, recording 22 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks to be named as a starting forward. Rounding out the starting five, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals’ key scorer, Kia Nurse made the team once again with 28 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals to her name in Round 16.

The bench featured a number of players who have been in the team before, with Perth Lynx’s Ariel Atkins and Bendigo Spirit’s Tessa Lavey making up the two guards, while Southside Flyers’ Sara Blicavs and Sydney Uni’s Jessica Kuster slotting into the forward spots. There were a number of unlucky omissions in the side for this week, including UC duo, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo, Bendigo duo, Shyla Heal and Carley Ernst, Adelaide’ Nicole Seekamp – who was injured in the Lightning’s first game – Sydney Uni’s Lauren Scherf, and Southside Flyers’ Mercedes Russell.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Kia Nurse (UC) – 28 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 39.1 FG%
G: Stephanie Talbot (AL) – 14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 37.0 FG%
C: Cayla George (MB) – 24 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 57.1 FG%
F: Brianna Turner (AL) – 12.0 points, 18.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.0 steals, 2.0 blocks, 32.1 FG%
F: Christina Boag (TF) – 22 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 58.5 FG%

BENCH:

G: Ariel Atkins (PL) – 20.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 4.0 steals, 0.0 blocks, 53.3 FG%
G: Tessa Lavey (BS) – 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 58.3 FG%
C: Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 15 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 1 block, 50.0 FG%
F: Sara Blicavs (SF) – 18 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 100.0 FG%
F: Jessica Kuster (SU) – 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks, 59.3 FG%

WNBL Round 16 review: Capitals secure second with final round win

THE University of Canberra (UC) Capitals were able to stand up when it counted and secure second spot ahead of the Melbourne Boomers – the Capitals’ opponents in the upcoming 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) finals series. The other spots were already locked in prior to the final round, with Southside Flyers earning the minor premiership and will face fourth placed Adelaide Lightning in the other semi-final. Perth Lynx, Sydney Uni Flames and Townsville Fire avoided the wooden spoon with Bendigo Spirit’s last round win over the Fire falling three points short of leaping off the bottom of the table.

Sydney Uni Flames (78) defeated Bendigo Spirit (68)

A strong final quarter saw Sydney Uni Flames get the points in their final home game of the WNBL season, securing a 10-point victory over Bendigo Spirit. The Flames raced out of the blocks early to gain the advantage and lead by eight points at the first break. Desperate to get off the bottom of the ladder, Bendigo fought back to cut the deficit to just one point at the main break. They then took the ascendancy from that quarter into the third, taking the lead by two and looking good with 10 minutes to play. Sydney Uni finished the stronger of the sides, putting the foot down and pleasing the home crowd with a 20-8 final term to win, 78-68. Brittany Smart was strong with 22 points, three rebounds and four steals, well aided in the starting side by Jessica Kuster (16 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals). Lauren Scherf was important off the boards with 12 points, eight rebounds as well as four assists, while Alex Wilson came agonisingly close to a double-double or even a triple-double with 10 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks. Shyla Heal stood up in defeat for the Spirit with 17 points and four rebounds, while Abigail Wehrung (15 points, five rebounds and three assists) and Tessa Lavey (14 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals) were also prominent.

DC Medal: 3 – Jessica Kuster (SU), 2 – Alex Wilson (SU), 1 – Brittany Smart (SU)

Adelaide Lightning (75) defeated Perth Lynx (74)

In an important game for confidence, fourth placed Adelaide Lightning survived a thriller against fifth placed Perth Lynx. The Lightning led early by three points at the first break, but the Lynx kept in the contest with a 21-20 second term to cut the deficit back to two, and by the final break scores were level. With nothing separating both sides keen for a win, the Lightning stepped up in the crucial final quarter to win, 75-74 and finish at home on a high prior to finals. Brianna Turner put up a ridiculous 24 rebounds to go with 16 points, three assists and two blocks, hauling her side across the line when it counted. Stephanie Talbot was unsurprisingly impressive again for the home team, posting numbers of 13 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Nicole Seekamp helped herself to 17 points, five rebounds, eight assists and three steals. Kathryn Westbeld showed off her talents in the starting side with six points, seven rebounds and three assists for the Lightning. Nadeen Payne picked up a double-double for the losers, recording 11 points and 10 rebounds as well as three steals. Maddison Allen had 15 rebounds to go with four points and three blocks. From a points perspective, Ariel Atkins and Katie-Rae Ebzery both recorded a team-high 16 points.

DC Medal: 3 – Brianna Turner (AL), 2 – Nicole Seekamp (AL), 1 – Nadeen Payne (PL)

UC Capitals (73) defeated Adelaide Lightning (71)

The UC Capitals gained a hard-fought but important win over the Lightning ahead of the WNBL finals series. While the pair have opposite semi-finals in a fortnight, the Capitals were able to hold firm against a side that started strongly, and hold them off by two points at the National Convention Centre. The Lightning led by two points at quarter time, but the Capitals regained control at a place that has become a fortress this season for them, taking the lead by a point at the main break. They extended that out to two by the last change but the Lightning refused to go away. Both sides threw everything they had in the final quarter, and in the end they could not be separated, which meant the home team got up by the three quarter time margin of two points, 73-71. Kia Nurse had another night out on the scoresheet with 28 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Kelsey Griffin returned to the starting line-up and had 10 rebounds, two steals and three blocks to go with seven points. Maddison Rocci again picked up double-figure points with 16, as well as two rebounds and two steals. Marianna Tolo‘s good form also continued, having 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and four blocks. For the Lightning, Talbot picked up a double-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, and while Turner did not reach the feat, finished the weekend with an average of 18 rebounds following another huge game on the boards with 12, as well as eight points, two assists and two blocks. Lauren Nicholson had an impressive 16 points, three rebounds and four assists, while Westbeld picked up 10 points, two rebounds and three assists.

DC Medal: 3 – Kia Nurse (UC), 2 – Stephanie Talbot (AL), 1 – Maddison Rocci (UC)

Townsville Fire (69) defeated by Bendigo Spirit (89)

It might have mattered little in the scheme of the WNBL finals series, but the result of this game meant plenty to both sides. In a battle of the bottom two sides, Bendigo Spirit needed to win by 23 points in order to leap off the bottom of the ladder and overtake Townsville Fire. Both teams have had disappointing seasons this year, but Bendigo was yet to win on the road so Townsville started as strong favourites at its home court. It was the Braves that quietened the crowd early, leading by six points at quarter time and held a 12-point lead by the main break. Sensing a blowout, the crowd was nervous but the Fire responded to match it with the Spirit and only concede an extra point in the third term. Bendigo needed to win the last by 10 points in order to grab seventh spot on the table, and it did all it could in that quarter, piling on 24 points though it would not be enough, running out a comfortable 20-point winner but falling short of sentencing Townsville to the wooden spoon. Carley Ernst was simply sensational for the Spirit, scoring 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in an almost triple-double effort. Lavey was her partner-in-crime with 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds, while Heal also reached double-figure points from the starting line-up with 14, as well as five rebounds and five assists.  Coming off the bench, Gabrielle Richards picked up 11 points and six rebounds in the win. For the Fire, Christina Boag had a memorable game to round out the season, picking up huge numbers of 22 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Darcee Garbin (14 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Micaela Cocks (11 points, five assists) also reached double-figures, while Tess Madgen had seven rebounds and four assists, but only five points.

DC Medal: 3 – Carley Ernst (BS), 2 – Christina Boag (TF), 1 – Tessa Lavey (BS)

Southside Flyers (78) defeated Sydney Uni Flames (61)

The ladder-leading Southside Flyers got the job done on Saturday with a 17-point win over Sydney Uni Flames at Dandenong. While top spot was never in doubt for the league’s newest side, the Flyers finished off the season in style to prepare for the WNBL finals. Meanwhile the Flames were unable to cause an upset, though they did have a promising final term, scoring 21 points to 11 to stop what looked like a complete annihilation brewing. At the final break, Southside led by 27 points after winning each of the first three quarters by six, four and 17 respectively, completely dominating the third term. They were able to give valuable court time to some of their younger players, and gave Ringwood Hawks’ utility, Jacqueline Trotto a debut. Sara Blicavs was strong for the winners, picking up a team-high 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists to be the clear standout for the Flyers. Mercedes Russell had 17 points and three rebounds, while Anneli Maley played her best game of the season off the bench with 11 points and six rebounds, Rebecca Cole had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists to also reach double-figure points. For the Flames, Kuster was a lone hand up the scoring end with 21 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals, the only visiting player to surpass 10 points. Scherf and Madeleine O’Hehir both had nine points on the night, but it was a lean performance from the team in the Flames’ last match of the season.

DC Medal: 3 – Sara Blicavs (SF), 2 – Jessica Kuster (SU), 1 – Mercedes Russell (SF)

Melbourne Boomers (104) defeated Perth Lynx (75)

From an almost-blowout to an actual blowout, Melbourne Boomers took no chances, convincingly putting Perth Lynx to the sword in the second against fifth clash. They never looked like losing this match, piling on a whopping 32 points to 14 in the opening term, and by half-time the margin was out to 23 points. The home fans were up and about wile the visiting fans were hoping for the final buzzer, as Melbourne continued its strong control in the second half, winning that half by six points. Perth to its credit managed to stem the bleeding in the half, particularly in the last term, while Melbourne gave some of its bench players more time to spread the load and manage them ahead of the post-season series. Cayla George had a big day out with one assist away from a triple-double, posting up 24 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, three steals and two blocks in the big win, while Ezi Magbegor also recorded a double-double thanks to 15 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. Madeleine Garrick (17 points, three assists) and Sophie Cunningham (10 points, two rebounds) performed well, while Kalani Purcell (17 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals) was sensational off the bench in her best performance of the season. For Perth, the Lynx had just 26 rebounds on the night, with Atkins and Marena Whittle both picking up eight apiece, as well as combining for 41 points in an otherwise low-statistical night. Ebzery could also hold her head high after 15 points and two assists.

DC Medal: 3 – Cayla George (MB), 2 – Ezi Magbegor (MB), 1 – Ariel Atkins (PL)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

32 – Cayla George (MB)
31 –
30 – Mercedes Russell (SF)
29 –
28 –
27 –
26 – Stephanie Talbot (AL)
25 –
24 –
23 – Brianna Turner (AL)
22 – Kelsey Griffin (UC)
21 – Kia Nurse (UC)
20 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL)
19 – Olivia Epoupa (UC)
18 –
17 –
16 – Lindsay Allen (MB), Alice Kunek (SU)
15 – Ezi Magbegor (MB)
14 – Alison Schwagmeyer (PL), Leilani Mitchell (SF), Jessica Kuster (SU)
13 – Abby Bishop (TF)
12 – Colleen Planeta (AD), Darcee Garbin (TF), Marianna Tolo (UC)
11 – Keely Froling (UC), Carley Ernst (BS)
10 – Jenna O’Hea (SF), Sara Blicavs (SF)
9 – Madeleine Garrick (MB)
8 – Bridget Carleton (TF), Tess Madgen (TF), Rebecca Cole (SF)
7 –
6 – Imani McGee-Stafford (PL)
5 – Tahlia Tupaea (SU)
4 – Kelly Wilson (BS), Sophie Cunningham (MB), Ariel Atkins (PL), Tessa Lavey (BS), Nicole Seekamp (AL)
3 – Rebecca Tobin (BS), Lauren Nicholson (AL), Shyla Heal (PL), Mareena Whittle (PL), Alex Wilson (SU)
2 – Crystal Langhorne (AD), Micaela Cocks (TF), Chelsea Brook (AD), Lauren Mansfield (PL), Julie Vanloo (TF), Christina Boag (TF), Maddison Rocci (UC), Nadeen Payne (PL)
1 –  Anneli Maley (SF), Stella Beck (MB), Abigail Wehrung (BS), Kathryn Westbeld (AD), Lauren Scherf (SU), Brittany Smart (SU)

2019/20 WNBL preview: Round 16 – The final frontier

AFTER 15 rounds and three and a half months, the final round of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season is here. The 2019/20 run home was somewhat anti-climatic with the four finalists decided well out from the conclusion. Second and third spot can still change depending on results from the round, while the bottom four sides have pride on the line in Round 16.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES vs. BENDIGO SPIRIT
Thursday, January 30, 7pm
Brydens Stadium

There is only realistically pride on the line for these two sides in one of two Thursday night encounters. For the Flames, a win would secure sixth spot on the ladder, given seventh placed Townsville is only a win behind and also takes on wooden spoon-bound Bendigo Spirit. The Spirit will need to win their two remaining matches if they are to overtake the Fire, sitting a win behind as well as a 35-point differential from seventh to eighth. A loss here guarantees Bendigo the wooden spoon. Sydney Uni has won both previous matches against the Spirit, winning by five and seven points on the road, and now return home for the third and final head-to-head. Bendigo have not defeated the Flames since November 18, 2018, so will need to produce a special effort to get across the line and pick up win number five. Considering they are also yet to win on the road from eight encounters does not spell confidence. Jessica Kuster played well last time for the Flames, and is averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds after starting 17 of a possible 19 games. Along with Brittany Smart who earned her first start last round and put up 21 points, three rebounds and two blocks, the American duo could be quite a handful for the Spirit defenders. Tessa Lavey and Kelly Wilson are two of the guards likely to be tasked with trying to limit their influence, with Lavey averaging 9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, while Wilson has put up numbers of 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. Sydney Uni should lock up sixth with a solid win here.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING vs. PERTH LYNX
Thursday, January 30, 7pm
Titanium Security Arena

Adelaide Lightning have a tough final couple of weeks, going down to Southside Flyers last round, and now face fifth placed Perth Lynx and reigning premiers, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals in Round 16. The Lightning are at home, and have a 7-3 record there, while Perth have been a little shaky on the road, winning three of a possible nine games when travelling. Both teams have a positive points differential, with Perth having already secured fifth spot last round by winning. They cannot catch the Lightning in fourth, but would round off a good year if they can upset two finalists – they face Melbourne Boomers on Saturday – in the last round of the season. In their previous encounters, Adelaide has won both times, winning over in Perth by four points back in October, before making it two wins with a 10-point home victory over the Lynx in December. The Lightning have had their injury concerns this season, but have tended to rely on a couple of players in Brianna Turner (16.3 points, 9.8 rebounds) and Stephanie Talbot (14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks). While others have stepped up at times, those two have been among the best in the league and often been the difference in matches. The Lynx have just been inconsistent, with their stars on paper not quite aligning on the same night. Katie-Rae Ebzery is the exception, with the Australian Opal being a ray of consistency all season long, posting numbers of 16.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game. American, Alison Schwagmeyer has predominantly come off the bench but has been solid as well with 15.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Adelaide have been more consistent and should win here, although Perth have impressed over the past month.

UC CAPITALS vs. ADELAIDE LIGHTNING
Saturday, February 1, 5pm
National Convention Centre

After a two-day gap, Adelaide plays its final game of the season, against a hungry UC Capitals determined to sneak into second spot on the ladder. The Capitals also need Perth Lynx to cause an upset on Saturday night against Melbourne Boomers based on the fact that the points differential between the Capitals and Boomers is 74, and would need two massive margins to have any hope of toppling them if both sides win. If the Capitals get up here, then they will watch with earnest later that evening to see if they will have one or two home finals in the first week of the WNBL finals series. The Lightning also have plenty to play for even though they might not physically be able to move up the ladder. The last thing the South Australian side needs is a couple of losses heading into finals, especially one against a finals-bound side. If both these teams cause upsets against their Victorian opponents in the semi-finals – as Adelaide did last year – then they will face off in the decider. This year Adelaide has tended to be the side that was better than the rest, but still a clear fourth side in the competition. Knocking off the Capitals on the road – who have only lost to the top of the table Southside Flyers there – would be a massive confidence booster, though the Lightning are 4-5 when travelling. In the two clashes this year, they have been split, with the respective home teams winning. The last time they played in Canberra, the Capitals got up in a close one, 90-83, though that was all the way back in Round 1. Adelaide won by 10 points in late December back on its home court. Despite injuries this year, last year’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), Kelsey Griffin is working back into form coming off the bench, scoring 20 points and seven rebounds.  Kia Nurse (21.0 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals) has been a scoring machine all season, wile Olivia Epoupa (8.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 3.2 steals) just fills up the stats sheet with great versatility. Aside from the damaging duo of Turner and Talbot, Nicole Seekamp and Lauren Nicholson can hold their heads high this season, putting up consistent numbers at different times during the season, while Chelsea Brook is an impact player off the bench. The Capitals will be too strong here, and with what is on the line, expect them to take no prisoners in front of a home crowd.

TOWNSVILLE FIRE vs. BENDIGO SPIRIT
Saturday, February 1, 6pm
Townsville Stadium

In what has ultimately been a disappointing season for both these teams, the final match for them ends up being a bottom two clash. Townsville Fire host Bendigo Spirit just to solidify seventh spot on the table, with the only chance of moving up (or losing their spot) is if Bendigo defeat Sydney Uni Flames on Thursday night. If the Flames get up, then neither of these sides can move, and Bendigo ends the season on the bottom of the table, regardless of result. The Spirit are yet to win a game on the road, having lost here back in early December when they went down by 14 points. Bendigo did manage to grab a rare win just before the New Year, defeating the Fire at home by a point in a tight contest. Townsville are only 3-6 at home, but are still likely to get the job done here given Bendigo’s inability to win on the road this season. Townsville heads into the clash with a three-game losing streak, while the Spirit are at three, and will be four if they go down to the Flames on Thursday. For the home side, Bridget Carleton has proven to be a great recruit this season, averaging 11.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. Darcee Garbin (14. points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals) has also been solid, as has Tess Madgen (12.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists). The Fire have just not had the offensive connection that other sides have, with just one player averaging more than four assists per game. Bendigo is in the same boat, with only Wilson and Lavey managing more than two assists per game, while Carley Ernst (11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Abigail Wehrung (11.1 points, 2.6 rebounds) have been the two scorers to average double-figure points this season. Townsville to win at home, but will be a sombre affair knowing the reality of the season.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS vs. SYDNEY UNI FLAMES
Saturday, February 1, 7pm
Dandenong Stadium

To finish off their year, the top of the table Southside Flyers will be hoping to win in front of a home crowd against Sydney Uni Flames. The last time these sides met at Dandenong, Sydney Uni caused a boilover, with the Flames’ disappointing road record of 3-7 surprisingly including the minor premiers (as well as wooden spooners, Bendigo twice). The game in question came on December 21, when the Flames took the chocolates by seven points. Earlier in the season back in Round 2, Southside Flyers defeated the Flames by 13 points on the road. With a 7-3 record at home, the Flyers are very solid there and will want to finish off the season in style with a big win over a side that found a weakness last time the team’s clashed. Rebecca Cole has been the leading points scorer for the Flyers, averaging 17.2 points per game, while Mercedes Russell has put up a double-double this season of 16.6 points and 10 rebounds. Leilani Mitchell has enjoyed her move south from the Capitals, also being a key contributor, one of five players to average more than 13 points per game this season. Sydney Uni will head into the clash as massive underdogs, but have been able to provide some minutes to players off the bench once the season had slipped away, with the likes of Sarah Graham (18 games), Lara McSpadden (14) and Kimberley Hodge (five) all coming off the bench in each of their games. This will be a tough one for the Flames to repeat, coming into the round with a five-game losing streak, but they will be confident to knock over the Flames two days prior. The Flyers are a hard team to beat and finished top of the table for a reason, so expect them to take this game out.

MELBOURNE BOOMERS vs. PERTH LYNX
Saturday, February 1, 7pm
State Basketball Centre

The final game of the WNBL regular season pits top two side, Melbourne Boomers up against fifth placed Perth Lynx. The Boomers simply have to win this game because a loss could see them slip to third spot on the table. Luckily they will know where they stand with the third placed UC Capitals taking on the Adelaide Lightning earlier in the day. If as expected the Capitals get up in that clash, then they will temporarily take second spot. Melbourne has to win this game to lock up second spot again, with a far superior points difference. If they lose and slip to third, it means they will face the Capitals in Canberra, twice, which is something no side wants to do given the Capitals’ 9-1 record with a loss to Southside Flyers the only blemish. By winning this match, Melbourne gets the two home finals, and can try and utilise the 6-3 home record to best effect. In saying that, the Boomers had the same opportunity against the Lightning last year and lost in Game 1, going out in straight sets. Melbourne defeated Perth by nine points here in early December, before facing off a week later back in Perth where the Lynx returned the favour. Perth are also playing a second game two days earlier, so it will be interesting to see how they manage the load in the final round and the confidence they take from that clash. This season has been about Melbourne’s big duo of Ezi Magbegor (13.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks) and Cayla George (14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks) who hold the key to both offensively and defensively hurting opposition teams. The Lynx have a number of players who can stand up and match them off the boards or around the court, with Ariel Atkins (9.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals) and Nadeen Payne (10.3 points, 4.5 rebounds) among those who have the talent to impact a contest. Melbourne has to win to give itself a realistic chance of the WNBL title, and lock up second spot, so expect them to do just that, in a competitive game.

2019/20 WNBL Team of the Week: Round 15

IN a short round of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), just four games were played and therefore it made for an even playing field with every player making the team having played one game. Of the individual performers who made the cut, two were from Perth Lynx, Adelaide Lightning and the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals, with one representative from four other sides, as Bendigo Spirit was the only team without a nominee for Round 15.

Perth’s Katie-Rae Ebzery was the easy choice to start as a guard following her terrific 28 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks as the only player across the competition who recorded at least two of each of the five main statistics. She is joined in the side by teammate, Ariel Atkins who picked up a double-double and is on the bench ready to provide support. Meanwhile in the forward half of the court, Adelaide Lightning’s Stephanie Talbot again made the side following a double-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and one block, shooting at 61.5 per cent from the field. Talbot and partner-in-crime, Brianna Turner both impressed despite the Lightning’s loss, and earned spots in the 10-player side. The UC Capitals were the other side with two players on the team, as Kia Nurse and Marianna Tolo both filled out two of the bench spots in the guard and center positions respectively.

Back to the starting side, and the other guard is Southside Flyers’ Leilani Mitchell. She was surprisingly the only Flyer to make the side despite the impressive win, but shone the brightest across the board with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, though it is fair to say Rebecca Cole, Sara Blicavs and Mercedes Russell were all unlucky to miss out after being considered. Ezi Magbegor slotted into the starting center position in a round where there were plenty of possible players for the spot, picking up 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks. Like the Flyers, the Boomers were unlucky not to have another nominee, though both Sophie Cunningham and Sara Blicavs were considered. The final starting spot went to Sydney Uni’s Jessica Kuster following the forward’s 17 points, six rebounds, eight assists, five steals and one block, and an impressive 66.7 per cent shooting efficiency from the field.

Rounding out the bench was UC Capitals’ Marianna Tolo in the center position, and Townsville Fire’s Bridget Carleton who slotted into the bench forward role. Those who were unlucky to miss out and were considered for a spot included UC Capitals’ Maddison Rocci and Kelsey Griffin, Bendigo Spirit’s Shyla Heal and Gabrielle Richards, Townsville Fire’s Darcee Garbin, and Perth Lynx’s Nadeen Payne.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL) – 28 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks, 52.4 FG%
G: Leilani Mitchell (SF) – 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 57.1 FG%
C: Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 3 blocks, 60.0 FG%
F: Stephanie Talbot (AL) – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, 61.5 FG%
F: Jessica Kuster (SU) – 17 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 1 block, 66.7 FG%

BENCH:

G: Kia Nurse (UC) – 25 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 45.0 FG%
G: Ariel Atkins (PL) – 16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 60.0 FG%
C: Marianna Tolo (UC) – 11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks, 44.4 FG%
F: Brianna Turner (AL) – 20 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks, 53.3 FG%
F: Bridget Carleton (TF) – 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 0 blocks, 66.7 FG%

WNBL Round 15 review: Top three guaranteed after title contenders win big

THE top three sides have been decided in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) after the top of the table Southside Flyers defeated Adelaide Lightning in a big round of action for the finals-bound teams.

Bendigo Spirit (66) defeated by Perth Lynx (89)

Perth Lynx locked in fifth spot on the ladder for all the unlucky spot is worth, downing Bendigo Spirit on the road by 23 points The Lynx have missed out on finals this year, but are determined to finish the 2019/20 season off strong, posting a big win over the Spirit, which could have been even larger had it not been for a fourth quarter comeback. The visitors led by four points at quarter time and all but ended the game with a second quarter blitz, piling on 31 points to 13 to race out to a 22-point lead at the main break. They kept up the intensity to again run away with it in the third and build on the lead to push it out to 33 points. With the game over at the last change, Bendigo managed to gain back some of the deficit with a 19-9 last term, but it was far too little, too late and lost, 66-89. Katie-Rae Ebzery scored a game-high 28 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks in a standout performance, while Ariel Atkins (16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) picked up a double double. Nadeen Payne (13 points, nine rebounds and two steals) came close to a double-double, while Marena Whittle (18 points, six rebounds) was impressive coming off the bench. For the Spirit, Shyla Heal top-scored with 17 points, eight rebounds and two steals, with Gabrielle Richards (16 points, seven rebounds) the other key player for the losing side. Abigail Wehrung (14 points) and Tessa Lavey (12 points, five assists) both reached double figures, but there were not enough contributors across the board.

DC Medal: 3 – Katie-Rae Ebzery (PL), 2 – Ariel Atkins (PL), 1 – Nadeen Payne (PL)

Townsville Fire (68) defeated by Melbourne Boomers (79)

Melbourne Boomers picked up the win they had to have, with an 11-point victory over bottom two side, Townsville Fire. The Boomers were up by a point at quarter time, but found themselves facing a two-point deficit at the main break, and four-point deficit by the last change. The home crowd was up and about with the possibility its team could cause an upset and help knock the Boomers out of the top two, but instead Melbourne put the foot down in the last quarter, piling on 28 points to 13 to run away with the contest, 79-68. Ezi Magbegor scored a team-high 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and three blocks in the win, well aided by fellow big, Cayla George who sank 19 points, as well as six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Sophie Cunningham was the other Boomer to reach double-figure points with 15, also recording six rebounds and four assists on the night. Madeleine Garrick only had the three points, but made her time count with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. For the Fire, Bridget Carleton helped herself to 16 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in a dominant performance. Darcee Garbin had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Micaela Cocks (12 points, two rebounds and two assists) and Tess Madgen (10 points, five rebounds) also reached double-figure points.

DC Medal: 3 – Ezi Magbegor (MB), 2 – Cayla George (MB), 1 – Sophie Cunningham (MB)

Southside Flyers (81) defeated Adelaide Lightning (69)

While the Southside Flyers position was hardly under threat at the top of the table, they gained a handy mental edge over Adelaide Lightning with a 12-point win at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday. The Flyers will take on the Lightning in the first week of the WNBL Finals and will play two games at home, meaning the Lightning will need to win at least one there if they are to upset a Victorian team for the second consecutive season (after doing it to Melbourne Boomers last season). On the weekend, the Flyers burst out of the blocks to race to a 15-point lead at quarter time, and 17-point lead by the main break. To the Lightning’s credit, they did not give up, fighting back to narrow the gap marginally to 15 again, before cutting into it by three to eventually bow out with a 12-point defeat, 69-81. Rebecca Cole led from the front for the Flyers, posting up 28 points, two rebounds and five assists, while Leilani Mitchell had 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in an impressive performance. Sara Blicavs‘ ripping form of late continued with 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Mercedes Russell had lower numbers than previous matches, but still managed a handy 15 points, five rebounds and two assists in the win. Brianna Turner was the top scorer for the Lightning, reaching 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists and four blocks as she tried to drag her team over the line. Stephanie Talbot picked up a double double with 16 points 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals in an unbelievable playmaking effort, while Nicole Seekamp (16 points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals) was also impressive in defeat.

DC Medal: 3 – Leilani Mitchell (SF), 2 – Rebecca Cole (SF), 1 – Stephanie Talbot (AL)

UC Capitals (82) defeated Sydney Uni Flames (66)

The University of Canberra (UC) Capitals’ recent form continued on Sunday with a comfortable 16-point win over Sydney Uni Flames at the National Convention Centre. The win meant the Capitals are ready to pounce if Melbourne Boomers slip up in the final round, though the WNBL Finals clash between the pair is locked in. On the weekend, the Flames got the early jump on their highly fancied rivals, leading by three points at the first break, before the Capitals took control with a 21-12 second term to move six points clear at the half. The Capitals continued that form with a 19-13 third term to extend the lead out to 12 by the final break, and finished off with a 23-19 final quarter to run out 82-66 winners. Kia Nurse put up 25 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals on the day, while Kelsey Griffin continued her recovery from injury coming off the bench to reach 20 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Maddison Rocci again was prolific with 15 points at 62.5 per cent from the field, as well as four rebounds and a massive five steals. Marianna Tolo (11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks) and Olivia Epoupa (four points, four rebounds, eight assists and four steals) also contributed in the win. Brittany Smart (21 points, three rebounds and two blocks) and Jessica Kuster (17 points, six rebounds, eight assists and five steals) were the two key scorers for the Flames, while Lauren Scherf helped off the boards with seven points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the loss.

DC Medal: 3 – Kia Nurse (UC), 2 – Jessica Kuster (SU), 1 – Kelsey Griffin (UC)

DC Medal Leaderboard:

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

Griffin returns to help Capitals down Lynx and draw level in second

REIGNING premiers, the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals downed 2018/19 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) finalists, Perth Lynx at the National Convention Centre to move equal with Melbourne Boomers in second. While the points differential is still a large separator, the Capitals are back in contention for a top two spot after stringing three consecutive wins together.

The Round 12 match was played on Wednesday night after it was initially cancelled due to the terrible smoke conditions in the nation’s capital. It was decided that a mid-week match would be appropriate for it to be played, and the teams did battle in the first Wednesday night fixture of the year. Perth was already out of finals contention despite being in clear fifth spot on the ladder, four games adrift of Adelaide Lightning. The Capitals on the otherhand were a game clear of the Lightning in third, and just a game off the second placed Boomers heading into the clash.

UC was the strong favourite, holding an 7-1 record at home, only beaten by top-of-the-table Southside Flyers so far this season, while the Lynx were 2-5 on the road going into the match. By the time the first buzzer sounded at quarter time, the score was as many had predicted, in favour of the Capitals. The home side led by 10 points at the first break, but credit to the Lynx who refused to give up and clawed back to a single-digit deficit by the main break.

All that hard work to have narrowed the gap was undone in the third, as the Capitals got back on top, scoring 25 points to 14 to lead by 17 at the final break, and while the visitors were again able to take the honours in the final term, could only cut the final margin back to 14 points in a 75-89 loss. The Capitals were missing Keely Froling after facial injuries last week, but welcomed back a champion in Kelsey Griffin to the fold. Unsurprisingly for someone who had not played since December 15, Griffin’s minutes were managed, playing just over 20 minutes for the match after starting on the bench.

The Capitals could afford to ease Griffin back into the competition with Marianna Tolo and Kia Nurse continuing their ripping form of late. Tolo picked up 22 points and nine boards, while recording three assists and two blocks, displaying a nice shooting effort with 73.3 per cent from the field. Nurse sank 20 points at a less accurate 34.8 per cent, but also recorded five assists and three rebounds. French import, Olivia Epoupa continues to tease with almost triple doubles, with her season as good as any other player in the competition. She finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and one block.

Meanwhile Maddison Rocci‘s form over the past two weeks has been terrific with more minutes, picking up another 17 points, four rebounds and five assists in a season-best performance. She backed up from her 19 points,  three rebounds and one assist last week and is averaging the second most points in the team – behind Nurse – over the two games. While Griffin did only have the managed minutes, she could not help but have an impact, picking up nine rebounds to go with her eight points, as well as three assists, two steals and three blocks. Once she is back fully fit, watch out.

For the Lynx, Marena Whittle recorded a team-high 18 points off the bench, while Katie-Rae Ebzery continued her terrific form this season with 16 points, three rebounds and four assists. Ariel Atkins had 13 points and six rebounds, as Lauren Mansfield also managed double-figure points with 10, and four assists. Maddison Allen had 10 rebounds in a prominent effort off the boards, while Nadeen Payne had seven points and seven rebounds in the loss.

The Lynx now have to back up with a Friday night game against Bendigo Spirit in Bendigo, while the Capitals have a break until Sunday where they clash with Sydney Uni Flames in a special Australia Day meeting.

DC Medal: 3 – Marianna Tolo (UC), 2 – Olivia Epoupa (UC), 1 – Maddison Rocci (UC)

Looking at the Draft Central (DC) Medal Leaderboard, there are three players who could theoretically take out the award, with Southside Flyers’ Mercedes Russell, Melbourne Boomers’ Cayla George and Adelaide Lightning’s Stephanie Talbot the three possibilities. Talbot is six votes behind Russell, but has three games remaining, though would need both Russell and George (four games clear of Talbot) to have a couple of quiet games to round out the season. Before her injury, Griffin was right up there with the leaders, but has not been on the court enough to make up the difference. Mathematically speaking, Adelaide’s Brianna Turner could also take out the medal in a shared circumstance, if she polls three best on courts, and Russell does not poll a vote (with George polling no more than two).

DC Medal Leaderboard:

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

2019/20 WNBL Round 15 preview: Capitals and Lightning look to make charge

IT is now or never for the two sides just outside the top two positions on the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) ladder with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals and Adelaide Lightning needing victories if they are to force their way into the favourable finals spots. The season might be over for four teams, but pride is still on the line, and they can still impact the finals series with some upsets in the penultimate round of action.

UC CAPITALS vs. PERTH LYNX
Wednesday, January 22, 7pm
National Convention Centre

The standalone Wednesday night fixture is the re-scheduled Round 12 game between University of Canberra (UC Capitals) and Perth Lynx, which was delayed due to the recent heavy smoke plaguing the nation’s capital three weeks ago. With just two rounds to go, the WNBL deemed it was the right time and safe enough with the forecasted weather, for the game to go ahead. With Perth already scheduled for a Friday night game, the match had to be at least a couple of days earlier hence the Wednesday night time slot. This game will really add an extra element to the WNBL Round 15, with the Capitals able to put pressure on the top two sides. While the points differential means they cannot overtake the Boomers on one win alone, it moves them to within one victory of overtaking them. A loss however, and they could slip to fourth with an upset win for the Adelaide Lightning over Southside Flyers. So far this season the Capitals are 7-1 at home with only the Flyers having found the key to victory, and are coming off two vital wins over the Boomers and Flyers in Round 14. For the Lynx, the season might be over with a three and a half gap deficit to the Lightning, but they are the best of the rest and are the leading side to finish fifth on the table. In the two clashes thus far, the Capitals have got up by comfortable margins of 18 and 17 points in November and December respectively. Kia Nurse is coming off a 33-point game against the Flyers and now averages 20.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, while Marianna Tolo has stepped up in the absence of teammates with 14.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in the center, while Maddison Rocci benefited from a step-up in time and role to post 19 points in the Capitals’ win in Round 14. Perth will hope to take greater advantage of a Capitals side missing Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling, with Katie-Rae Ebzery ever-consistent this season, posting 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Nadeen Payne (10.3 points, 4.1 rebounds) and Lauren Mansfield (9.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals) are the other two Lynx players who have started every match and will be crucial in the match.

BENDIGO SPIRIT vs. PERTH LYNX
Friday, January 24, 7pm
Bendigo Stadium

Backing up from Wednesday night’s game, Perth travels south to meet Bendigo Spirit on Friday night. The Lynx will have a huge chance of collecting a win over the bottom placed side, even though they have struggled on the road with a 2-5 record that could be 2-6 by the game’s tipoff. Bendigo have been much stronger at home than away, winning four of 10 at home whilst not winning a game while visiting. The teams have played twice this season and the last time they met in Bendigo, the Spirit got up by 12 points in a great win. Perth sought revenge in the Round 13 match however, knocking over Bendigo by 19 points in Perth. Neither of these sides can make finals, but a win for the Spirit would move them closer to the Fire with the bottom two sides facing off in the last round, while the Lynx can gain some separation on the bottom three sides. Bendigo has just the two players who are averaging double-figure points with Carley Ernst and Abigail Wehrung recording 12 and 10.9 points per game respectively. Ernst also averages 6.6 rebounds per game, while Wehrung has been an inspiration coming off the bench. The Spirit have had just two players start every game, with Tessa Lavey (9.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists) and Kelly Wilson (8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals) providing the best playmaking abilities in the team. For the Lynx, they would love to have Imani McGee-Stafford and Ariel Atkins both up and firing in the one team, with the American duo providing great support of the boards; McGee-Stafford leading the team with 8.4 rebounds per game.

TOWNSVILLE FIRE vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Saturday January 25, 6pm
Townsville Stadium

Tipping off the Saturday night proceedings, seventh placed Townsville Fire host top two side, Melbourne Boomers in a bid to desperately improve from last round. The Fire were well beaten in both their matches and it does not get any easier here against a genuine title contender. At home the Fire are 3-5, while the Boomers are strong on the road with a 7-3 record and not afraid of winning in front of a hostile environment. On the two occasions the teams have faced off this season, Melbourne got up on both occasions, defeating Townsville by nine points back on October 27, and 16 points two months later. The Fire have missed Abby Bishop since she was mutually released from her contract, with the consistent performer averaging 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game from 14 games prior to her departure. In her absence, Darcee Garbin (14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds) and Tess Madgen (12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists) have carried the load, while Bridget Carleton gets around the court and provides great offensive and defensive plays for the Fire. The Boomers have been steadily building over the season with lots of depth coming off the pine, and this game is a chance to try and gain some separation on the Capitals after the Boomers went down to the reigning premiers last week. A win would also move them closer to Southside setting up an unlikely charge for top spot if results go their way. Sophie Cunningham has been impressive of late, averaging 11.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, while the towering duo of Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor – who combine for 26.8 points and 14.8 rebounds – will also be a handful for the Fire in this game.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS vs. ADELAIDE LIGHTNING
Saturday, January 25, 7pm
Dandenong Stadium

The other Saturday night game might be the most touted of the round, with a top four clash on offer and a result that will directly affect the finals make-up. If the Southside Flyers can get up over the Adelaide Lightning, expect the league’s newest rebranded side to take the minor premiership given the two-game gap on the second placed Boomers. At the same time, the Lightning will be almost certainly resigned to fourth spot, and meet the Flyers in the first week of finals, which could well happen anyway. However if the Lightning get up, then it opens the door for all top four sides, with the Lightning keeping the pressure on the third placed Capitals, while the Boomers could be knocking on the door of top spot with the Flyers potentially slipping up. These sides have played twice – both in Adelaide – with the Flyers getting up on December 1 by six points, before the Lightning returned the favour in Round 12 with an 11-point victory in front of home fans to all but lock up a top four spot. Now out at Dandenong, the Flyers are a difficult team to beat, having only lost to the Capitals twice and Sydney Uni once at home. The Lightning are 50 per cent on the road with four wins from eight games, but will have gained confidence from the big win last round. Mercedes Russell has been a star all season for the Flyers, pumping out numbers of 16.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in the center position, well aided by the likes of Rebecca Cole (16.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists) and Leilani Mitchell (16.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals), while Sara Blicavs has been the side’s top player in the last few weeks. For the visitors, Brianna Turner and Stephanie Talbot continue to create headaches for the opposition, combining for 31 points, 18.5 rebounds and three blocks per game. Lauren Nicholson has also been a consistent contributor for the Lightning, as has Nicole Seekamp who has stepped up in the past month.

UC CAPITALS vs. SYDNEY UNI FLAMES
Sunday, January 26, 5pm
National Convention Centre

Depending on Wednesday and Saturday nights’ results, the UC Capitals could be battling for second spot with a win here against the Sydney Uni Flames. The Capitals need to defeat Perth Lynx and for Townsville to upset Melbourne, which granted is unlikely based on the Fire’s recent form and the Boomers’ ability to get the job done. However if it happens then it opens the door for the Capitals to access second spot with a win, and depending on the other Saturday night encounter between the Flyers and Lightning, might even give the reigning premiers a sniff at top spot. If the Lightning and Fire win, the Capitals could move to within one game of top spot, sitting pretty in second on the WNBL table. However, back-to-back losses this round would see the Capitals drop back below the Lightning in fourth spot. They are 7-1 on the table at home, while the Flames are 3-6 when on the road so they will need to defy the recent season history to cause an upset. The Flames are a much improved side on last year’s wooden spoon effort with Sydney Uni looking safe from that fate again in 2019/20. These teams have played twice this season, with the Flames causing a boilover back on October 27 with a six-point win over the Capitals, before UC clicked into gear a week later with a smashing 25-point victory. Olivia Epoupa is a versatile player who defies her 165cm height to be a real influence off the boards with 8.1 rebounds per game to accompany her 6.7 assists and 3.2 steals in a truly impressive effort. Along with Alex Delaney – who got her first start – and other youngsters in Gemma Potter and Abby Cubillo – who are getting vital time off the bench – the Capitals have plenty of depth to fill in for the injured Griffin and Froling. The Flames have had some strong contributors themselves this season, with Alice Kunek (18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists) leading the way, while Jessica Kuster (12.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals) and Alex Wilson (11.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.4 rebounds) have been strong, Lauren Scherf is also building some nice form of late and will be hard to stop in the center.