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WNBL20 Season Review – Townsville Fire

BESIDES being the most improved team in WNBL20 by a country mile, this season’s hosts, the Townsville Fire performed at an exceptional rate over the entire six weeks, culminating in two All-WNBL team selections, a Coach of the Year, a Sixth Woman and a Youth Player of the Year recipient, as well as a Grand Final opportunity. After receiving the wooden spoon at the start of this year, the Fire improved at a rapid rate and despite missing out on the final piece of silverware will take plenty of positives out of their campaign.

After a busy offseason to say the least, a new look Fire squad took the floor in Mackay during mid-November, to commence the long-awaited season with a determined mindset. This was shown against the Perth Lynx in Townsville’s season-opener as the hub hosts ran away with a 25-point triumph. But it did not take long for the Fire to realise that this season’s competitors were not to be taken lightly, losing their second contest of Round 1 to the defending champion Canberra Capitals (67-78).

Round 2 of the season fixture for the Fire proved to be a pivotal point in the campaign for head coach Shannon Seebohm and her squad, as they had to work their way through a four-game week. After a successful three-point result over the Sydney Uni Flames, Townsville got to test their mettle against the WNBL’s top-contender in the Southside Flyers, but to no avail going down to the league’s benchmark side 89-101. Fortunately for the Fire, they performed well in their remaining games that week against both the Bendigo Spirit twice and the Melbourne Boomers, placing their record at five wins and two losses entering the middle portion of the season.

Going down again to the Flyers to conclude Round 3, Southside proved to be more than a nuisance as the season continued, with Townsville unable to find the solution to slow down the Flyers’ offence. While Seebohm and his side showed lapses throughout their season, it was their ability to repeatedly bounce back from negative results that helped in the long run.

A two-game split in Round 4 against the Lynx (75-84 loss) and the Capitals (84-71 win) put the Fire well within finals eligibility with the last round still yet to be played, but with a top-two seed still hanging in the balance.

Knocking off Adelaide Lightning in convincing fashion 95-66, Townsville now had the chance to steal the second seed in WNBL standings at the end of the season. To get to that goal, the Fire just scraped away with a six-point win over the Boomers and leapfrogged the Melbourne-based side in the process, nabbing the second-seed at the last possible moment.

The Fire found themselves face-to-face with a team they had yet to defeat during the season and one of the most talented domestic line-ups in Australian basketball history, Southside. That streak of defeats to the Flyers unfortunately continued for the Sunshine-State team, going down in the second semi-final of the day 93-106, meaning next up would be a win or go home preliminary final against the Boomers once more.

In a meeting drowned in defence, neither Townsville nor Melbourne would manage to accumulate over 65 points, as shooting efficiency was few and far between. Luckily for the hosts, they kept their noses in front for the majority of the encounter withstanding onslaught after onslaught from the Boomers. Eventually conquering Melbourne 65-62 and setting up the franchise’s first grand final in little more than three seasons.

For all of Townsville’s players, it was a dream come true to compete for a WNBL title in front of their home crowd at Townsville Stadium. But their final hurdle would be the most difficult to combat and overcome, given that the Fire had not been able to beat Southside in any of their three previous meetings throughout the campaign.

Despite having four players reaching double-digit totals in what was for the most part a tightly knitted affair, the Flyers’ marquee players made their presence felt. A near-perfect second half for the Flyers, as well as a performance to remember from Leilani Mitchell would be enough to silence their opponents 99-82 at the final buzzer, ending the Fire’s prominent season and redeeming themselves after last year’s Grand Final failures – breaking the hometown fans’ hearts in the process after a gallant year.

MVP-candidate, member of the All-WNBL First Team and new signing for Townsville, Lauren Nicholson reminded everyone why she is a force to be reckoned with averaging 18.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Next to her is perhaps one of the biggest success stories this season for another new signing in Shyla Heal. Heal ended her WNBL20 with averages of 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists and being named this season’s Australian Youth Player of the Year.

Other standouts included Sixth Woman of the Year, Zitina Aokuso (9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds), Nadeen Payne (8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds) and Megan McKay (7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds).

In a season that could have gone either way because of the major roster changes that were made before the season even began, Seebohm did an exemplary job alongside his coaching staff merging numerous personalities together to work as a collective unit. With Seebohm signing a two-year extension, the future possibilities for this Townsville side are limitless.

WNBL Grand final preview: Southside Flyers v. Townsville Fire

IT all comes down to this day with Southside Flyers and Townsville Fire set to lock horns in a do or die grand final battle. Southside will be out for vengeance after falling in last year’s WNBL grand final while Townsville Fire have proven they have nothing to lose and everything to gain after an impressive rise through the ranks this season.

The last time these two sides met was only days ago with Southside getting the last laugh in the first semi-final and claiming an important victory, fuelling them with momentum heading into this clash. Despite having a shorter turn around then their competitors, the Fire have an insatiable thirst for a win and will be keen to provide their fans with plenty of entertainment and make full use of their homecourt advantage. It has been a roller coaster season for both sides but by late this afternoon there will be a new crowned champion with either the Flyers or Fire set to walk away with some nice silverware. A victory here would see Southside claim their first premiership since being rebranded while for Townsville it will mark their fourth premiership in history.

The WNBL minor premiers have a real pep in their step having won every outing against Townsville in the past two seasons but will have their work cut out for them against the Fire who are reinvigorated and have a real sense of momentum after stringing together a couple of strong quarters. It is fair to say that belief is strong in the Townsville unit overcoming an experienced Melbourne Boomers outfit only days ago to make their way to the grand final and give themselves a chance to hold the premiership cup aloft.

Statistically speaking, the Flyers have an insane ability to hit the basket with great accuracy and penetration to constantly keep the scoreboard ticking over, meaning that the Fire will have to be on their a-game in order to limit the opportunities in which Southside have to attack the rim. The Flyers also have the upper hand when it comes to fast break points and ability to convert points from turnovers given the high calibre of players that are able to seize the moment and take charge. Defensively the Flyers also reign supreme amassing 33 more blocks than the Fire while also highlighting their cleanliness and ability to attack the ball with 140 steals compared to 109. Southside have the ability to play with a shared mentality highlighted through their higher assists count 369 to 249.  On the flip side the Fire have proven to be tried and tested performers on the rebounding front able to reel in missed shots time and time again.

When looking at top players in either squad it is hard to go past All-WNBL First team star Liz Cambage who has made a lasting impression and will be eager to once again inflict some pain both on the scoreboard and rebound front in the grand final. The center has an impressive set of averages with 24.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game. She is not alone though with Sara Blicavs a real livewire out on court with her 13.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while Rebecca Cole has elevated her workload throughout the season to collect 15 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists each time she steps out on court. The Flyers also have plenty of depth with Leilani Mitchell able to change the course of a game alongside Monique Conti, Aimie Clydesdale and Jenna O’Hea.

The Fire have two key prongs in their unit with Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal the go-to-girls able to light up the court and cause a wave with their impact. Nicholson is a seasoned campaigner that knows how to stand up when it counts and averages an impressive 18.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals a game. Partner in crime, Heal is coming off a stellar performance and will be hoping to replicate similar feats today with the youngster not afraid to take the game on credit to her averages of 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals. Off the bench Townsville have some good support with Zitina Aokuso a handy inclusion with her 9.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists while Nadeen Payne also brings another element to the contest.

It will be a thrilling contest between the two sides as they battle it out for the most prestigious award and honour in the WNBL. Expect the game to go down to the wire and for each player to throw everything they have at it in order to get their side over the line.

WNBL Preliminary final: Townsville Fire v. Melbourne Boomers

IT is a do or die clash for the Melbourne Boomers and Townsville Fire as both sides aim to keep their grand final hopes alive with a win in the preliminary final. Melbourne is chasing its first premiership in over a decade while the Fire have enjoyed a rapid rise up the ladder and will be hoping not to bow out in straight sets.

The Boomers switched on the fireworks in their semi-final win against two-time premiers, UC Capitals and will be wanting to replicate those highs against a young and inexperienced Fire side. On the other hand, Townsville fell victim to a rampant Southside Flyers outfit that was eager to make amends for its shortcomings last year, succeeding with a dominant first term that set up the win.

In terms of recent results, the two sides cannot be separated with the Boomers and Fire winning three of their past five outings to highlight just how evenly poised they are. There has not been too much time between their last encounter with the second and fourth ranked sides meeting in Round 5, when Townsville Fire reigned supreme by six points. The Fire had the better of Melbourne, making them work in overdrive and shutting down a couple of their key figures, an area Melbourne will be hoping to address ahead of their preliminary final clash tonight.

Statistically speaking, the Fire have proven to be more potent in attack than their competitors; averaging 82 points across their 14 games while the Boomers have managed a lesser total of 77. If the Fire are able to find easy avenue to the basket, the Boomers could be in trouble. However, the Boomers’ strength lies in their defensive prowess with the side recognised for its ability to slow down opposition teams and be a real menace off the backboards, boasting 30 more rebounds than the Fire (565-535). Melbourne also reigns supreme in blocks (62-21) and steals (108-105) indicating its defensive minded techniques. When it comes to shooting percentage it is hard to split the two, however the Fire have the upper hand in all areas; going at 46.3 per cent from the field, 75.4 from the charity strip and 35.1 per cent from outside the arc compared to Melbourne’s 43.4, 73.2 and 33.1 respectively.

There are plenty of exciting players across the court with Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal likely to light it up for Townsville. Nicholson was awarded All-WNBL honours for her performances throughout the season, averaging 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.08 steals while shooting at a 48.1 field goal percentage. Heal has also been recognised for her breakout season, winning the Youth Player of the Year award and will be eager to keep her scintillating form going heading into the preliminary final. She has registered averages of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game while another one to keep an eye out for is Zitina Aokuso, with her ability to come on and impact the play. Players such as Kate Gaze, Nadeen Payne and Stephanie Reid are also handy inclusions that are able to make a splash.

The Boomers are not without their plethora of stars, with Ezi Magbegor leading the pack. The defensive star averages some impressive numbers (14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.1 blocks) and knows what it takes to perform on the big stage, converting at a 56.2 per cent clip. Partner in crime and Boomers captain, Cayla George is another dynamite player, able to leave a lasting imprint with her hot hand and rebounding ability; averaging 14.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals and a little over a block a game. Maddy Garrick also has an uncanny ability to sense the moment and star, amassing averages of 10.9 points a game, 2.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Meanwhile, Tess Madgen is a force to be reckoned with alongside the likes of Ashleigh Karaitiana and Kalani Purcell.

WNBL semi-finals preview

WNBL semi-finals action begins tonight as the Melbourne Boomers and UC Capitals kick things off at Townsville Stadium, with the victor progressing through to the preliminary final. Meanwhile, ladder leaders Southside Flyers take on Townsville Fire later tonight with the winner through to the grand final.

UC Capitals v. Melbourne Boomers

A couple of familiar faces return to the finals fold with the UC Capitals and Melbourne Boomers gearing up for another finals campaign. Both sides are formidable forces that ooze class, composure, and plenty of smarts,  able to work their way out of tricky situations and barely have a bad game. It makes for an exciting clash between the two sides.

There has not been too much time between their last outing with the Melbourne Boomers getting the last laugh and walking away with a six-point victory just over two weeks ago. However, the Capitals are no easy beats and will be hoping to reverse those efforts with the back-to-back reigning premiers a force to be reckoned with each time they step out on court. The Caps have only won two of their past five outings while the Boomers have gone one better, sitting at three wins over their past five performances. Both sides are coming into the final off a loss and will be eager to flip the script and keep their finals dreams alive.

Looking at the statistical breakdown there are plenty of similarities between the two sides, with scoring no problem for either but the difference coming from where they score from. In terms of percentage the Boomers have the upper hand at both the three-point range and in overall field goal percentage – 33.3 per cent to 29.9 per cent and 43.3 per cent to 40.9 per cent respectively. The Caps are prolific in the paint, managing 496 for the season as opposed to 484 while they also have the upper hand when it comes to fast break points (105-73). On the other hand the Boomers make the most of turnover opportunities, nailing 189 points to 183. When it comes to rebounds the Capitals are above and beyond with 514 for the season while Melbourne managed 453.

There is no shortage of excitement machines for UC but it is Maddison Rocci who has really taken the step up this season, averaging a team high 16.2 points along with 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 steals. She is not alone though with Marianna Tolo another commanding presence out on court, averaging 11.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists – highlighting her ability to have an impact in all aspects. It is hard to go past the services of Kelsey Griffin with the forward able to find the basket and score, going at 45.3 per cent from the field and averaging 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 steals. There are a host of other key contributors such as Keely Froling, Jade Melbourne, and Mikaela Ruef, who has proven her star power off the boards on more than one occasion.

The Boomers also have a number of livewires, none bigger than the exciting duo of Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George with the latter named in the All-WNBL First Team. Magbegor has taken another big step forward this season, averaging an impressive 14.8 points a game, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists while also lending her hand on the defensive end with 1.1 blocks. Her partner in crime, George, is not far behind averaging 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, not to mention one block and 1.4 steals a game. Tess Madgen is another one to keep an eye out for with her explosive nature to record 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game. Madeleine Garrick, Kalani Purcell and Ashleigh Karaitiana are others that are able to chime in and keep the scoreboard ticking over for the Boomers.

Southside Flyers v. Townsville Fire

Southside Flyers come into the semi-final against Townsville Fire with a real sense of vengeance having fallen short in the big dance last year and proven eager to make up for their missed opportunities. Boasting a stacked team with plenty of big names, the Flyers will be hoping to assert themselves early and pounce on the inexperienced and youthful Townsville outfit.

The last time these two sides met it was the Flyers who took home the chocolates, downing the Fire by a convincing 24 points while also winning by a similar margin the time before in Round 2. In fact, the Flyers have a pretty good record against Townsville; claiming victories in all five of their past encounters, an area the Fire will be hoping to correct in this semi-final to progress through to the next stage. In terms of current form, the Flyers are on a staggering seven-game winning streak and have no intentions of slowing down while Townsville has managed four wins in its past five appearances.

The Flyers are scoring machines, averaging a whopping 96 points per game credit to their plethora of options that can attack the rim and do so at a high accuracy. Conversely, the Fire only manage 81 points per game and will have to try and shut down Southside if they are any chance to keep up with them. Field goal percentage is another strength of the Flyers, sitting at 51.1 per cent with the Fire converting at 45.6 per cent. They also have the upper hand when it comes to three-point accuracy 43.1 to 34.6 but Townsville is pretty reliable when sent to the charity strip, managing a 74.4 per cent clip as opposed to the Flyers’ 71.7 per cent. Aside from shooting the Flyers are incredibly strong when it comes to blocks, registering 31 more than the Fire (52-21) and also reign supreme in assists (343-214) and steals (126-96). However, the Fire have the upper hand on the rebounding front (508-471) and will be hoping to make the most of their efforts off the board.

Despite missing out on the League MVP there is no denying that the acquisition of Liz Cambage has been influential on the Flyers outfit. The star center is a menace off the boards and a commanding force overall, able to hit the scoreboard with great ease in averaging 23.6 points and 8.2 rebounds each time she steps out on court. However, she is not a lone hand with the likes of Sara Blicavs just as much of a handful given her innate ability to pop up when needed and deliver at a high standard, thanks to her 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game averages. Rebecca Cole is another one that is able to ply her trade for the Flyers, averaging 14.5 points per game, 2.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists each time she steps out on court. Teammates Jenna O’Hea and Leilani Mitchell are also are also crucial cogs for the Flyers and will have to fire if they are to get over the top of Townsville in their semi-final clash.

Townsville will be looking to the likes of Lauren Nicholson an Shyla Heal to lead the way for them from start to finish. Nicholson has been a revelation since joining the club this season with her ability to find the rim really coming to the fore, averaging 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists an 1.4 steals each game. Further court time for Heal has worked wonders for her basketball ability with the youngster averaging 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists making her one to watch in this clash. Fellow youngster Zitina Aokuso is another exciting prospect that can sense the moment and knows how to deliver recording an average of 9.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Nadeen Payne is a handy option for the Fire as is Stephanie Reid and Courtney Woods highlighting the amount of depth the club has.

Fire overcome fast-starting Boomers to secure second spot

THE TOWNSVILLE Fire announced themselves as serious finals contenders, downing Melbourne Boomers by six points in an epic contest (70-64). In a fight for top four position, the two sides went head-to-head with the lead ebbing and flowing throughout the game, showcasing what was at stake and the high intensity both sides can bring to the table.

The Boomers got out to a flyer of a start, establishing a seven-point margin at the first break and keeping the Fire to single digits in the opening term. But Townsville showcased its grit and determination, finding a groove in the second term and piling on the pressure to turn the tables on the Boomers, who seemed to have things their own way in the opening period of play. The Fire made light work of Melbourne, notching up 31 points to 17. Things evened out in the second half with both teams establishing their rhythm and unable to be separated, but in the end the Fire had done enough to throw the Boomers and clinch a hard-fought victory.

Accuracy from the field was down for both sides, however the Fire managed to boast a higher percentage – sitting at 42 per cent compared to the Boomers’ 38. The Fire also starred from two point range, converting at a 50 per cent clip in nailing 21 of their 42 attempts, while the Boomers did not have the same luck sitting at 41 per cent. However, when it came to triples, that is where the Boomers impressed nailing eight of their 25 attempts at 32 per cent as opposed to the Fire’s 28 per cent. Shooting statistics aside, the Boomers seemed to have the upper hand in the majority of the other categories; recording a higher rebound count (40-39) and more assists (24-14), highlighting the different way the two clubs go about it on court. They also earned a higher steals and blocks tally (10-7) and (4-2), respectively showcasing their defensive intent but were somewhat costly on the turnover front (16-13).

Lauren Nicholson once again impressed for the Fire, with the guard dropping 23 points at 50 per cent from the field along with four assists, six rebounds and a steal, highlighting her ability to be constantly involved in the action. Teammate Shyla Heal was down on her usual output, only recording the seven points in her 33 minutes on court, however she still managed to have an impact off the boards with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. Kate Gaze was another key contributor with 11 points while Zitina Aokuso starred for the Fire with her 16 points at an impressive 87 per cent from the field. Aokuso also managed seven rebounds, six of which were defensive, along with a steal to cap off an impressive performance from the youngster. Nadeen Payne also chimed in for a handy eight points and seven rebounds to help get her side over the line.

There were three main contributors for the Melbourne Boomers who were unable to generate as much impact as they would have liked off the bench, but still had key figures that were able to keep them in touching distance of the Fire. Ezi Magbegor led the charge for Melbourne, with the forward proving to be a menace and recording a team-high 20 points at an all-round 64 per cent accuracy. It did not stop there for her, amassing 10 rebounds to collect another double-double while also picking up three assists and one steal. The ever-reliable captain, Cayla George was the next best with 18 points across her 36 minutes on court, but she did the most damage off the boards with a staggering 17 rebounds which accompanied her three steals, three blocks and four assists. Tess Madgen also contributed for the Boomers knocking back 11 points while also collecting eight assists and four rebounds.

The Fire look ahead to ladder leaders Southside Flyers in the semi-final on Wednesday while Melbourne faces off against the Caps early in the day.

Flyers flex their muscles with convincing win over Caps

Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

It was always going to be an exciting battle between back-to-back premiers UC Capitals and the star studded line-up of Southside Flyers, but in the end it was the latter that prevailed in a convincing performance to run out with a 19-point victory (82-101).  The ladder leaders are building some serious momentum heading into the finals and are clearly primed as premiership favourites, as shown by their dominant performance on Sunday.

It was a high scoring match from the opening minutes of the game with both sides renowned for their attacking mentality and ability to hit the scoreboard with great ease. The Flyers got out to a handy start and did not look like giving up the lead at any stage, continuously pushing to extend their margin. Despite a better quarter in the second from the Caps nailing 23 points to 20, the Flyers still had the momentum and the lead. But they dealt the most damage in the third quarter when they went on a scoring spree, nailing 32 points to 19 to all but seal the deal. The Flyers had a real sense of desperation and urgency in their gameplay and that showed throughout the game, outscoring their opponents in the final term as well.

Scoring proved to be no issue for the Flyers who managed an impressive 51 per cent from the field, nailing 40 of their 77 attempts while the Caps travelled at a 40 per cent conversion rate. Southside starred from downtown, sitting at a whopping 62 per cent in slotting 18 from their 29 attempts, while it was a different story for the Capitals who only managed a mere 26 per cent from outside the arc. When it came to rebounds UC had things all their own way, recoding 47 to 34 to showcase their strength off the boards, but the Flyers seemed to have their number in all the other aspects such as assists (29-23), steals (6-4) and blocks (5-1). The ladder leaders were also cleaner with ball in hand and treasured possession, only notching up 10 turnovers as opposed to 15 while when it came to points in the paint, the Flyers also had the upper hand recording 42 to 28.

Despite being in the losing side there was no shortage of options with the likes of Marianna Tolo leading the way for the Capitals with her 23 points, six rebounds and two assists. The scoring dropped off after her with Jade Melbourne the next closest with 12 points in a strong performance off the bench. Madison Rocci and Kelsey Griffin were both handy options for the Capitals, combining for 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists while Keely Froling also chimed in with 10 points of her own in her 25 minutes on court. Although Mikaela Ruef did not have a profound impact on the scoreboard thanks to her six points, her strength off the board was unquestionable, reeling in 12 rebounds with eight of them defensive.

Six players all managed double figures for the Flyers with Rebecca Cole headlining the side with her 23 points and eight rebounds. Cole took the game by the scruff of the neck and starred while the ever-reliable Liz Cambage continued her merry way with another dominant performance collecting 18 points at 53 per cent and 12 rebounds. Aimie Clydesdale managed to have an influence thanks to her 13 points, two rebounds and six assists as did teammate Leilani Mitchell who just fell short of a double-double with nine rebounds and 14 points. Sara Blicavs dominated off the bench in a stats stuffing performance thanks to her 16 points, six rebounds and five assists haul while Stephanie Blicavs managed 11 points of her own in the win.

Looking ahead, the Flyers prepare for Townsville Fire in the semi-final on Wednesday while the Caps gear up for Melbourne.

Flames end season on a high

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After somewhat of an up and down season for both sides it was the Sydney Uni Flames that got the last laugh, securing a 26-point victory over Adelaide Lightning (86-60). With both teams out of the running for finals it was a matter of pride and determination which the Flames oozed plenty of as they kicked it up a gear in the final term to really ram home the win.

It was an even start to the game with the Flames and Lightning settling into the action and feeling each other out before Sydney found its mojo in the second term and put on the afterburners. Sensing a blowout, Adelaide turned the tables in the third term, going toe-to-toe with the Flames and scoring 18 points apiece, but that was not enough to worry Sydney who still had a handy buffer. The final quarter of action was where things really started to unravel with the Flames attacking the rim with great ease and piling on the scoreboard pressure thanks to their 29 to 14 point term to notch up their fifth win for the season.

Field goal percentage for both sides was down with the Flames converting at 39 per cent while Adelaide managed 35 per cent. The Lightning had better luck when it came to two point range sitting at 42 per cent while Sydney only managed 37 per cent. The roles were reversed when it came to three-pointers with the victors holding the upper hand, nailing eight of their 18 attempts at 44 per cent while the Lightning only managed 24 per cent. The Flames collected more rebounds (48-41), steals (14-7) and had less turnovers (10-20) while when it came to assists Adelaide impressed with 16-12.

Lauren Mansifeld seemed to have her own ball out on court for the Flames, sinking a game-high 31 points in a dominant shooting display from the guard. She also managed four assists and an uncharacteristic three turnovers. Mansfield was well-aided by Alison Schwagmeyer who recorded 16 points but could have had more had she been more accurate from the field, sitting at 33 per cent while also amassing seven rebounds and two assists. Anneli Maley was a commanding force off the backboards, recording a whopping 15 rebounds, 12 of which were defensive while Lauren Scherf plied her trade sinking 11 points in the win.

Although it was not the way the Lightning would have liked for the game to have gone down, there were a couple of key contributors with Steph Talbot once again leading the way. Talbot had a hot hand converting 22 points at 56 per cent while also dragging down 13 rebounds to record yet another double-double. Alex Wilson was the only other player to reach double figures with her 12 points and proved to be a real playmaker with ball in hand, amassing seven assists and a steal. Abigail Wehrung had an influence on the scoreboard, albeit limited, but still managed eight points in her 32 minutes on court.

2020 WNBL Round 5 preview: Last chance for teams to make mark

ROUND 5 of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) is finally here. The last round of the season, and five teams are fighting for four spots, with the top two unable to be moved, and the next two almost there, whilst the fifth placed side has a huge week to try and grab a late spot in the post-season series.

Adelaide Lightning

Position: 5th
Wins: 4
Losses: 5

To make finals?

The Lightning need to win all four games and hope either the Fire or Boomers lose all of their games. Could finish as low as seventh if Perth and Sydney Uni win games in the final round.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Cairns vs. Melbourne Boomers
Wed, Dec 9 @ Cairns vs. Bendigo Spirit
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Townsville Fire
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni Flames

After starting off strongly with a 4-1 start, the Lightning have slumped to a four-game losing streak to now be perilously close to missing out on finals. They need a lot to go right in the run home, though one benefit is playing both the Boomers and Fire who hold onto the spots they needs. If they can win those, they should go 4-0, but even then need at least one of those sides to have a shock loss.

Steph Talbot has been the standout this season, averaging 20.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 block per game, providing some continuity to the side along with Chelsea Brook (10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists). Abigail Wehrung (11.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Alex Wilson (11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists) have certainly shone but they need to have a big finish in the final round.

 

Bendigo Spirit

Position: 8th
Wins: 0
Losses: 11th

To make finals?

They can’t. In fact they cannot even get off the bottom. Just pride on the line for Bendigo in the Spirit’s final two matches.

Round 5 fixtures:

Wed, Dec 9 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Melbourne Boomers

It has been a disappointing season for the Spirit, but not completely unexpected given the youth they have been pushing through the program. Having lost the likes of Shyla Heal and Abigail Wehrung over the off-season, the Spirit were quite inexperienced, and while they have been overawed, have had some promising moments for the future.

Tessa Lavey (16.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals) and Carley Ernst (15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 block) have ben the standout players all season, and have just been searching for more consistent support across the side. Demi Skinner (6.9 points, 2.4 rebounds) and Mary Goulding (5.9 points, 4.0 rebounds) have provided some special moments, while Piper Dunlop (2.7 points, 1.8 rebounds) is one for the future.

 

Melbourne Boomers

Position: 3rd
Wins: 7
Losses: 3

To make finals?

Not lose every game and allow the Lightning to win every game. It is a certainty barring a massive disaster. In fact, even defeating Adelaide tonight guarantees them a spot.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Bendigo Spirit
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Townsville Fire

The Boomers can lock up a finals spot with a win tonight over Adelaide, but realistically they should have no issues casting aside Bendigo on Friday. A grudge match against Townsville looms as a massive final day encounter, with the winner potentially taking third spot, and the loser left for fourth.

Ezi Magbegor and Cayla George combine to be two of the best bigs in the league with the way they have really begun dominating each game of late, not that it should come as any surprise. The two Opals are experts at their craft, and George is averaging 14.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals, while Magbegor has put up 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 block. Tess Madgen (14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists) has provided all-round support for the Boomers, while Maddie Garrick (10.6 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists) is the other top scorer on the side.

 

Perth Lynx

Position: 6th
Wins: 4
Losses: 7

To make finals?

They cannot. Unfortunately the Lynx left their run a little too late, and even two wins in the final round sees them fall short.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni
Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. UC Capitals

After a poor 1-7 start and only a victory against the winless Bendigo, the Lynx have found their feet in the past week, winning three straight games, and boosting themselves to a 4-7 record which saw them leapfrog Sydney Uni Flames. A win over the Flames tonight guarantees them a top six spot, while they could derail the Capitals plans with a victory on Thursday. Perth will be the first team to finish the WNBL season after Thursday.

Darcee Garbin has had a remarkable season and just keeps getting better, with the ex-Fire talent now up to 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, sharing the load perfectly with Katie-Rae Ebzery (17.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists). Alex Ciabattoni has been a welcome addition to the squad as a two-way player with 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steal per game, while the rebounding duo of Alex Sharp (8.7 points, 7.8 rebounds) and Kayla Steindl (6.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) has ensured the Lynx remain competitive.

 

Southside Flyers

Position: 1st
Wins: 9
Losses: 2

To make finals?

Never looked like not making it, with top spot to likely be decided in the final round clash against the Capitals.

Round 5 fixtures:

Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Sydney Uni
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. UC Capitals

Now on a five-game winning streak and having taken care of the Boomers after an earlier loss, the Flyers face their other nemesis in UC Capitals in the final round. Southside has plenty of talent with the Capitals and Boomers arguably the only two teams able to have their measure, and as such should have no problems against the Flames on Thursday, then decide top spot with the Capitals on Sunday.

Liz Cambage has been unstoppable at the level since coming back from the WNBA, racking up 24.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Sara Blicavs (14.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals) has relished the focus going off her this season, while Rebecca Cole (13.7 points, 4.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds) and Jenna O’Hea (11.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.7 steals) have also provided all-round support. It is hard to forget Leilani Mitchell who has been an assist-machine, picking up 6.5 dimes per game to go with her 8.1 points.

 

Sydney Uni Flames

Position: 7th
Wins: 3
Losses: 7

To make finals?

They cannot, but they could leap as high as fifth if they can win their last three games and results go their way in other matches.

Round 5 fixtures:

Tue, Dec 8 @ Townsville vs. Perth Lynx
Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Southside Flyers
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Adelaide Lightning

The Flames cannot make finals, but have the potential to pick up a couple more wins in the run home and rise as high as fifth on the table. While the top of the table Southside Flyers will be tough to knock off, the Lynx and Lightning either side of that game, tonight and Sunday are winnable matches for Sydney Uni.

Ex-Perth stars Lauren Mansfield (12.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists) and Alison Schwagmeyer (12.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals) have combined brilliantly in the back court this season since crossing the country. Lauren Scherf has remained steady in the five spot with 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, whilst Anneli Maley has been a revelation thanks to 11.4 rebounds to go with her 6.8 points.

 

Townsville Fire

Position: 4th
Wins: 7
Losses: 4

To make finals?

Similar position to Melbourne, needing one win to secure a Top 4 spot, and can only drop out if they lose them all and the Lightning win them all. Will know if they have to play for a finals spot by the time their first game rolls around.

Round 5 fixtures:

Fri, Dec 11 @ Cairns vs. Adelaide Lightning
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Melbourne Boomers

The Fire are on the verge of bouncing back from last year’s wooden spoon to playing finals this year, but must knock off Adelaide Lightning on Friday. They do that and it will be all secure, before a huge playoff for third takes place against Melbourne Boomers on Sunday. Until Friday, the Fire have the longest rest leading up to the final round.

The back court duo of Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal is the best in the competition with the pair providing the majority of the team’s points throughout the 2020 season. Nicholson has put up 18.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals, while Heal has managed 17.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals in their 10 games this season. Zitina Aokuso just keeps getting better and got the start last match, and is almost up to 10 points per game (9.7) coming off the bench, to go with 5.9 rebounds per match. Nadeen Payne (8.4 points, 6.7 rebounds) has provided great support in that area.

 

UC Capitals

Position: 2nd
Wins: 8
Losses: 3

To make finals?

They are in, and like the Flyers, have looked in since bouncing back from a surprise opening night loss. Top spot will be up for grabs in the last match against the Flyers if the Capitals win their first match.

Round 5 fixtures:

Thu, Dec 10 @ Townsville vs. Perth Lynx
Sun, Dec 13 @ Townsville vs. Southside Flyers

The reigning back-to-back premiers had a disappointing loss to Townsville Fire which saw them slip to second on the table, and now they have to bounce back with wins against Perth Lynx, and finish off against title favourites, Southside Flyers. The Capitals beat them last time they faced off and will be hoping to do so again, with their defensive mindset key to containing the Flyers’ bigs.

Kelsey Griffin has just been building all season for this pointy end, now averaging 11.8 points. 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, teaming up well with co-captain Marianna Tolo (10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks). The youth coming through the guard spots in Maddison Rocci (15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.3 steals) and Jade Melbourne (8.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists) has been a delight for the future, while Keely Froling (9.7 points, 6.0 rebounds) has pieced together a really strong season.

Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Fire take down Caps in a stunning performance

TOWNSVILLE Fire caused a major upset in the WNBL, claiming a 13-point win over UC Capitals in a seesawing affair (84-71). The win marks the Fire’s seventh of the season and keeps them in touch with the top four while it is the second loss in as many days for the Capitals. It has not altered their ladder position too much though, thanks to their strong hold on second place.

Fire skipped out to a strong start and really put the foot down in the second term with a dominant showing thanks to their 24 points to 11. They managed to shut down the typically all-powerful Capitals side before things started to even up in the second half. Managing 19 points apiece in the third quarter, the Capitals came out with a real fire in the belly in the last quarter mounting somewhat of a comeback to outscore Townsville and spark plenty of concern through the Fire camp, but it was not enough to overrun the home side which had created a decent lead and were not ready to give up the “W”.

It was a hard day at the office for the Caps with the Canberra-based side unable to find the basket, sitting at a mere 28 per cent from the field only converting 22 of their 76 chances. On the flip-side, Townsville had a much better day sitting at 48 per cent and impressed from inside the arc nailing 21 of their 37 attempts at 56 per cent compared to 31 per cent. Free throw percentage was another point of difference with the Fire capitalising on their chances at the charity stripe with 75 per cent to 70 per cent. Despite struggling on the scoreboard, the Caps starred off the backboard amassing 49 compared to 35 while they also notched up 15 assists to nine. When it came to turnovers the Fire were much cleaner with ball in hand registering 12 while they also flexed their muscles when it came to points inside the paint with 30-24.

Youngster Shyla Heal seemed to have the ball on a string unable to do no wrong, racking up a game-high 27 points shooting at 58 per cent along with eight rebounds and three assists. Lauren Nicholson was the next best with the guard inflicting plenty of pain on the scoreboard with 25 points to her name and five rebounds, four of which were defensive. Nadeen Payne was the only other player to register double digits for points with 11 while also amassing eight rebounds in her 28 minutes on court. Youngster Zitina Aokuso was down on her usual performance but still managed to record seven points, three rebounds and one assist.

Although the big stars did not step up to the plate it was Maddison Rocci that led the way for the Caps recording 19 points at 43 per cent. Rocci slotted five triples in her outing while also amassing three rebounds, one assist and two steals. Kelsey Griffin had an influence with her 10 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes on court as Mikaela Ruef chimed in with nine points and an impressive 12 rebounds. Keely Froling also hit the scoreboard albeit not in a big way, with her eight points and seven rebounds – six of which were offensive.

The Capitals next look to Perth in hope to secure their ninth win while Townsville next face Adelaide Lightning.

Perth secure nail-biter

WNBL

PERTH Lynx clinched a two-point victory over Adelaide Lightning in a tight contest on Sunday night with the two sides going toe-to-toe for majority of the game (78-80). The victory marked the third straight win for the Lynx who have found some solid form in the back half of the season while Adelaide have faltered in the past couple of outings, with four straight losses.

Adelaide burst out of the blocks with a scintillating start to the game showcasing their dominance and scoring prowess early piling on 28 points to 19. The tables turned in the second quarter with Perth firing back to go on a 26 point to 13 spree and somewhat level the playing field. It was tit for tat for most of the game as the two sides traded blows, with the Lightning rediscovering their form in the third to reclaim the ascendancy and grab a hold of the game. But when it came down to the final quarter Lynx left no stone unturned firing on all cylinders and outscoring the Lightning in the final term to secure an almighty win.

Despite having a lower shooting percentage from the field 33 to 40 it did not stop Perth from stealing the win. Adelaide impressed from two-point range sitting at 41 per cent sinking 16 of their 39 attempts while Perth struggled to find the basket sitting at a mere 28 per cent with 17 from 60. Lynx had the upper hand from range sitting at 46 per cent while Adelaide managed 40 per cent. Rebounding was another strength of Perth (58-44) while when it came to assists the Lightning notched up 23 to 20 and also came out on top in blocks (4-2) and steals (5-4).

The scoring was shared between a number of key players for the Lynx but it was young gun Darcee Garbin that led the pack with her impressive 31 points and 11 rebounds in a double-double performance. Garbin was involved in just about everything and was well aided by teammate Alex Ciabattoni who slotted 15 points in her 30 minutes on court while also registering seven rebounds and three assists. The ever reliable Katie Ebzery stepped up to the plate with her 12 points and 10 assists in another strong showing while Kayla Steidl also managed to find the scoreboard with relative ease picking up 11 points and 11 rebounds to help her side get over the line.

There were only two main scoring options for the Lightning with star Steph Talbot dominating once again. Talbot managed a game-high 23 points to accompany her 13 rebounds and seven assists although it was not enough to get her side over the line. Chelsea Brook plied her trade with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in her 37 minutes on court despite her shooting percentage being a mere 50 per cent. Abigail Wehrung chimed in with a handy eight points, seven assists and two rebounds while Alex Wilson also managed to hit the scoreboard with her eight points.

It is a short turnaround between games for Adelaide with the side facing off with the third placed Melbourne Boomers while Perth also play on Tuesday against the lowly placed Sydney Uni Flames.

2020 WNBL Round 4 preview: Competition for finals spots heats up

MELBOURNE Boomers will have the toughest Round 4 schedule of any side after a more relaxed Round 3 in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), having to play four games in six days, including two matches against last year’s grand finalists. Adelaide Lightning, Bendigo Spirit, Perth Lynx and University of Canberra (UC) Capitals will play three games apiece, while Southside Flyers, Sydney Uni Flames and Townsville Fire have the two games this week.

ADELAIDE LIGHTNING

vs. Southside Flyers @ Cairns on Wed, Dec 2
vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

It is a make or break round coming up for the Lightning, following two losses in Round 3, that were also accompanied by two big wins. They lost by 40 and 31 points to Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers respectively, but accounted for Bendigo Spirit and Sydney Uni Flames by 40 and 22. They now have to back up to try and turn the tables on the Flyers, before two sets of 48-hour breaks to take on reigning premiers, UC Capitals and then the struggling Perth Lynx. If the Lightning can come away with two wins, they will be in a good position to play finals, but even 1-2 could leave them in the lurch if results do not go their way.

Steph Talbot has been the star this season, putting up 20.8 points 9.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game, joined by the likes of Abigail Wehrung (13.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists) and Alex Wilson (13.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.2 steals) in the top points scorers. Marena Whittle has also been crucial off the boards with seven rebounds to go with eight points per game.

BENDIGO SPIRIT

vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Cairns on Sat, Dec 5
vs. Sydney Uni Flames @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

The Spirit are out of contention for the finals race, but could try and finish on a high, playing the other two bottom three sides in the next week. Yet to win a game, a win over the Lynx would be a confidence-boosting effort, whilst the Flames on Sunday is a possible chance as well with their opponents’ best impressive, but their worst pretty bad. The Boomers in between will be a tough ask, but even the likely finals-bound side has shown to have chinks in the armour. With only two games left after this round, the Spirit need to break their winless drought here.

In season 2020, much of the work has been left up to the experience of Carley Ernst and Tessa Lavey. Ernst has been enormous off the boards with 7.3 rebounds to go with 16.7 points and a block per game, while Lavey has put up 16.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds and a steal per game. Both have been crucial in transitioning from offence to defence, but have made up the bulk of their team’s scoring with Mary Goulding (6.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.1 assists) the next best, and Lavey has recorded about half of the team’s assists, an area the Spirit have struggled in.

MELBOURNE BOOMERS

vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Sydney Uni Flames @ Cairns on Thu, Dec 3
vs. Bendigo Spirit @Cairns on Sat, Dec 5
vs. Southside Flyers @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

If we are talking make or break, then the Boomers have that this round. Four games in six days starting tonight, Melbourne can launch a finals campaign by the end of the week. However, a terrible week would likely see them not only slip back into the back, but also put their finals chances right in doubt. They have a mixed bag this week with likely wins over the Flames and Spirit, but they also take on top two sides, Southside Flyers and UC Capitals. They did account for the Flyers back in Round 1 and would love nothing more than to upset their closest Victorian rival, but coming off three games in five days while the Flyers will have had a few days rest off their only other Wednesday night fixture, it will be tough. Four wins and they are genuinely in the hunt for a top two spot.

Tess Madgen was in scintillating form prior to her ankle injury but she should be back and raring to go this round, averaging 18.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 2020 since crossing from Townsville Fire. The experienced four and five combination of Cayla George (16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 steals) and Ezi Magbegor (11.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks) has also been a highlight of the year for the reigning semi-finalists.

PERTH LYNX

vs. Bendigo Spirit @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Townsville Fire @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

There is no doubt that for Perth to have a shot at finals, they would need a near-impossible set of results to occur. Having played two extra games to their biggest threats in Melbourne and Adelaide, Perth would need to win its remaining five games, and hope the Boomers and Lightning lose them all – bar the one they face against each other. Despite their 1-7 start, the Lynx have been competitive for the most part despite some one-sided defeats too. They have a very winnable game first up against the only side they have beaten so far in the Spirit, before taking on finals contenders in Townsville Fire and Adelaide Lightning. Whilst it is anticipated they end the week with 1-2 added to their tally, they could catch the Lightning off guard and derail Adelaide’s finals chances.

Katie-Rae Ebzery has been the dominant player, averaging 16.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, whilst former Fire talent Darcee Garbin has thrived in the move out west, putting up 13.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals. Much like the Spirit, the points drop off though both Alex Ciabattoni (8.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists) and Alex Sharp (8.3 points, 6.9 rebounds) have been prominent, as has Kayla Steindl off the boards with 7.9 rebounds.

SOUTHSIDE FLYERS

vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Cairns on Wed, Dec 2
vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

After a busy couple of weeks, the Flyers have a relatively smooth week with just two games in the seven days, coming up against Adelaide Lightning and Melbourne Boomers in Cairns. Tomorrow night’s clash against the Lightning will go a long way to securing a top two spot, with a victory over the Boomers just about confirming it. They have only lost the two games – to the Boomers and Capitals – and will be keen to bounce back against the Boomers in their second fixture. Either way, finals is sewn up for the Flyers who are the title favourites despite the losses.

Liz Cambage has made the mark everyone expected her to on-court with 22.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game thus far. She has plenty of talent around her though, with Sara Blicavs (14.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.6 steals) having a ripping season with Jenna O’Hea (10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game) in the front court. In the back court, Leilani Mitchell (8.7 points, 5.9 assists) and Rebecca Cole (13.2 points, 4.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds) have been slicing and dicing opposition defences and leading their side to some big wins.

SYDNEY UNI FLAMES

vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Carins on Thu, Dec 3
vs. Bendigo Spirit @ Cairns on Sun, Dec 6

Sydney Uni is a side whose season is on life support, though there still is a pulse there if they can capitalise this round. With only five games remaining, they will need to win at least four, but preferably all five, starting with the Boomers and Spirit this week. The Spirit is an obvious must-win on Sunday, but to knock off the Boomers on Thursday would help the Flames at least leapfrog them, and potentially sit equal fourth by the end of the round. With Perth and Adelaide amongst the opponents in the final round, their fate is still in their hands, but they cannot afford to slip-up.

Former Perth duo, Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer have taken to the east coast like ducks to water. Mansfield is averaging 12.6 points, 4.8 assists and 2.1 rebounds while Schwagmeyer has put up 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 steals. The impact of five, Lauren Scherf with 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 blocks should not be underestimated, while Anneli Maley might be the most underrated player in the competition, putting up 7.3 points and 1.3 steals to go with a whopping 11.5 rebounds in her eight games since crossing from the Flyers.

TOWNSVILLE FIRE

vs. Perth Lynx @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. UC Capitals @ Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

Much like the Flyers and Flames, the Fire complete the trio of ‘F’ sides only playing the two games this weekend. Both are at home in Townsville this week, and the Fire get to rest up until Friday, the last team to commence action in Round 4. They go head-to-head with Perth Lynx up first, and are able to put a line through the Lynx’s season. The Capitals on Sunday will be a tougher challenge, and they will need to be at their best, but the Fire have shown to be capable throughout matches they just need to do it for longer periods of time, having gone down to the Capitals back in Round 1 by 11 points.

Lauren Nicholson (16.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals) and Shyla Heal (16.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.0 steals) have been one of the best back court duos in the league this season. They have dominated the vast majority of Townsville’s points since crossing from Adelaide and Bendigo respectively over the offseason. Zitina Aokuso (9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds), Megan McKay (5.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) and Nadeen Payne (8.0 points, 5.7 rebounds) are the bigs who cause headaches for opposition sides off the boards.

UC CAPITALS

vs. Melbourne Boomers @ Townsville on Tue, Dec 1
vs. Adelaide Lightning @ Townsville on Fri, Dec 4
vs. Townsville Fire @Townsville on Sun, Dec 6

The UC Capitals are sitting pretty at the moment with seven wins from eight games and in prime position for top spot. With a last-day matchup against the Flyers set to potentially determine top spot, there would be one eye on the semis despite having the five games remaining. They have the three this weekend, and none are easy, taking on the likely finals-bound Boomers and Fire either side of the team that beat them in overtime back in Round 1, Adelaide Lightning. The form that a full-strength Capitals outfit has shown over the journey is better than any other side, and they will be hard to beat, but before they can focus on finals, they need to keep ticking over the wins and it starts tonight against the Boomers.

Maddison Rocci (15.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals) leads all-comers in terms of points, with the co-captains Marianna Tolo (11.6 points. 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks) and Kelsey Griffin (10.8 points. 7.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals) building into the season nicely. Jade Melbourne‘s season has been impressive (9.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists), while Tahlia Tupaea‘s work off the bench (6.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists) should not be understated.

Southside rally to hand Lightning their second loss

SOUTHSIDE Flyers once again flexed their muscles showcasing their array of talent and bench depth to notch up another convincing win, downing Adelaide Lightning by 31 points in a strong showing (110-79). It is fair to say that once Southside get going there is no stopping them, able to burst out of the blocks and share the scoring around credit to their impressive skillset and incredible number of options to go to the net.

It was not all one-way traffic however, with Adelaide holding the lead at quarter time albeit by three points, proving they too have the fire power to mix it with the best. But a second quarter shooting masterclass put a dampener on that with Southside piling on a whopping 30 points to 17 to not only claim the lead but so to the ascendancy heading into the second half. The Flyers continued that vein of form, outscoring their opponents in the third and fourth quarters to secure their seventh win of the season and claim second spot on the ladder heading into Round 4.

Adelaide had their chances but simply could not convert going at 43 per cent from the field, only nailing 29 goals from 66 attempts. On the other hand, Southside found their rhythm shooting at 50 per cent from the field with their free throw accuracy doing the real damage converting 10 of 12 attempts at 83 per cent. The Lightning proved to be strong off the boards (40-38) while also leading the way for blocks (6-5) but that is where it stopped for Adelaide with the Flyers exploiting them on the assists front (32-24). Southside starred with their clean hands and ability to read the play racking up 12 steals to three while on the turnover front they only recorded a mere six as opposed to Adelaide’s 17.

Liz Cambage once again dominated highlighting her basketball prowess to knock back 25 points while also reeling in seven rebounds. In her 26 minutes on court Sara Blicavs impressed collecting 21 points, five rebounds and four assists while Jenna O’Hea was another key contributor for the Flyers draining 15 points, three rebounds and six assists. Aimie Clydesdale was the only other player to reach double digits for points with 12 to her name along with four assists. Leilani Mitchell was down on her usual output recording nine points but still managed to reel in 10 assists and two steals. Monique Conti also plied her trade picking up eight points, four rebounds and four assists highlighting just how many scoring options the Flyers had.

Although they did not get the job done there were a couple of key contributors for Lightning who stepped up to the plate with Abigail Wehrung leading the way with 21 points, one rebound and two assists. The next best was Marena Whittle who managed 15 points in her 30 minutes on court. Whittle also recorded nine rebounds five of which were offensive along with three assists while Brooke Basham knocked back 13 points, four rebounds and two assists going at 100 per cent from three point range. Louella Tomlinson popped up for nine points, four rebounds and four assists as Steph Talbot only managed six rebounds, four assists and seven assists.

With a win under their belt the Flyers will be hoping to repeat their efforts against the Lightning when they meet again on Wednesday at Cairns Pop-Up Arena.

 

Fire overcome half time deficit to notch up sixth win

WNBL

Townsville Fire got the job done against Sydney Uni Flames limiting them to 14 points in the second half and claiming a 14 point win (73-59). It was an even start to the game with only one point separating the two sides at quarter time before Sydney really started to find their groove in the second quarter to establish a handy lead. However, the tables quickly turned in the second half with Townsville coming out with a real pep in their step blocking every avenue to the rim for the Flames while proving to be a threat up forward going on a scoring spree and stunning Sydney.

Holding the ascendancy at half time Sydney Uni simply could not maintain that same level of intensity, dropping off as the game went on while on the other hand Townsville exploited each opportunity that came their way to impact on the scoreboard and reduced their opposition’s chances of getting any real momentum. Townsville came out with a fire in the belly determined to override their slower start to the game and secure their sixth win of the season and hold onto that third spot on the ladder.

Overall shooting percentage was a real issue for both sides with neither able to hit the 50 per cent or above mark with points proving to be hard to come by for large chunks of time. Sydney sat at a lowly 32 per cent from the field showcasing just how inaccurate they were only nailing 23 of their 71 attempts and while Townsville were not much better ay 42 per cent it did prove to be the difference. Free throw shooting seemed to be the strength of the Flames converting at 71 per cent as opposed to the Fire’s 33 per cent while points in the paint is where the victors felt most comfortable sinking 30 of their points from there. it was a high rebounding game with the Flames getting the nod thanks to their 53 in comparison to the Fire’s 40 but the tables were reversed when it came to assists and steals as Townsville reigned supreme in those two areas (20-9) and (11-5) respectively. Turnovers also proved to be a killer for Sydney Uni who were wasteful with ball in hand recording 16, seven more than their opponents.

In terms of performances it is hard to go past Lauren Scherf who had a day out just falling short of a double-double before half time but quickly hit the milestone after the break. The center was involved in just about everything recording a team-high 18 points along with a staggering 19 rebounds, 13 of which were defensive showcasing her sheer presence on the court despite the loss. Scherf also managed an impressive four blocks to round out a stats-stuffing performance. She was well aided by the likes of Lauren Mansfield who played the entire 40 minutes and managed 16 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals while Alison Schwagmeyer also found her range with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.

For the Fire it was the next generation of youngsters that stepped up to the plate and led the way with their drive to the basket, confidence and shooting radar well and truly on. Zitina Aokuso topped the table for Townsville draining 16 points and walking away with a double-double thanks to her 10 rebounds. Shyla Heal was not far behind amassing 15 points, five rebounds and six assists showcasing her ability to be a real playmaker for her side while also boasting the confidence to get the job done herself. The ever-experienced Lauren Nicholson played an integral role in the win finishing with 14 points and three steals as did Nadeen Payne who slotted seven points, eight rebounds and three assists.

Sydney Uni Flames will be hoping to pick themselves up and rally for their clash against the Melbourne Boomers while Townsville have plenty of time to prepare for their meeting against the struggling Perth Lynx side.

Southside hand Townsville third loss, Fire’s Nicholson leaves with nose injury

GOOD things eventually come to an end and in this instance, it was the Townsville Fire’s three-game winning streak at the mercy of the Southside Flyers, going down to the heavy-handed championship favourites 70-94, while being substantially undermanned.

A scrappy start from both sides led to a low scoring opening few minutes, but two quick fouls for Megan McKay earned her a quick spot on the bench for the rest of the first quarter. The Flyers started to connect on some of their shots as the first quarter rolled on, while Townsville struggled to pick up steam, trailing 4-16 after six minutes of play thanks to nine quick points from Liz Cambage. Not only did Southside’s superior opening period see them gain an 11-point lead, but also a hard blow to Lauren Nicholson’s nose resulting in the Fire losing a star point-guard for the rest of the game.

An And-One from Bec Cole to commence things in the second provided more encouraging signs for Cheryl Chambers and her players, however three straight successful trips up the floor for the Fire was the response Shannon Seebohm wanted to see following quarter time.

Townsville fended off more Southside success leading into the main break trailing only by eight points and winning the quarter 25-22. Down 34-42, the Fire were feeding off of Shyla Heal’s 15 points and three rebounds at this stage, while Nadeen Payne was doing her best to back Heal up with seven points and four boards. Alternatively, Cambage had herself 17 points in 16 first-half minutes next to Cole, who sat on 10 points and five assists at the mid-way point.

Losing Heal for a chunk of the third due to an elbow to the chest, the Fire did a good job of weathering the Flyers’ storm. But a triple from Jenna O’Hea midway through the third quarter signified the gradual expansion of her side’s lead in the second half putting Southside up by 16 with a quarter left to play in Saturday’s opener.

A relatively uneventful final quarter ensued as Southside started to push their advantage towards the 20-point mark and Townsville struggled to cope while running on limited players. As both sides introduced their secondary units in the dying moments of the contest, Southside routinely concluded matters by running out 24-point winners and ending Townsville’s three-game winning streak.

Shooting over 50 per cent throughout all four quarters, Southside was hard to stop from knocking down their shots, particularly down low (48 points in the paint) and from the free-throw-line (14 from 17). The Flyers also held onto the ball well, only turning over the ball eight times the whole game.

Cambage maintained her reputation as a prolific post presence, contributing 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while going 75 per cent from the field. Meanwhile, Cole was the next best thing with her 19 points and eight assists. Leilani Mitchell was not a massive presence on the scoreboard, but she certainly facilitated the ball at a high rate finishing with nine assists under her belt.

Heal had another impressive outing racking up a team-high 17 points, four rebounds and three assists, a major talking point for Townsville’s disappointing outcome. But more impressively, were the combined efforts of two of the WNBL’s best auxiliary players. Firstly, 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench for Stephanie Reid provided merit for a top performance from the losing side, whereas Courtney Woods accumulated a modest 11 points in her efforts yesterday afternoon.

Both teams hit the hardwood again in 24 hours, as Southside looks to knock the Adelaide Lightning out of the top four with a second triumph in as many days. While, the Fire look to re-establish themselves as a favourable finals nominee against a Sydney Uni Flames unit that is hungry to climb the standings.

Lightning hit back with statement win

Pic: WNBL

IMPROVING their record to four wins and one loss, the Adelaide Lighting have reiterated the fact that they are a formidable side, after extinguishing the Sydney Uni Flames 75-53, following a one-sided second half and a 30-point masterclass from early MVP-candidate Stephanie Talbot.

Transition points and a quick start from Sydney saw them run the floor well and capitalise on fast break offence early on, but the Lightning had other ideas for how the opening term would end, following a 7-0 run four minutes in for Adelaide. Riding off on their scoring run and four lead changes in the first quarter, Adelaide held a commanding 20 to 12 lead, with Talbot a large presence early having seven points and four rebounds after 10 minutes.

After an extended quarter-time break due to technical difficulties at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena, both teams lost momentum on the scoreboard. Neither side got off a field goal for two and a half minutes, until this trend was upended following a beautiful backdoor cut from Sydney’s Lauren Mansfield.

Baskets became more frequent from both sides prior to half-time and the Flames made some significant headway in the half’s few remaining minutes after two buckets each from Funda Nakkasoglu and Nat Burton, cutting the deficit to only six points at the main break, 32-26.

It was the Talbot show in the opening 20 minutes, with the 26-year-old putting up 15 points during that time and seven rebounds to add to that. While Adelaide had few players with big scoring totals, the Flames had low scoring numbers across multiple individuals with all of their starters converting on shots. The former Opal in Burton led the way with eight points while Alison Schwagmeyer proved her mettle on the glass with seven rebounds in the initial two quarters.

A tit-for-tat beginning was the best way to describe the early moments of the second half, as both sides remained level six minutes into the third phase. However, four pivotal scores from Abigail Wehrung, Talbot who had two of those, and Marena Whittle gave the Lightning a nine-point buffer at what seemed like a turning point in a clash that had little room for errors. A beautiful drive and dish from Ally Wilson to Ella Batish and a fast-break layup by Talbot capped off a 13-0 run for Chris Lucas’ roster and put control of the game firmly in their possession before three-quarter-time, leading 53-41.

Adelaide ballooned their lead out to 25 points long into the middle stages of the final stanza scoring 17 of the first 19 points, as the Flames had no answer for their opponents late in the game. The Lightning’s bench completed the emphatic final period, culminating in a dominant 22-point blowout, reaffirming Adelaide as a serious contender among the League’s ranks.

With the Lightning holding the Flames to 27 per cent shooting efficiency they were able to provide themselves ample opportunity to pull away later in the game given that they converted their shots, which they did by shooting 42 per cent. A plus-11 in assists and a plus-12 in fast break points was a product of the way  coach Lucas’ side worked as a cohesive unit pushing the ball up the other end of the court after Sydney Uni’s missed shots.

Another standout performance from likely MVP candidate Talbot rattled another opponent’s roster, with the small forward racking up 30 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, while being fouled a game-high five times. Wehrung was the only other Lightning individual with double-digit totals, finishing with 11 points by way of three triples. Chelsea Brook contributed eight points and five rebounds, while Batish tallied seven of her own.

Scoring just 53 total game points, Adelaide’s shooting success was few and far between, with Burton being the only player to accumulate over 10 points – she finished with 14 points and a pair of rebounds. Meanwhile, Anneli Maley (seven points and eight rebounds) and Mansfield (seven points and four assists) had quiet nights respectively as neither of them were able to make a substantial imprint on the game.

Sydney Uni and Adelaide return later today to face another two teams who are completing back-to-back fixtures. The Lightning have their work cut out for them if they are to try and slow down the Southside Flyers, who just recently beat the Townsville Fire in convincing style. This brings us to the Flames’ opponents later today, looking to regain lost ground in the standings against the Fire in Round Three’s final game.

Caps keep the good times rolling, extend winning streak to seven

Pic: WNBL

THE longest winning streak of WNBL20 this season continues for the University of Canberra Capitals, as the two-time defending champions extended their litany of victories to seven straight, flattening the Bendigo Spirit in last night’s closer 51-87, rounding off the third of three one-sided contests over the first half of the weekend.

A close contest for the majority of the first period, it seemed as though both sides would be within a possession of each other at the first intermission. However, seven-straight points in the last 60 seconds of the term for the Capitals saw the reigning champions lead 20-12 after 10 minutes, highlighted by a buzzer beating corner three from Brittany Smart.

It seemed early on that the only visible scorer on Tracy York’s side was Tessa Lavey early in the second, who had eight points midway through the period. But numerous participants for the Capitals were finding looks of their own. Starting the second quarter on a 12-4 run, Canberra’s starting five and the extra boost given by former Sydney Uni Flame Tahlia Tupaea, quickly lathered on the points against the Spirit prior to half-time.

Outscoring Bendigo 22-9 in the second period, the Capitals were able to produce two-times the amount of points as their opponents in the first half, leading 42-21 at the midway point. However, given their history against lower-ranked sides Paul Goriss reiterated the notion of playing hard for all four quarters to his side at the main break.

With all five of Canberra starters manufacturing valuable contributions in the first half, it was evident that the Capitals were seeking a team-based win, which was pointed out by their eight assists through two quarters.

Canberra’s lone problem was clearly slowing down Australian Opal in Lavey, who had 13 points in all 20 minutes of the opening half, the only multiple field goal scorer for the Spirit prior to the third quarter, as the side failed to efficiently convert on their scoring attempts only shooting 17 per cent.

The Spirit kicked off the second half with a fast-paced brand of basketball, scoring three of the first four buckets for both teams, but that would be the extent of the good news following this. After making an adjustment on the defensive end, the Capitals turned the momentum in their favour once again and this time for good.

Earning themselves a 33-point buffer at the end of the third term, 37-70, the third game of yesterday’s triple-header looked like it was going finish in familiar fashion to the previous two meetings – a blowout.

This fate for the two sides came to fruition as Canberra completed the four-quarter sweep in Townsville and ultimately the 37-point landslide victory, earning their seventh straight win in the process and putting themselves a game ahead of the Southside Flyers on the WNBL ladder.

Shots just did not fall for the Spirit, who now fall to a winless record of zero wins and eight losses at the middle point of the season. Making 17 shots from 63 attempts (26 per cent) and giving up 36 points in the paint, Bendigo really disadvantaged themselves when it came to Canberra’s depth and team chemistry. Whereas the Capitals made a sizeable 44 per cent rate of their shots along with 22 assists in what was a complete team-effort.

Not a single Capitals player scored more than 15 points, highlighting just how distributed the scoring load was for UC. Leading the side, however, was Marianna Tolo with her 14 points and six rebounds, while Maddison Rocci backed up her captain with 12 points and three assists. Keely Froling and Tupaea each finished their nights with 10 points. For the Spirit, only Lavey was able to crack a double-digit scoring total, but severely slowed her level of production in the second half where she accounted for only four of her 17 points.

The Caps line up again on Tuesday against the Melbourne Boomers in a much-anticipated top-four matchup that will see a semi-final rematch of last season. On the other hand, Bendigo will face off with fellow bottom of the ladder side the Perth Lynx, perhaps the Spirit’s most likely chance at gaining their first win of the season.