Tag: Kelly Wilson

Young Guns in the WNBL – Maddison Rocci

FOR many of Australia’s veteran basketball players, some have gone their entire careers without ever laying their hands on the coveted Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) Championship trophy, or at least not until late into their careers. But for Maddison Rocci, the 22-year-old is coming off her second straight title with the University of Canberra Capitals in what is her third season.

While Rocci understands the privilege she has had playing alongside some of the best imports and veteran Australian talents in the league, it has not stopped the Melbournian from playing a pivotal role in each one of her titles, whether it be her scoring ability, her role on the floor or her dedication to the game.

“I have been very lucky in my three WNBL seasons to have such great role models,” Rocci explained. “I’ve had Nat Hurst, Leilani Mitchell, Kelly Wilson, Olivia Epoupa, Kia Nurse, Kelsey Griffin and Marianna Tolo and it’s been super important to my development and just my confidence has grown ever since I’ve been able to play with these individuals.”

Growing up in the Victorian suburb of Werribee, Rocci’s first sporting interest was not shooting hoops, nor even her second, as dancing and netball were the two activities that piqued her interest prior to basketball.

“The switch came from watching my older brother [Kristian] play at the Werribee Devils,” Rocci said. “Seeing what he could do out there on the court, made me want to go and try that sport.”

It was at the age of 11 that Rocci started playing at a domestic level, and soon after that, would try out for the Devils’ representative program in the Under 12’s age bracket in the Victorian Junior Basketball League (VJBL).

Gradually rising through the ranks, Rocci would be picked up by the Centre of Excellence program in Canberra, where she put on impressive displays of basketball in a season of one of the NBL1’s predecessors, the South East Australia Basketball League (SEABL).

Following this, the Canberra Capitals made their move, signing the 168cm-tall shooting guard to her rookie contract for the 2017/18 season. Despite the side not making the top four that season, Rocci and her squad blew the rest of the competition out of the water on their home floor in their 2018/19 campaign, as the Caps led the league in the standings with a record of 16-5, which ultimately would lead them to a 2-1 grand final series win against the Adelaide Lightning, the first for Rocci.

The 2019/20 season for Rocci proved to be her breakout stint, as increased minutes and point production for the guard, would allow her statistics to shine, further validating how effective Rocci’s game has become to this point.

Accumulating numerous starting roles for the Capitals, Rocci’s time of play would average close to 27 minutes per game, providing an imperative amount of support to Paul Goriss’ stars such as Nurse, Epoupa and Tolo. This would also include a season-high 19-point performance against the Southside Flyers and former teammate Leilani Mitchell mid-way through January.

After her 21 regular season contests, Rocci would accumulate decent numbers at the two-guard position, averaging nine points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. In addition, she would also remain consistent in her shooting, maintaining a 36 per cent clip from beyond the arc and a 40 per cent field goal percentage to boot.

For Rocci though, the biggest takeaway from last season, was her quest to find out what piece she was in the Capitals’ puzzle.

“The main thing that I learnt from last season was basically I had to find my feet and find my role,” Rocci said. “Being a starter in the WNBL was a really huge goal of mine, but what really helped me was just talking to more veteran players and leaders of the club. When I first arrived at the club, I wasn’t sure on what my role was in this team, but people like Paul [Goriss] and Kia helped me find my feet.”

Following a hard-fought semi-final series against the Melbourne Boomers, the Capitals had their eyes on a back-to-back title. The only thing standing in their way, the Southside Flyers and their impenetrable defence.

With Game One a slugfest from the get-go, it was going to be an absolute mission to steal away a win on Southside’s home-court.

Earning herself a modest eight-point, two rebound and three assist stat line, Rocci and her side would pull out an incredible two-point win to go up on the series 1-0, now knowing they could win back-to-back titles on their home floor.

With the Flyers up against the wall, an explosive opening quarter put Southside ahead by eight after 10 minutes. But, a dominant third quarter by the Caps, would earn them a two-point lead heading into the last quarter. However, reigning MVP and Rocci’s close personal friend, Kia Nurse, drilled a three-pointer with just seconds left to put the nail in the coffin on a series that would go down in Capitals history.

“It was super overwhelming!” Rocci said. “I tried really hard not to have a little tear in my eye when I was celebrating with the girls after, and it just shows the hard work and dedication that our team put in each day to get to that end goal that we set at the start of the season. I honestly can’t believe that I’m a back-to-back WNBL champion and that’s obviously super special and a memory that I will cherish forever.”

After a side wins back-to-back championships in any sport, the obvious thought for the future is the same for many. Can there be a three-peat?

For Rocci, that thought is very much off in the distance and the youngster has no doubts that the goal will be an objective come the start of next season.

“Whenever anyone asks that question you always think that you want to have that three-peat in your mind,” Rocci said. “Obviously that’s going to be a goal of ours, winning a championship going into any WNBL season, so we just gotta work hard each day and be there for each other.”

While the possibility for a three-peat remains a chance, the WNBL’s decision to possibly exclude imports from the upcoming season due to COVID-19 restrictions, would severely hinder the Capitals’ hopes, as Suzy Batkovic Award winner, Kia Nurse, may not be eligible for the 2020/21 season if the exclusion is to take effect.

“Imports are super special, and I’ve had the privilege to work alongside some super special ones in Canberra,” said Rocci. “Kia was one of the best imports I’ve ever played with and she’s really helped me develop my game. She wasn’t one of those imports that was arrogant, and it wasn’t all about herself, she was always willing to give back to the team, that’s the same with Olivia Epoupa.”

“They set a different standard,” Rocci added. “To train alongside someone who’s coming from overseas is pretty special, because when you go to play over there, you know what it’s going to be like. I enjoy playing with imports in the WNBL, so I can’t wait for them to come back after COVID has disappeared.”

After it was announced that next season will take place from the 20th of November, Rocci now has a clearer picture of what her offseason looks like, but up to this point has been training with the NBL1’s Southern District Spartans Head Coach Aja Parham-Ammar, focusing on things like ball-handling, shooting and some strength work at a warehouse up in Brisbane, where she currently resides.

Later down the track, Rocci will look to continue developing her defensive skills such as lateral movement and one-on-one play, as well as maintaining her three-point shot that has become a major weapon for her so far in her career.

Next season will be Rocci’s fourth with the Capitals, as she looks for her third title in as many years.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with our top selection and what else could it be, but the University of Canberra Capitals winning back-to-back WNBL titles.

#1 UC Capitals win back-to-back WNBL titles

After an impressive list of moments predating the number one choice, it was fitting that the top billing belonged to the ultimate success of a season in the WNBL title. Most impressively, the Capitals defied odds to get it done, just making it into second on the WNBL table by year’s-end and defeating the Melbourne Boomers and then minor premiers, Southside Flyers on the way to the title. After winning last year against Adelaide Lightning, the Capitals lost a couple of star talents in Kelly Wilson and Leilani Mitchell – the latter of whom faced off against the Capitals in the Grand Final Series. The Canberra-based side also had more than its fair share of injuries with 2018/19 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Kelsey Griffin and Keely Froling missing multiple games, and instead it was second year import, Kia Nurse who stepped up alongside a really strong core of players to win the 2019/20 MVP award.

The Capitals won the title by the narrowest of margins, getting up by two points in Dandenong on March 1, then three days later returning to AIS Arena where they won 71-68 with a Nurse triple fittingly ending the contest, and the competition without having to go to a third deciding game. Olivia Epoupa won the Finals MVP after 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the first game and a massive 16 points, seven rebounds and 11 assists in the second to finish the series with 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.5 assists across 77 of a possible 80 minutes on court. Along with Epoupa and Nurse (18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds), Marianna Tolo (17.0 points, 8.0 rebounds), Maddison Rocci (8.5 points, 4.0 rebounds) and Griffin (11.5 points, 12.5 rebounds) all started the matches, while Froling (6.0 points, 3.5 rebounds) and came off the bench for crucial touches. Abby Cubillo also received two and half minutes in the first game in what will be a memorable moment for her in years to come.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals
#4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season
#3 – Nicole Seekamp’s 20-assist game
#2 – Kelly Wilson breaks games record
#1 – UC Capitals go back-to-back

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 WNBL memorable moments: #2 – Kelly Wilson breaks games record

WITH no basketball on for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the brighter side of the sport that brought plenty of memories throughout the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season. Over the next couple of weeks we will countdown Draft Central‘s Top 10 memorable moments from the season. Some are individual events, others are season views, and even a couple are decisions that panned out for the better. Today we continue with number two, which saw the all-time WNBL games record broken by Bendigo Spirit’s Kelly Wilson as she notched up 395 games.

#2 Kelly Wilson breaks WNBL games record

It is very rare in an ever-evolving basketball landscape that individual games records are broken, but that is exactly what happened with Bendigo Spirit’s Wilson in January. The well travelled veteran played her 395th WNBL game against Perth Lynx in the final game of the season. Having made her debut back in 2002, Wilson has represented five different clubs – two clubs twice – and won four WNBL Championships as well as the WNBL Rookie of the Year way back in 2003. She has claimed gold medals at the Oceania Championships in 2013 and 20015, as well as one back at the World University Games.

Wilson’s career started at the Australian Institute of Sport (AID) back in the WNBL in 2002, at the age of 17. She spent a season there and won the Rookie of the Year award before crossing to the Sydney Uni Flames where she spent two seasons. Another three-year stint at Townsville Fire before heading home to Bendigo Spirit where she spent the majority of her career from 2008-2016. There, she won back-to-back titles before returning to Townsville for a couple of seasons – winning a title in 2017/18 – before moving to UC Capitals in the 2018/19 season where she claimed her own individual back-to-back titles to make it four all up. With the games record in her sights if she could remain healthy in 2019/20, it was fitting that Wilson crossed back to the Spirit where she played for eight seasons.

In 2019/20, Wilson averaged 8.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game, and whilst her side ended up finishing on the bottom of the table, it was a memorable record-breaking finale to the season. In the NBL1 season with the Bendigo Braves, Wilson showed she is just as damaging as ver, putting up numbers of 19.3 points, 19.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per match in a huge year winning the NBL1 Most Valuable Player (MVP) and making the All-Star Five. Now 35-years-old there is hope for plenty more basketball left in the Spirit star.

Top 10 WNBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 – Ezi Magbegor wins second Rookie of the Year award
#9 – Bendigo Spirit breaks road drought
#8 – Mercedes Russell stars in debut season
#7 – Southside’s flying first season
#6 – Back-to-back overtime victories shape finals series
#5 – Southside Flyers’ road win against UC Capitals
#4 – Kia Nurse wins MVP after sensational season
#3 – Nicole Seekamp’s 20-assist game
#2 – Kelly Wilson breaks games record

2019/20 WNBL season review: University of Canberra Capitals

WE conclude our Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) team season reviews with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. It was a dream year for the reigning premiers who after finishing second on the table at the end of the regular season, managed to topple both the Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers on their way to back-to-back WNBL titles.

Ladder: 2nd (Premiers)
Win-loss: 15-6

From coast to coast, Canberra viewing parties sprung up, as people came together in joyous ecstasy to support the Capitals team. Everywhere in Canberra, there was (and still is) a sense of pride for the Capitals basketball team and what they accomplished. This immortalised group of women achieved a feat that very few have ever done, back-to-back champions, and in remarkable fashion. Winning their last game with a dagger from beyond the arc to put Canberra in front and have a 71-68 win over the Southside Flyers, just three days after the Capitals beat the Flyers by merely two points in Game One. But at the start of this memorable season, Capitals fans were not as joyous, starting the off season by losing four-time champion, Kelly Wilson. With Lauren Scherf heading to Sydney Uni, while Leilani Mitchell departed for Southside, it was reassuring to welcome former Capitals’ player, Mikaela Ruef and French national, Olivia Epoupa to the squad. Entering the season as reigning champions, it was clear the Capitals were the team to beat, and they carried this chip through all 26 game of the season

This team, from preseason to the grand final, was built around a number of star players, but the award winner for season 2019/20 was Kia Nurse. Winning Most Valuable Player (MVP), and all Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) First Team honours, Nurse would annihilate opponents, scoring the ball from all angles, leading her to average 20.9 points a game. This production of baskets resulted in her also receiving the top shooter award, an achievement given to the player who accumulated the most points for her team in a season. Playing as a tall gritty unit, the Capitals loved to play in the paint, smashing every team in the competition in total two-pointers made and attempted. A big reason they could play like this is because of last season’s MVP, Kelsey Griffin, who would collect nearly 11 rebounds a game, leading for the team, and playing a major role in the team leading the league in that area despite missing a portion of the season due to injury. Playing the second option on offence behind Nurse, the pair would combine for a mouth watering 828 points for the season, an accomplishment made easy when you obtain one of the best playmaking point guards in the league. Epoupa’s ability to move the ball and get everyone involved was second to none, and definitely was one of the most surprising breakout stars for the year, contributing to the team’s success more than anyone had ever suspected coming into the season. The French star would be given the recognition she deserved when she won the Finals MVP in one of the hardest fought finals series in recent memory. The Capitals made their way back to the grand final to take on the Flyers, a team that had secured the top spot of the ladder by two wins and had bested the Capitals once out of their three meetings. But after two thrilling games where the difference in margin was three points or less, the Capitals won their eighth title. 

After winning back to back titles, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘are we going to see another Capitals dynasty?’. Last year they won their first title since the 2009-10 season, the last of a golden era which bore an unprecedented seven titles in 11 seasons. The future is uncertain for now with Nurse heading back for the WNBA season – though she has returned each off-season to the Capitals – but fans should have faith regardless that if 2019-20 coach of the year Paul Gorris, will come up with a solution to remain as the team to beat.

NBL1 South women’s team summary: Bendigo Braves

IN light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the National Basketball League (NBL)1 South Conference has been cancelled this year. As such, while Draft Central intended to do a preview on all teams leading up to the delayed start, it will instead be a team summary from last season and what they might look to improve on for 2021. Today’s edition looks at last year’s minor premiers in the women’s competition, Bendigo Braves who fell in the finals series.

2019 in Review:

Finished: 1st (lost in Preliminary Final)
Wins: 19
Losses: 1
Home: 9-1
Away: 10-0

What went right:

  • Ridiculous regular season, only dropping one game
  • 12-game winning streak heading into finals
  • Kelly Wilson’s season
  • Offence (ranked first in two-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage, and assists, and second for overall points)
  • Disciplined (least personal fouls with 12.7 per game)

Prior to the finals series, it was hard to really find too much of a chink in the Braves’ armour. They finished minor premiers ahead of Geelong comfortably, and even had a big 30-point win over the – albeit understrength – Supercats in the final round of the season. Their only loss of the regular season came in round 11 against the Supercats, and with a 12-game winning streak heading into the finals series, few would have predicted what was to follow in the last few weeks of the competition. Aside from how it ultimately finished, the Braves were a dominant side both at home (9-1) and on the road (10-0) and were the clear standout team when it came to offence. They were ranked the top of the competition in both two-point field goal and free-throw percentage, which ensured they were getting the points whether they were fouled or not. They were also creative in their attack, able to find targets through opposition defences, with neat passes which led to assists – they topped the competition in that statistic as well – whilst remaining disciplined with the least personal fouls per game at just 12.7. In other words, so much went right except August.

What went wrong:

  • The finals series
  • Blocks (ranked 14th overall with just 2.2 per game)

Had this review been up until the end of the regular season, it would be a real head scratcher to find too much wrong with the season. They had only had the one loss to the Supercats and were firing on all cylinders come August. No one would have predicted a shock loss to Kilsyth Cobras in the qualifying final – with the Cobras sneaking into fourth, but Kilsyth racked up a whopping 16 offensive rebounds to five, and beat the Braves at their own assist game (25-22). The finals series by the experienced Lauren Nicholson was out of this world, and the qualifying final was no exception, though Sarah Boothe‘s 21 points and 17 rebounds – eight offensive and nine defensive – is what won the Cobras’ the match. A heartbreaking loss to Geelong on the road in the preliminary final ended the Braves’ chances at a flag, but they could certainly look back on a wonderful season, even if they did not get reward for effort.

Top Players:

Kelly Wilson

An incredibly player who is almost super-human with her endurance, averaging a mind-boggling 38.4 minutes per game in the 40-minute matches. She had almost 350 attempts from the field, and got to the line for 135 free throws, averaging 87.4 per cent for the latter. Finishing the season with 19.3 points, 19.5 assists and 6.4 rebounds, as well as 2.0 steals, it was no surprise to see Wilson named as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the competition. Received a lot of plaudits for her season and deserved it too, with the 34-year-old like a fine wine.

Rebecca Tobin

A rebounding machine, Rebecca Tobin was simply remarkable off the boards, averaging 13.3 rebounds per game, with 9.3 off the defensive end and 4.0 from the offence to try and create second chance points. She also finished the year with 2.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks in a really consistent season, and would have been in MVP calculations too had it not been for Wilson’s unbelievable season which just topped her and Tobin could only manage the 15 games. Unlike her teammates, Tobin did not try and shoot outside her limits, with the 30-year-old center only making one three-point attempt and mostly using her bigger frame to get to the line to muscle her way in to the basket.

Gabrielle Richards

Richards provided a two-prone attack off the boards with Tobin, averaging 9.2 rebounds per game and coming close to a double double herself. She averaged the 14.1 points and played every game of the season, also picking up two assists and one steal per game. Like Wilson, the 34-year-old was strong and used her bigger body to advantage around the basket, which is what made the Braves such a dominant team with two stars rebounding it so consistently every match.

Young Gun:

Danielle O’Toole

The Braves do not have as much youth as other sides, with their experience leading them to the minor premiership and as a title contender. But with three teenagers named on the list at the start of the season, it was O’Toole who managed to get on court the most with 13 games, albeit with an average of just under five minutes per match. She made up for lost time however, putting up 3.4 points per game, which is almost a point-per-minute. Most impressively, O’Toole looms as a long range shooter, averaging 46.4 per cent from three-point range, sinking 13 of 28 attempts, ranking first for accuracy in the side, and equal fifth for attempts despite much less time on court.

Christmas list for 2021:

Young depth. Bendigo’s core group of players are elite talents, but are still the wrong side of 30 and with another year on, will begin the season with a couple of 36-year-olds and a few more past 30. Tessa Lavey (27-years-old by next year’s season start) looms as the youngest starter, and while some of the teenagers got minutes, it will be about blooding the next group of players to come through the Braves program. Hopefully the veterans will look to go a week longer and push on in 2021 for a strong season.

Summary:

They came so close to a title in 2019, and will be hungry to go better in 2021. There are questions around the age profile of the group, but with the form they were in for last season, it is hard to doubt them. If anything, a season off might prolong the careers of some of the veterans who earn a much needed rest. Bendigo will be a team to watch and if the list can relatively remain stable, then the Braves will be the team to beat.

2019/20 WNBL season review: Bendigo Spirit

IT was a case of new faces, same story, for the Bendigo Spirit during the 2019/20 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) season, with the side fortunate to not finish on the bottom of the ladder after having a few bumps along the way.

Ladder: 7th
Win-loss: 5-16

This season for Spirit was categorised by fresh faces. Recruiting so many players, it was almost a completely new line-up from last year. To go with this brand new roster, the Spirit brought in a brand new coach in Tracey York. But with new faces came the issue of key old names missing, such as 2018/19 leading scorer, Nadeen Payne who left to join the Perth Lynx, along with Marena Whittle. The Lightning acquired Natalie Hurst while the Flyers grabbed Louella Tomlinson, and Jessie Rennie left for the USA. Nevertheless, Spirit was able to bring in Tessa Lavey and Carley Ernst from Dandenong Rangers, Shyla Heal from Perth and Kelly Wilson from Canberra. The Spirit also picked up Kasey Burton from Melbourne, and Marte Grays from the USA as their final piece for what was a chaotic offseason. Yet with so many fresh faces came very little team chemistry as the Spirit finished second last, again. But even with such an uncharted roster, a winning culture would surely be set as long as the team was captained by Wilson, or so was thought. Fresh off winning the NBL1 MVP for the Bendigo Braves, putting together 19.3 points, 10.5 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals a game, the Spirit were optimistic about their chances. But their dysfunction went far beyond a lack of common bond among players.

Rebecca Tobin, Spirit’s best player from last season, looked to have taken her game to the next level when playing in the NBL1, averaging 16.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks per game from 15 matches. However misfortune would follow as Tobin was sidelined after a knock to the head during a training session right before the season. Playing just a third of the season, Tobin would only average 8.3 points a game. This would be a massive factor for what was certainly a derailed season. Placing in the bottom two in both steals and blocks per game, while also being second in turnovers, the Spirit simply struggled defensively. The side’s concentration on bringing in new players this season instead of building up last season’s combinations ultimately proved to be their downfall, with the changes on court falling short from expectations.

The Spirit had a very tough schedule to begin the season, playing seven teams that would make the playoff across their first eight games. It was not exactly the fairytale story Gabe Richards wanted to end her career on. A two-time champion who wore the Bendigo Spirit uniform for almost every season the Spirit has been alive in the WNBL, her presence will be sorely missed. However the torch may be in the hands of new recruit, Shyla Heal, who by all standards had a breakout season. Daughter of Australian basketball legend, Shane Heal, Shyla was expected to be a key contributor from the jump, learning from the more experienced players, her role was initially about being the spot up shooter in the offence. But at only 18 years of age, she put the league on notice and led her team in points per game with 12.1. Definitely a player to follow, who will not only be the Spirit’s franchise player, but maybe one day the face of the league.

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 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.

2019/20 WNBL preview: Round 14 – Make or break round for Capitals

CLASHES against the top two sides makes Round 14 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) a belter for the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. Aside from those couple of thrilling contests, Adelaide Lightning is still looking to keep a step ahead in third, while the Boomers and Flyers hope to solidify their top two spots ahead of finals.

UC CAPITALS vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Friday, January 17, 7pm
National Convention Centre

Opening up the weekend is a huge top four clash between reigning premiers, UC Capitals and Melbourne Boomers. With a four-game gap between fourth and fifth, the Capitals are secure in the knowledge they will play finals, but will hope to win this game to draw one win closer to the top two Boomers. Finishing fourth means the Capitals will not be able to host two home finals in the series, and will be travelling for the majority of the time – predominantly to Victoria. If they can win, then it leaves the race for second wide open, as the Southside Flyers look to have secured top spot on the WNBL table. In the two previous meetings the teams are one win apiece with the Boomers thrashing the Capitals by 35 points back in Round 3, before the Capitals earned a hard-fought three-point win a couple of weeks later. The Capitals have proven to be near-impossible to beat at home with a 6-1 win-loss record there, though the Boomers are just as impressive on the road with six wins from eight encounters. In the absence of injured star Kelsey Griffin, Keely Froling has stood up of late to be a bonafide starter, posting 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season, teaming well with the equally impressive Marianna Tolo (13.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks). Tolo will be particularly important to try and quell the influence of Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor of whom the pair of forward-center’s combining for 26 points and 15 rebounds.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Friday, January 17, 7pm
Titanium Security Arena

Down in South Australia, third placed Adelaide Lightning will be keen to take advantage of the result from the Capitals-Boomers clash and either move one win closer to Melbourne or one win further away from UC. The season is done and dusted for Townsville who sit four and a half games outside of fourth spot. The Fire will still be keen to have a strong finish to the year and push for fifth spot, and back-to-back wins over Round 14 would likely see them achieve that spot, albeit temporarily. The Lightning are fairly strong at home with a 6-3 win-loss record, while the Fire on the road have been shaky to say the least, winning just two of nine attempts this season. Both of the clashes between these sides in the 2019/20 season have been in Townsville with the Lightning easily taking the wins both times thanks to margins of 18 and 26 points respectively. Brianna Turner (16.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks) has been a ray of consistency this season, combining well with the all-round efforts of Stephanie Talbot (14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game). Nicole Seekamp has been steadily building in the guard position, while the inclusion of Kathryn Westbeld in replacing Crystal Langhorne as a forward has been a positive one. For the Fire, Abby Bishop has missed the last few games but it has not hurt the Fire who have recorded back-to-back wins and jumped off the bottom of the table. Tess Madgen (12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds) and Darcee Garbin (14.1 points, 6.2 rebounds) have been quite handy for the team over the course of the season.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES vs. MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Saturday, January 18, 5pm
Brydens Stadium

In what will be a quick turnaround for the Boomers, Melbourne heads from the nation’s capital to Sydney for a match against Sydney Uni Flames. A couple of wins could see them draw level with Southside Flyers, but a couple of  losses all but rules them out of a run for top spot. Not only could that be the case, but both third placed Adelaide and fourth placed UC would be on the Boomers case heading into the final two rounds of the season. Sydney Uni have won three of eight at home, while the Boomers are confident on the road and will start favourites despite the short turnaround. Player management will be crucial for the visiting side over the weekend as the Boomers have one eye on the finals series. In the two matches this year, Melbourne has brought home the chocolates on both occasions, winning by 13 points in Melbourne before toppling Sydney Uni by 23 points on the road. For the Flames to win they will need to be at their best, led by Alice Kunek (18.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists) and Jessica Kuster (12.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks). Lauren Scherf had a standout game last season and is averaging eight points and eight rebounds per game, and will need another huge one to topple the likes of George and Magbegor. Restricting the Boomers’ bigs will be key to victory, though Sophie Cunningham (11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds) and Lindsay Allen (15.3 points, 4.9 assists) are a couple of Americans who continue to cause headaches for the opposition.

BENDIGO SPIRIT vs. SOUTHSIDE FLYERS
Saturday, January 18, 7pm
Bendigo Stadium

In the most anticipated one-sided game of the round, top takes on bottom when Southside Flyers travel up the highway to face Bendigo Spirit. The Flyers have had a superb first season in the WNBL after the rebrand from Dandenong Rangers, sitting two games clear with 14 wins from 17 games, while Bendigo has struggled at times with just four wins from 13 games. The one positive heading into this match is the fact that all four of Bendigo’s wins have come at home, though Southside are 8-1 on the road. In their two previous encounters this season – both at home for Southside, the Flyers have won by eight and 13 points. Bendigo’s Carley Ernst is the key rebounder in the side, picking up 6.7 boards a game to accompany her 11.8 points. Kelly Wilson (8.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds) and Tessa Lavey (8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists) are others who have had strong seasons despite the unfavourable results for the Spirit. The Flyers have had no shortage of contributors, and Mercedes Russell has set the tone as the premier center in the competition, averaging a double-double of 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Rebecca Cole (16.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds) and Leilani Mitchell (15.9 rebounds, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists) are others have worked hard, playing as important guards in the ladder-leading side.

PERTH LYNX vs. TOWNSVILLE FIRE
Sunday, January 19, 2pm
Bendat Basketball Centre

In one of two Sunday games, Perth Lynx play their first game of the round against a Townsville Fire side travelling across the border after their clash against the Lightning on Friday night. The Lynx would need incredibly favourable results to have any chance of making finals, sitting four games outside of the top four with just two rounds remaining. Realistically it is beyond last year’s finalists, though ensuring they do not finish in the bottom two would also be a huge motivation to win this match. The Lynx are 4-5 at home, while the Fire are only 2-7 on the road so expect the Lynx to be favourites without being a sure thing – especially considering Townsville toppled them back on November 2 in Western Australia by five points before Perth sought revenge with a five-point win of their own up in North Queensland. Perth has a number of players who have produced solid performances throughout the year, with an even team performance rather than standout individuals. Katie-Rae Ebzery (15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals) has led the way from the likes of Alison Schwagmeyer (15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Lauren Mansfield (9.7 points, 4.6 assists). While the Australian cohort of the Fire have been up and about, the international imports in Bridget Carleton (11.6 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Belgian Julie Vanloo (8.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists) have also contributed this year.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS vs. UC CAPITALS
Sunday, January 19, 5pm
Dandenong Stadium

The match of the round could well be the final game of the weekend. The top-of-the-table Southside Flyers make the trip up to Canberra following a night clash with Bendigo Spirit the day before, to take on the UC Capitals in a ladder-defining clash. The Flyers can lock up top spot with a big weekend, while a couple of losses could see the Boomers pounce on top spot. Arguably the Capitals have even more to lose if they go down in their clashes against the top two sides because it would rule them out of a top two spot and a double home final. These sides have played twice this season with the Capitals winning on the road to hand Southside its first loss back in early November, before the Flyers knocked off the Capitals in their only loss at home. While Southside seldom lose at home, the Capitals have shown the formula to do it, and it could be a thrilling contest. The forwards have been good at providing some strong rebounding and point-scoring abilities with the likes of Jenna O’Hea (14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals) and Sara Blicavs (13.6 points, 6.8 rebounds) leading the way for the Flyers. The Capitals have an equal amount of enviable depth with other starters Kia Nurse (19.9 points, 3.8 rebounds), Olivia Epoupa (7.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists) and Maddison Rocci (7.6 points, 2.5 assists) all crucial in combining for a successful team this season.

NBL1 expands north as national game grows

IN a landmark agreement between the National Basketball League (NBL), NBL1, Basketball Victoria and Basketball Queensland, the 2020 NBL1 competition will be split into two conferences. The current league – with the addition of new side, Mount Gambier Pioneers – will be renamed NBL1 South, while the new league featuring 26 new teams will be based in Queensland and called NBL1 North. The NBL1 North replaces the Queensland Basketball League (QBL) with 13 men’s and 13 women’s sides.

The 13 clubs that have been awarded licences in the NBL1 North are Cairns Marlins (men’s) and Dolphins (women’s), Townsville Heat (men’s) and Flames (women’s), Rockhampton Rockets (men’s) and Cyclones (women’s), Mackay Meteors (men’s) and Meteorettes (women’s), Southern District Spartans, Sunshine Coast Phoenix, University of Sunshine Coast Rip, Brisbane Capitals, Logan Thunder, South West Metro Pirates, Gold Coast Rollers, Ipswich Force and Toowoomba Mountaineers.

NBL Chief Operating Officer Andy Crook said it was an exciting time for Australian basketball.

“We are excited to announce the establishment of NBL1 North and NBL1 South conferences,” Crook said. “This is a genuine partnership between the NBL, Basketball Queensland and Basketball Victoria and we look forward to the great rivalries that’s set to develop between the conferences. “We are also in active discussions with Basketball South Australia, Basketball Western Australia and Basketball New South Wales about introducing the NBL1 concept in those states.”

NBL1 South will tip off on Saturday April 18 while NBL1 North will begin a week later on Friday April 24.

NBL1 South and NBL1 North will hold conference finals in August, before an NBL1 finals series will be played on the first weekend of September with conference champions from NBL1 South and NBL1 North at the State Basketball Centre in Victoria. Further details of the NBL1 finals series will be announced soon.

The NBL1 North logo will have a maroon colour while the NBL1 South logo will be navy blue, creating a connection between the conferences and their main state.

Basketball Queensland Chief Executive and Secretary Graham Burns said the major competition in the Sunshine State was looking forward to holding a highly recognised second tier competition.

“We can’t wait for the inaugural NBL1 North season and look forward to the growth the league will have under the NBL’s banner,” Burns said. “Basketball Victoria and the NBL did an incredible job with NBL1 in 2019 and we are thrilled to be involved and continue the positive momentum.”

Basketball Victoria CEO Nick Honey said the success of NBL1 last season showed the concept was adaptable across the country and he looked forward to the growth of the conference system.

“It’s exciting to see the next phase of NBL1’s expansion begin this year with NBL1 becoming NBL1 South,” Honey said. “From where Basketball Victoria and the NBL started last year, it’s brilliant to see the model expand to other states.”

Last year’s NBL1 competitions were won by Nunawading Spectres and Kilsyth Cobras in the men’s and women’s competition respectively. Geelong Supercats’ Demarcus Gatlin and Bendigo Braves’ Kelly Wilson were named the respective competitions’ Most Valuable Players (MVP).