Tag: katrina hibbert

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.

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.

Townsville above .500 again, knock off Spirit thanks to third quarter swing

IN the space of about five minutes, the Townsville Fire flipped the script in yesterday’s clash against the Bendigo Spirit, outscoring them by 17 points in the third quarter to ride home their third win of the season 91-81. Meanwhile the Spirit are still searching for the required recipe to win their first game of the campaign, as their losing skid extends to five games.

Bendigo pushed the pace early in the first quarter, getting out to a 17-5 lead halfway through the opening period, which completely dumbfounded the Fire’s defence in the process. This would dominate the headlines in the opening 10 minutes, but six-straight points from Townsville brought the deficit to a more respectable number with some much-needed momentum.

A late And-One from Tessa Lavey repositioned the Spirit with a commanding quarter time lead ahead 26-15, as each of Bendigo’s starters got their names on the scoresheet early on with a 50 per cent conversion rate aiding them.

However, head coach Shannon Seebohm relied on his side’s depth to help will them back into the contest trailing by just four points at one stage in the second. Nevertheless, back-to-back threes from Mary Goulding and Cassidy McLean would sour the Fire’s momentum just a few moments later, re-establishing the double-digit advantage.

Saving the day in the first half for the Fire was Megan McKay, who earned her minutes with her rebounding, totalling six boards through the first two periods along with seven points. Bendigo would conclude the opening half with the lead after two quarters for the first time this season, 47-40, as Lavey led the way with 12 points and six assists while Goulding had herself 13 points as well. Meanwhile, Townsville’s leading scorer in Lauren Nicholson had 11 points throughout all 20 first half minutes.

As Townsville gradually tightened the deficit, Shyla Heal was huge with her mid-range game, knocking down three-straight buckets to pressure the Spirit further and then eventually tally her thirteenth point of the match to put the Fire in front six minutes into the third.

Despite Carley Ernst putting up substantial numbers in the third, Townsville flipped the game on its head and did the same themselves. A 29-11 third quarter for the Fire would reverse the roles for both sides with the score sitting at 69-58 in favour of this season’s hosts. Two early buckets from Bendigo’s duo Lavey and Ernst, provided promising signs early on in the fourth for the Spirit, but the Fire’s tall frontcourt consisting of McKay, Mia Murray and Zitina Aokuso hustled enough in the later stages of the game to fend off Tracy York’s side long enough to get the Fire over the finish line.

A slow start to the game for the Fire was remedied in the second half, allowing them to earn the come from behind win and put their record at three wins and two losses after their hard-fought 91-81 victory. Townsville’s backcourt was instrumental in the win, with Heal being a key contributor against her former side after her 22 points, six rebounds and three assists next to Nicholson’s 20 points and three rebounds. Aokuso also provided a major boost in her 25 and half minutes of play, putting up 21 points and five rebounds.

These performances will need to continue in one way or another as they size up the Melbourne Boomers later today in the second leg of their weekend double-header.

On the other hand, it can easily be argued that yesterday’s efforts from Bendigo involved numerous highlights, a number of those being individual performance like Lavey and Goulding’s 19 points apiece. It also slots nicely next to Ernst’s 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists. The Spirit’s lesser victories in yesterday’s clash put them in good stead for their upcoming meeting on Tuesday against the Fire for a second time, where we will get to see if Coach York changes her tactics in the repeat fixture.

SOUTHSIDE LEVELS PERTH, AWAIT CAPITALS FOR GRAND FINAL REMATCH

Pic: WNBL

ANOTHER impressive wining margin lined the belt of the Southside Flyers last night, as their 12-player roster came back from an early deficit in the opening period to emerge on the other side with another statement win, following a 46-point thrashing of the Perth Lynx, 117-71.

As mentioned, the opening moments of the contest occurred from deep as the first five made field goals from both teams came from three-point range, with Darcee Garbin and Katie Ebzery leading the charge.

With play settling down slightly and the tempo slowing, Perth continued to make their shots count, knocking down their first five attempts from behind the arc, while Liz Cambage did her best to quell the Lynx’s shooting lethality in the opening phase, with 13 points at the first break.

Five triples from Perth and 21 combined points from Garbin and Ebzery helped the Lynx to a 26-21 lead heading into the second, as Flyers captain Jenna O’Hea found early foul trouble. Still, Cambage commenced the second the same way she finished the first by putting the ball in the net, before Stephanie Blicavs tied things up a minute into the second term.

With every minute that went by in the second, the Flyers picked apart Perth’s offence more and more. At the conclusion of the first half, Southside had forced 10 turnovers from the Lynx, which in turn would lead to 18 points from takeaways and a 54-42 lead at the main break.

Even though both teams had shot remarkably well with Southside shooting 50 per cent and Perth shooting 48 per cent, Cambage (19 points and seven rebounds), Sara Blicavs (10 points and four rebounds) and Bec Cole (10 points) were all the major difference makers during the second quarter, as Cheryl Chambers tried her best to slow the production of Garbin (18 points and four rebounds) and Ebzery (13 points and four assists).

Unable to derail the Southside train, Perth’s care of the basketball continued to waver with their turnovers accumulating into the third quarter still. Capitalising on this, Cole increased her statistics while the Flyers’ secondary unit contributed to the blowout third period which saw Southside tally 35 points compared to the Lynx’s 14 and hold a commanding 89-56 lead.

Despite the result being determined prior to the start of the fourth, both coaches saw it suitable to let their younger prospects earn some ample WNBL court time. Both Rebecca Pizzey and Monique Conti impressed in the fourth for the Flyers, while Perth’s Jewel Williams had a couple of memorable moments to add to her night.

Match proceedings would end with Southside winning in rather fashionable form, coming out 46-point victors in the 117-71 demolition of Perth. It was the combined efforts of Cambage (21 points and seven rebounds), Cole (20 points and five assists) and Sara Blicavs (19 points and six rebounds) that accounted for the majority of the Flyers’ success last night, which bodes well for the squad as they get their chance at redemption in Monday’s Grand Final rematch against the Canberra Capitals.

For the Lynx, it was Garbin’s show, following what was a red-hot first quarter which ultimately culminated in a 24-point and seven-rebound outing, whereas Ebzery (13 points and five assists) and Alex Sharp (10 points) added chunks of points to fill out the box score. Perth has a chance to bounce back against the Sydney Uni Flames on Monday as they hope to gain some traction in the mid-table logjam, in a season that could easily slip away from Ryan Petrik’s side if they cannot find positive results soon.

CAPITALS HOLD ON AGAINST RESILIENT FLAMES, EXTEND WINNING STREAK TO FOUR

Pic: WNBL

THE University of Canberra Capitals have solidified themselves as serious contenders in the WNBL this season, after obtaining their fourth win in a row following a scrappy affair against the Sydney Uni Flames, winning by five points 68-63 to close out yesterday’s trio of games.

Little could separate the Flames and the Capitals early on, but the efforts that Anneli Maley made in the opening 10 minutes proved fruitful for Sydney Uni, with the 22-year-old fighting towards seven points and five rebounds in that time. Coupled with Lauren Scherf’s six points, the Flames would pull away at the end of the first quarter leading 23-11 and forcing eight turnovers off of Canberra in the process.

No Capitals players stood out tremendously in terms of scoring during the first half, but rather Paul Goriss’s side spread out the points production after reducing the deficit to just a couple of baskets during the second quarter.

The same could also be said for the Flames, but their method of scoring was slightly different, as they found the majority of their points from either mid-range, the free-throw line or through second chance points, whereas Canberra kept punishing Sydney Uni in the paint with baskets around the rim.

Leading 39-32 at the main break, the Flames shot average at best, converting on 37 per cent from the field, but Katrina Hibbert’s side inherited a huge boost thanks to their 11 free throws (eight more than the Capitals). Furthermore, Lauren Mansfield started to find her stroke with 11 points after two terms.

Things in the third did not start any better for the Capitals, as they fell behind by double-digits. But a strong move by Marianna Tolo and a fast-break And-One by Tahlia Tupaea made the contest a tight one well into the third.

An 11-4 run by the Caps with three minutes remaining in the penultimate period had Canberra nipping at the heels of the Flames in what was shaping up to be a sprint to the finish line, where either side were threatening to take over.

To round off a tumultuous third phase, a beautiful assist and bucket on consecutive possessions from Kelsey Griffin would secure the Capitals a four-point lead with 10 minutes remaining 57-53, and with Maddison Rocci leading the charge submitting 14 points and four rebounds, a win was certainly within view.

Both sides fought tooth and nail in what was a perfect way to finish off yesterday’s fixtures, where plenty of bodies hit the deck, missed shots were contested by multiple individuals and loose balls were jumped on by both teams in hard-nose smash-mouth brand of basketball. But Canberra seemed to be wading away midway through the fourth and Coach Hibbert’s side needed a dramatic boost with less than five minutes remaining.

With 48 seconds remaining, the game hung in the balance for both sides with one point being the difference. Luckily for the defending champions, Griffin was able to force Mansfield’s fourth turnover and again strip Alison Schwagmeyer just 30 seconds later, which cemented the victory for the Capitals after Keely Froling laid up the game-sealing bucket with three seconds left, therefore allowing Canberra to win the contest 68-63 in a down to the wire slugfest. The victory continuing their winning streak to four games.

It was another impressive night for Rocci, who had 17 points and five assists to show for last night’s efforts, as more of Canberra’s contributors from last season added solid performances. Griffin (11 points, nine rebounds and four assists) and Froling (15 points, 10 rebounds) provided relief on the boards, while Tolo also tallied 13 points of her own. The Capitals now need to hunker down and prepare for a formidable Southside Flyers squad that is still stinging from their Grand Final defeat last season, a side that has also significantly improved since then.

The Flames had their regular performers on display again, as Scherf led the way in scoring with 19 points. Whereas, Maley had another double-double night with 13 points and 12 rebounds next to Mansfield’s 16 points from 36 minutes on the floor. Sydney Uni now have their own concerns considering they now find themselves on a three-game skid and are tied for second-last with the Perth Lynx, who they face next on Monday in a game that will prove to be crucial regarding the future of the fourth seed.

Fire and Flames bring the heat, Townsville staves off late Sydney charge

AFTER a regrettable loss to the UC Capitals two days ago, the Townsville Fire have repositioned themselves in the winner’s column again, after a scrappy 81-78 win in their home opener last night against the Sydney Uni Flames.

Despite a late charge from the Flames, “The Battle of the Inferno” was at a high temperature in all four quarters, but it was a younger and quicker Fire outfit that came out triumphant.

The Fire were without their anchor in Zitina Aokuso to start their game as Megan McKay filled the role alongside Mia Murray, Nadeen Payne, Shyla Heal and Lauren Nicholson. Meanwhile, the Flames had their usual five on the floor for tip-off in Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer, Anneli Maley, Nat Burton and Lauren Scherf.

It was Heal that got Townsville off the ground with five of the Fire’s first 10 points, whereas Sydney Uni’s spread of scoring options took over their offensive production for the majority of the first quarter with multiple names getting on the scoresheet early on.

But the Fire’s core unit with the help of Stephanie Reid and Courtney Woods would take control of the contest in the later stages of the first term, getting their lead out to double-digits seven minutes in thanks primarily to Payne’s potency from deep.

Capitalising on all five of their first-quarter free-throws and 12 points in the paint compared to the Flames’ eight, the Fire etched a 26-19 lead at the first intermission, 11 of those coming by way of Payne in a quarter where she would not see the bench.

Carly Boag made the first move of the second with a pull-up three to quickly cut the deficit to four, as Coach Katrina Hibbert looked to hit Townsville where it hurt from behind the arc. Halfway through, the Flames drew level at 32 points apiece, but Woods and Reid played pivotal roles in the first half knocking down much needed triples to maintain the side’s lead, while Scherf continued to dominate down low with 13 points through the first 20 minutes of play.

Heal continued to lead the way for Shannon Seebohm’s squad with 13 points of her own in the first half with Payne backing her up with 11 points, putting Townsville up 47-43 at the main break, as the squad shot an incredible 56 per cent conversion rate with bench players accounting for 15 points in this time.

Starting off the second half, both sides would get some shots off successfully in a very even third quarter. However, Sydney Uni slowly worked their way in the contest again after a momentary lapse to conclude the first half. A few buckets by Scherf tied up the contest five minutes into the third phase and a single free-throw from Maley gave the Flames their first lead of the night since the opening period, which would only last until the next possession.

Nevertheless, the see-sawing affair continued in the penultimate quarter, concluding with the score 63-59 in what was preparing for a hotly contested final 10 minutes between two talented sides.

Seven-straight points by way of the two surprises of the night in Woods and Reid, put Townsville ahead by 11 in an instant, thus putting the Fire in the driver’s seat in front of a raucous home fan base with six minutes remaining.

A three from Scherf halfway through the fourth put a glimmer of hope in Sydney Uni’s eyes and a late barrage from the Flames would soon follow, getting to within one point in the dying seconds. But Heal’s two made free throws with a few seconds remaining would ice the game and cement Townsville’s victory last night, 81-78.

Statistical leaders for the victors included Nicholson, who off the back of a strong second half completed her game with 17 points and three rebounds, while her backcourt companion Heal would accumulate 15 points and six assists. Payne (14), Reid (11) and Woods (10) each contributed double digit totals to the Fire’s scoring.

On the flip side, Scherf’s season-high 25-point, nine-rebound performance coupled with Schwagmeyer’s 23-point effort allowed the Flames to stay in the contest, while Maley’s 10 points and 14 rebounds continued her individual season as one of the WNBL’s most prolific board getters.

The Fire bounced back from their close loss to the Canberra Capitals in their last outing, but now have a mammoth challenge awaiting them in two days, the Southside Flyers. The Flames, who were originally set to face the Adelaide Lightning that same night, now get an extended four-day rest before lining up against the Caps on Saturday night.

Madgen makes a Booming return, Melbourne knock off Flames in Thursday opener

WITH the mission being to win a championship for the first time since 2011, the Melbourne Boomers are on the right track to start their WNBL20 campaign, with a 15-point victory over the Sydney Uni Flames, 85-70.

A 14-point score difference in the second and third quarters proved to be the difference in the end, as the Boomers’ main weapons found their strokes after the first quarter break.

Melbourne’s starting five was as expected with Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor going shoulder-to-shoulder in the Boomers frontcourt with Maddie Garrick, Tess Madgen and Stella Beck filling the spots outside the perimeter. But many were keen to see how Flames Head Coach Katrina Hibbert lined up her squad for the opening tip. Time would divulge the line-up as being Lauren Mansfield, Alison Schwagmeyer and Anneli Maley running the backcourt, and former Opal Natalie Burton defending the rim with Lauren Scherf.

Early rebounds from George paved the way for the opening points of the contest with Madgen making her return to the Boomers official, putting up the initial two points of the game down the lane. The ensuing play throughout the remainder of the first period would be rather even in terms of scoring, with the Flames edging their noses in front for nine of the first ten minutes.

Coach Guy Molloy made his first rotation change six minutes into the first by injecting Kalani Purcell and Ashleigh Karaitiana, which shifted momentum following a layup and a charge from the pair. With less than a minute to play in the first, Beck would drill a three to return the lead to Melbourne and conclude proceedings in the opening 10 minutes, putting the score at 17-15 in favour of the Boomers.

Following a relatively quiet first quarter from both sides, the first score of the second came after two minutes with Purcell capitalising on good aggression to the rim. But the Flames hit back quickly with Carly Boag earning herself an And-One and Mansfield tying it up shortly after with a triple of her own.

Magbegor went through 14 minutes of play without putting her name on the scoresheet, but she quickly bucked that trend with an And-One to reassert her team’s control giving her side a 40-34 buffer. In the twilight minutes of the second quarter Melbourne’s Opals started to shine through, as the combination of Madgen and George put their skillsets on display by putting a double-digit cushion between the two teams.

Madgen, who led the game in scoring heading into halftime with 70 per cent shooting would compile 15 points along with four rebounds and help the Purple and Gold to a comforting 43-31 lead. Meanwhile, Garrick was next up on deck with eight points and George had a rebound for every first-half-point of her own, producing six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes of play.

A quiet first two periods for the Flames saw Mansfield (seven points) and Scherf (six points) leading their roster in the scoring totals, whereas Schwagmeyer was embracing her new role as a starter with five points and a triplet of assists.

Magbegor started the second half picking up steam, knocking down three free-throws and a put-back layup to get Melbourne off on the right foot in their pursuit of a Game One win. On the other hand, a disjointed Sydney Uni offence struggled to convert early in the third quarter. Mansfield, however, came through after three minutes to get her ninth point of the contest.

Midway through the third phase, Molloy’s squad would crack the 20-point-lead mark with five minutes left in the third thanks to a 12-2 start succeeding half-time, as he made the most out of his starters – namely 30-year-old Madgen and her 22 points in 25 minutes, and Magbegor who had a double-double prior to the third intermission for the Boomers, who were up 64-48 with 10 minutes to play.

While the fourth seemed like a formality, the Flames put up a scrappy end quarter to bring the margin back to a respectable number. Sporadic highlights from secondary prospects like Funda Nakkasoglu and Shanae Greaves brought the deficit back to 15, but the damage had already been inflicted by last season’s third seed, as Melbourne coasted home to a dominant 85-70 triumph.

Shooting 47 per cent overall as a team compared to Sydney Uni’s 32 per cent, Melbourne were on another level when it came to putting points up on the scoreboard. A plus-13 on the boards summed up the Boomers’ performance (48-35), as a season-opening win seemed imperative to the team even before the first whistle.

In her return to the side for the first time in five seasons, Madgen put on a clinic during her 33 minutes of court time. She found her mark on ten field goals, which in-turn led to 23 points, five assists and four rebounds on the night. Magbegor had a quiet first half which led to a resounding second, resulting in a 16-point and 11-rebound performance for the 21-year-old, whereas Garrick left the floor with 14 points of her own. George accounted for eight points and nine rebounds.

The Flames will need to move on quickly and revert back to the basics if they are to bounce back in two days against the Bendigo Spirit, but Sydney Uni had some solid performances, nevertheless. Mansfield recorded a team-high 17 points off the back of three triples, while Scherf led the way in rebounds with seven next to her 10 points. But surprisingly in her return to the WNBL, Nakkasoglu came up big with 12 points comprising of two three-pointers and 100 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (6/6).

After a long time away from the city she admires, Madgen noted post-game how much she was looking forward to playing for Melbourne once again, “I love Melbourne, I love the Boomers and we have got a great team,” said Madgen. “[We have] a lot of really good players and a great coaching staff. It has been a long preseason so it is really good to be out there and play,” she added.

Two days from now, the Boomers size up their cross-town rivals the Southside Flyers in what will be a battle of raw talent on both sides, as two of the best clubs in the country go at it head-to-head in Townsville’s Saturday night double-header.

Picture: WNBL

Flyers reinforce notion as “team-to-beat”, thrash Spirit by 42

Liz Cambage made a successful return to the WNBL on Thursday. Picture credit: WNBL

This year’s championship-favourites proved why they hold that title last night in a 40-minute demolition job of the Bendigo Spirit. The Flyers’ international-calibre depth was on display throughout all four quarters led by their marquee signing Liz Cambage and her “hit squad” of long-time Opals, lashing Bendigo 102-60.

Southside’s star-studded line-up was as expected with Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole in the backcourt being supported by Jenna O’Hea, Sara Blicavs and Cambage. For the Spirit, Amelia Todhunter, Tessa Lavey, Mary Goulding, Alicia Froling and Carley Ernst got the nod to start the contest.

Froling and Mitchell got the scoring going for their respective teams, but two minutes in, Cambage made her presence known with seven-straight points, setting in motion an early advantage to the Flyers.

Cole got her range going five minutes in with a three-pointer, but Lavey and the Spirit proved pesky opponents in the infancy stages of the game. Despite this, former Opal Rachel Jarry put a dent in Bendigo’s ploy with a three and a jumpshot to extend Southside’s first-quarter lead, which was followed up by a last-second layup from Aimie Clydesdale to conclude a 60 per cent shooting first quarter of play with the Flyers up 22-12.

Bendigo came out of the opening intermission with a focused intent, following five-straight points from Ernst. But for every bit of headway the Spirit made, Southside’s depth undid their work again and again. This problem was further compounded by a 14-0 Flyers run topped off by an O’Hea corner three and in the blink of an eye, the score sat at 43-19 halfway through the second.

To wrap up the first half, both sides exhibited their secondary units, as Southside continued their lead upwards thanks to individuals like Stephanie Blicavs and Monique Conti, as the half time score would read 30-56 in favour of the Flyers.

Headlining their ridiculous efficiency through two quarters (63 per cent conversion rate) were the Southside starters, as the team’s core unit spread out the scoring load up until the midway point of the contest. More specifically, Cambage led the way with 13 points and three rebounds next to her frontcourt partner in crime Sara Blicavs, who totalled eight points and eight rebounds after 20 minutes.

Spirit Head Coach Tracy York relied heavily on her marquee duo in Ernst and Lavey, as the two combined for 33 minutes and 18 points in the first half, whereas Froling hustled her way to seven rebounds.

Bendigo enjoyed a rare scoring stint in the third term with an 8-2 run three minutes into the second half, lighting a small fire under the squad. Unfortunately for the Spirit, more of the same from Cambage was to follow, as she used her size and her strength to bully all opponents defending her around the rim.

Southside continued their barrage from deep thanks primarily to Steph Blicavs and Jarry in the third quarter alone, even including Development Player Saraid Taylor on the action as she polished off a triple with a minute remaining in the championship quarter. Clydesdale almost made the quarter better, getting off a last second three-pointer just milliseconds after the buzzer had sounded.

A foregone conclusion long before the fourth quarter, the Flyers ran out Thursday night’s closer with a complete four quarter performance, outscoring the Spirit 22-13 in the fourth, cracking the 40-point lead mark with 102 seconds to play and achieving 100 team points on the game with 40 seconds left, culminating in a head-to-toe 102-60 rout of Bendigo.

Looking at both teams statistically, the Spirit would get the better of the Flyers in free-throw percentage, but virtually every other aspect of the game belonged to Southside. Most noticeable from last night’s victors was their accuracy from the field, as last year’s runners-ups converted on 38 baskets from 71 attempts (53 per cent). This also included 13 threes from 26 assists in what was nothing less than a one-sided affair.

In just 20 minutes of play, Cambage would set a game-high total in points with 19, while Sara Blicavs continued to uphold her reputation as a rebounding machine with a double-double performance of 17 points and 12 boards. Cole (12) and Mitchell (10) also secured double digits, as Conti impressed off the bench with her fast-paced style of play and silky handles – she finished with nine points and three rebounds.

Knowing full well that they face the Sydney Uni Flames in a couple of days, the Spirit have the chance to bounce back from what just transpired. Some positives could be taken away from last night, especially from specific individuals. Ernst earned herself a solid 16-point and seven-rebound effort, whilst Froling made her first contest back since her injury a respectable one on the glass, finishing with four points and 11 rebounds. In what was a lacklustre shooting night for the captain, Lavey’s eight points from 18 per cent accuracy will be a night to forget, as she prepares herself to lead the Spirit into Saturday’s clash.

In her post-game interview, Sara Blicavs pointed to the team’s eagerness to get back on the floor as their primary motivator in what was a total team effort, “I think we were just excited to get back on the court you know?” said Blicavs.

“We are obviously from Victoria, so we have been in lockdown for about six months and we have not played a game since the Grand Final in March, so we were just eager to get out here.

“We were a little bit nervous; but I think pre-game we got a lot of our energy out which was good, and we came out on court and executed,” she finalised.

WNBL fans have to wait for Saturday night in what will be a meeting of two behemoths, with the Flyers taking on the Melbourne Boomers who are coming off a convincing win against the Flames. A true test of strength will be showcased, as we gain insight into what a possible Grand Final matchup could look like.

WNBL20 Team Preview – Sydney Uni Flames

THE WNBL standings following Round 21 of the 2019/20 campaign suggested two clusters of teams – the top four and the bottom four. Unfortunately for the Sydney Uni Flames, they found themselves fighting to stay off the bottom of the ladder, as the side finished with a home and away record of 7-14, finishing sixth overall behind the Perth Lynx.

Despite their disappointments from last season, head coach Katrina Hibbert will use that as a catalyst to help propel her side next season, most notably behind her 196cm-tall center Lauren Scherf. At 24-years-old, Scherf already has seven seasons in the competition under her belt and given her upward trajectory over the last few seasons including her elite rebounding and scoring ability, one can expect her to put on a clinic over the next six weeks.

Two exciting additions to the side are former Perth Lynx asset Lauren Mansfield and young gun Anneli Maley, who suited up for last year’s runners-ups, the Southside Flyers. Mansfield ranks as one of the WNBL’s best one-on-one defenders and will have the chance to make a name for herself with a regular starting role with the Flames. Last season, Mansfield came up big for the Lynx, averaging 9.6 points and over three rebounds. She also accumulated 34 steals over 21 games, ranking her in the upper echelon of players for this category. For Maley, she was a contributing member of a Flyers side that completed their regular season with 17 wins and four losses, while she collected an average of 2.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and half an assist.

Not only have Sydney Uni inherited some impressive youngsters like Florida University alum Funda Nakkasoglu, Kiera Rowe and Maddie O’Hehir, but the rotation also has on display some seasoned veterans who coach Hibbert will use to the fullest extent.

First, is reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Alison Schwagmeyer who will aim to gel the Flames group together upon her arrival. The 30-year-old has a wealth of experience and was a constant producer on the floor for Perth last season averaging 15.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and two assists. Second, is Nat Burton who makes her return to the WNBL after two seasons away from the country playing internationally. A three-time State Basketball League champion with Perry Lakes in Western Australia and a former Australian Opal, Burton will provide a cache of wisdom to the rest of the team.

To conclude Sydney’s unique 11-woman roster are twin sisters Carly Boag and Christina Boag, as well as Shanae Greaves. For the twins, they were both present in the squad that earned the Flames’ 2016/17 title, which bodes well as they set in motion their pursuit for another, meanwhile, Greaves returns for her fifth season with the side.

Providing their services as Development Players starting Thursday are Sherrie Calleia and Maddie Norris, as both prospects will be given the chance to test their mettle in the condensed schedule format.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Sydney Uni Flames – Lauren Scherf

AFTER eight weeks of in-depth analysis on the five core players for each WNBL side in preparation for the new season, we conclude Draft Central‘s Spotlight series focusing on the Sydney Uni Flames center, Lauren Scherf, as she gears up for what will be her eighth season in the League at just 24 years of age.

Hailing from Melbourne, Scherf quickly established herself as a player to watch throughout her debut season in the 2014/15 WNBL campaign. Her first season in terms of tangible efforts went relatively well, helping her side to a record of 12 wins and 10 losses, and therefore a postseason slot. As a result, Scherf was awarded the League’s Rookie of the Year award.

Scherf served two more seasons with the Rangers, helping the team reach the finals in both years, before singing with a reanimated Canberra Capitals franchise.

While Scherf’s first season under the Capitals’ head coach Paul Goriss was not as successful compared to previous seasons, falling five games out of the top four, the following season would be one that would go down in the history books not just for the club, but also Scherf too.

Exploding out of the nation’s Capital, Canberra would earn themselves their first minor premiership since the 2008/09 season. This followed up by the Capitals’ 2-1 series win against the Adelaide Lightning in 2019 breaking a decade-long drought of championship success for the Capitals and Scherf received her first and only title ring to this day.

Despite earning the franchise’s eighth championship (the most ever for a WNBL club), Scherf moved on to the third club of her career and also the Capitals’ cross-state rivals in the Sydney Uni Flames. The chance to play under head coach Katrina Hibbert provided Scherf the chance to really establish herself as a prominent frontcourt presence and this was an exciting premise for Scherf in 2019.

“I just really liked what Frog had to offer. I loved playing under Gorrie [Paul Goriss], he coached me really well and I enjoyed what he had for me,” Scherf said in an interview with the Canberra Times.

“I’m really looking forward to her coaching, trainings have been great and I’m working really hard. The calibre of girls Sydney have brought in, there’s a lot of talent there. It really helps, getting a lot of insight from everyone,” Scherf added.

As expected, Scherf dominated on the boards in her WNBL20 campaign, averaging eight rebounds per contest. She also managed to put up 8.3 points each time out alongside a block per game and maintaining 73 per cent from the free throw line – amongst the highest across all centers.

Scherf will look to another season of exemplary rebounding and neutralising opposition bigs in the upcoming season. Her first challenge of the fixture will arrive on Thursday, November 12 against the Melbourne Boomers, most likely matching up on Australian Opals Cayla George or Ezi Magbegor.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Sydney Uni Flames – Natalie Burton

AN abundance of knowledge and influence follows Nat Burton wherever she plays, and fortunately for the Sydney Uni Flames, it follows her to the four-time championship franchise.

Having played at a competitive level consistently since 2006, Burton has put her game on display in virtually every level of basketball imaginable, therefore bringing an avalanche of depth along with her.

Being a resident of Perth, sport is a cultural artery within the state of Western Australia. For Burton, this was also the case for her personally, after debuting for the Perry Lakes Hawks in WA’s State Basketball League (SBL) in 2006. Three seasons with the Hawks would culminate in two SBL championships (2007 and 2008) and the SBL’s Most Improved Player Award in her 2008 season before heading off to the U.S to compete in the NCAA.

Completing her four seasons at the University of West Virginia, Burton concluded her time as a Mountaineer averaging 2.8 points, 2.6 rebounds with a field goal conversion rate over her four seasons of 52.8 per cent (the second highest percentage in program history) – all done in 119 games.

After her return from the States, the six-foot-four-inch power forward made the transition to the highest rung of the Australian basketball scene by commencing her rookie season in the WNBL with the West Coast Waves (now Perth Lynx) in 2012.

The two seasons with the Waves from 2012 to 2014 kicked off Burton’s Australian career, before the 31-year-old headed to the Melbourne Boomers for the 2014/15 season. Burton played 22 games for the purple and gold and averaged seven points and five rebounds before making her return to the recently rebranded Lynx franchise.

In her first season back at Perth for the 2015/16 campaign, she helped the side to a Grand Final appearance for the first time in 17 years. Despite this, the Lynx went down to the Townsville Fire in two games, concluding the season averaging six points and five rebounds in 27 games throughout the year.

After two more fixtures out West and another SBL title to add to Burton’s collection (her third), Burton, decided to ply her trade overseas in Germany for Herner TC. Playing 28 games in the DBBL competition averaging 6.8 points, 6.1 rebounds while making 58.4 per cent from the field, Burton won the DBBL Championship with the German-side before crossing the border to France.

A brief stint with Union Saint-Amand Porte du Hainaut lasted nine games ending in December 2019, as Burton returned home to compete with Perry Lakes once again in the West Coast Classic.

At present, Burton is preparing for her seventh season in the WNBL with the Flames and according to the club’s announcement in late-July, head coach Katrina Hibbert sees a lot of pros to the veteran’s games and she is excited to have those strengths in her roster.

“A welcomed addition to our group, Nat brings great international experience having been an Olympian but also spent the last few seasons playing in Europe,” Hibbert said.

“She’s an exceptional defender with great length, athleticism and versatility, which allows her to switch onto guards and match up with taller opponents. With her combined experience and leadership, she is going to perfectly complement the mix of aspiring and seasoned players we have,” the Flames coach said.

Draft Central concludes its WNBL Player Spotlights tomorrow as we gear up for the upcoming season set to commence on November 11.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Sydney Uni Flames – Anneli Maley

IN compiling their new-look WNBL21 squad, the Sydney Uni Flames have looked at bringing some more energy and flair to the side with the signing of former Southside Flyers forward Anneli Maley, who is looking to make a visible splash in the WNBL pond this season.

Announced as a part of a dual-signing with the Flames in late-June with Lauren Mansfield, Sydney made it clear that they were looking for someone to share some of the missing productivity with All-Star Five Second Team nominee Alice Kunek set to miss out on the season as a result of playing European basketball in Poland.

A short statement by Maley during the club’s announcement indicated a fresh chapter in a different city for the 22-year-old, as the Flames look to push for more regular season success compared to last season.

“I’m super excited to be a part of the Flames family, and I can’t wait to play a role in the versatile and the hardworking group that Katrina and the Club are putting together,” Maley said .

Following a two-year stint at both the University of Oregon and Texas Christian University, Maley returned home to a star-studded Flyers group that would ultimately make the Grand Final series. The 185cm-tall prospect played under the likes of Leilani Mitchell, Bec Cole and Australian Opals captain Jenna O’Hea. With this, came the chance to really expand her basketball IQ and we will get to see first-hand how much the young gun has developed since her time at Southside in mid-November.

Averaging 2.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and half an assist per game last season, the move to Sydney should see Maley receive extended minutes in her third year of WNBL action. Maley had a couple of impressive double-digit outings last season, one ironically occurring against the Flames, putting 11 points on the board along with six rebounds in the last game of the regular season.

In her most recent campaign in the NBL1 at the Diamond Valley Eagles, Maley received league-wide recognition for her efforts. Averaging 20 points and a competition-high 15 boards per game, she received the Youth Player of the Year award as well as an MVP nomination, proving herself to be a legitimate ballplayer in the process.

Coach of the Flames, Katrina Hibbert, had positive things to say about her new signing – most notably her versatility, as Maley noted in her statement. “She’s known for her athleticism, energy, effort, and rebounding abilities – just to name a few,” Hibbert listed.

“I’m looking forward to welcoming her into our program this season as she is a natural leader through her approach to basketball on and off the court. It’s going to be wonderful to see her continue her development and continue to blossom under a style of play that will compliment her versatility.”

Today the WNBL released the season fixture for this year’s competition. For more info regarding when each team is set to play – Click HERE

The Flames open their season up against the Melbourne Boomers on Thursday, November 12.

WNBL Player Spotlight – Sydney Uni Flames – Alison Schwagmeyer

IT seems that the Perth Lynx had something about their players that the Sydney Uni Flames really liked, as the Flames’ administration poached yet another one of their core individuals after Lauren Mansfield, this time in the form of Alison Schwagmeyer.

Earning the prestigious title of WNBL Sixth Woman of the Year in 2019/20, Schwagmeyer had herself a monster campaign last season. Not only did the 30-year-old average 15.3 points, but she also hustled her way to a consistent 5.6 rebounds paired with two assists per game in WNBL20, therefore proving to be a cornerstone piece in the Lynx rotation.

Growing up in Illinois, Schwagmeyer grew up in a state that breathes the sport of basketball. Finding her love for the sport at a young age, she made the leap to the college scene by attending Charleston Southern University in her freshman and sophomore years. Averaging 7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds over her two seasons, Schwagmeyer made her return back to Illinois where she completed her NCAA career before turning pro transferring to Quincy University.

After a couple of seasons in Germany, Schwagmeyer joined the Kalamunda Eastern Suns of Western Australia’s State Basketball League, which is where the root of her Australian basketball career began. Averaging 19.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and four assists she earned All-Star Five Honours and started her long-enduring career within the Australian basketball scene.

Since 2017, Schwagmeyer has been faithful to the Lynx organisation, but after a couple of conversations with Flames head coach Katrina Hibbert, the now-permanent resident of Australia felt that Sydney would be a great place to start a new chapter in what has been a success-filled career to this point according to the club’s announcement.

“I’m really excited to be joining the Flames. After a couple of talks with Katrina I felt comfortable that this was the right move for me,” Schwagmeyer said.

“I think it’s a great opportunity with the Kings and the Flames working together now under the same ownership group. It will be nice to get a fresh start, and what better city to do it in than Sydney.”

“I’m looking forward to integrating my leadership and experience, with my competitiveness and work ethic, to help create a good culture with Frog and the Flames this season,” Schwagmeyer said.

Coach Hibbert reveres Schwagmeyer as a leading figure throughout the entire league, and with the squad she has formed for the upcoming season, her experience will only help gel the team as they hope to push for a postseason berth.

“She has worked hard to become one of the most respected guards in the league so I’m very excited to welcome her to the Flames, and I know she will be an instant leader for our team,” Hibbert said.

“What stands out about Alison is her mental and physical toughness, and her willingness to compete is some of the best in the league. Pair that with the players we have already signed, and we are starting to build a group of players with a never-give-up attitude which is the style of play and culture we want as a team,” Hibbert summarised.

We look at the Flames’ forwards in the coming days as we round out the final week of the WNBL Player Spotlights.