Tag: wnbl 2020 preview

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

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.

2020 WNBL Round 3 weekend preview: Cairns hub to provide Top 4 clashes in huge round of action

THREE of the top four sides will battle it out in Cairns this weekend starting today to assert dominance on the rest of the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) competition. The second placed Adelaide Lightning will take on the fourth placed Southside Flyers, while the Flyers will also lock horns with the third placed Townsville Fire. The Fire also take on Sydney Uni Flames who lock horns with the Lightning today, while in Townsville, it looks to be a more one-sided contest as the top-against-bottom clash between the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals and Bendigo Spirit takes place. Melbourne Boomers and Perth Lynx – who played two and three games respectively during the week – will have a well-earned break over the weekend.

Cairns hub:

Townsville Fire vs. Southside Flyers
Adelaide Lightning vs. Sydney Uni Flames
Adelaide Lightning vs. Southside Flyers
Sydney Uni Flames vs. Townsville Fire

The Cairns hub is the place to be this weekend when three genuine contenders and a team capable of causing an upset on its day will provide spectators with four tightly contested matches. The Lightning suffered their first loss of the season earlier in the round, but sit at a 3-1 record and are technically ahead of their opponents Southside Flyers based on less losses, with the Flyers holding a 5-2 record. The Lightning also take on the 2-4 Flames who need to win to keep in touch with the top four, while Townsville Fire have a massive opportunity to grab second overall spot if they can down the Flyers and Flames.

This weekend will be a litmus test for the Fire who come up against the Flyers in the first game today. Last time these teams met, the Flyers were just too strong, winning 101-89 and the class of their Opal-littered starting five (and bench) proved too much for the young Fire outfit. Shyla Heal gets better each game and is a damaging two-way guard in the competition, averaging 16.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.0 steals per game, teaming up well with Lauren Nicholson (19.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists). Megan McKay has a massive job in the center position against Liz Cambage, with McKay averaging 6.3 points and 7.2 rebounds compared to Cambage’s 21.4 points and 8.6 rebounds. The latter’s long reach and size allows her to average more than two blocks a game to deny opposition shooters.

The speed at which Townsville can run the floor is a way to get around the Flyers’ bigs with Zitina Aokuso (9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals) also likely to have a crack at Cambage and fellow dominant big, Sara Blicavs (14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals). The back court combination of Rebecca Cole (13.7 points, 4.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds) and Leilani Mitchell (9.4 points, 4.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds) up against Heal and Nicholson will be fascinating, while Jenna O’Hea (10.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.6 steals) is a real strong contributor every single game for the Flyers.

Looking at the two other teams that will face off tonight and then switch opponents tomorrow, the Lightning will be keen to create separation on the Flames with an important win. After a shocking 40-point loss to Melbourne Boomers after an eight-day break, the Lightning bounced back with a 40-point win of their own against Bendigo Spirit. Taking out the terrible defeat to Melbourne – which could come with an asterisk considering what the Lightning had to go through – one could hardly fault them this season, and honestly they could win both games, but the Flames is a must-win contest. The Flyers will be a lot tougher and the Lightning will need to be at their best, but it is possible. For the Flames, to realistically stay in the hunt for finals they need to win both games, and the Lightning one looms as the potential, though they got within three points of Townsville last match out.

The Lightning have a nice balance of players across the court, and some solid depth coming off the bench. Steph Talbot has been the most dominant player thus far, averaging a double-double of 22.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. She has been deadly from the field with 49 per cent of her attempts going in, and an 84 per cent strike rate from the charity stripe. Likewise, Chelsea Brook (8.3 points. 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists) has provided strength off the boards with former Flyers five, Louella Tomlinson impacting off the bench thanks to 5.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. The latter pair will need to be at their best to tag-team the influence of Lauren Scherf who gets better with every passing week, putting up 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Natalie Burton and Carly Boag share the minutes in the other big spot combining for 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds.

In the back court, Lauren Mansfield and Alison Schwagmeyer have continued their Perth Lynx partnership to the eastern side of the country, both averaging more than 11 points per game, with Schwagmeyer being a key playmaker with 4.8 rebounds 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals and Mansfield not far behind leading the assists with 5.2, as well as 2.2 rebounds. The backcourt matchups will be a little different to 12 months ago, with former Bendigo talent Abigail Wehrung and ex-Sydney Uni guard Alex Wilson taking on the Lynx duo. Wilson has been a star with the Lightning, putting up 15.8 points 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals across the season thus far, while Wehrung has managed 12.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Marena Whittle is another inclusion to the Lightning program this year, and will face off against her ex-Perth teammates, averaging 6.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 2020.

Townsville hub:

Bendigo Spirit vs. UC Capitals

Having been the main hub all season, Townsville just hosts the one game this weekend and it is the two teams from opposite sides of the ladder. While Bendigo will hope to cause the upset of the season, it is hard to see them breaking the six-game winning streak of the Capitals who have now beaten everybody except the Lightning thus far this season. The last time these teams played was to kick off Round 2, and the Capitals won by a comfortable 20 points, 76-56. The issue with the Spirit is the fact that they have struggled to score and restrict their opponents, averaging 65.6 points per game, whilst the Capitals – a strong defensive side – have put up 75.7 points. On the defensive end, the Capitals are far and away the best team, conceding just 66.1 points, while the Spirit have allowed a whopping 90.7 points per game.

There are plenty of reasons for their respective seasons, with the Spirit having quite a young side, and a number of inclusions, whilst the Capitals have gained more experienced talent, and have the runs on the board as a successful unit and of course, back-to-back premierships. The Capitals have also seen the emergence of a number of younger stars who have thrived off the no-import rule. Maddison Rocci has been impressive with her long-range shooting, putting up 16.1 points 3.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.6 steals as an all-round performer. Both her and Jade Melbourne (9.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists) in the backcourt have forced teams to be wary of them and therefore split the load amongst them and their highly capped teammates.

Co-captains Marianna Tolo (11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds) and Kelsey Griffin (11.2 points, 7.6 rebounds) have been brilliantly managed and will be raring to go at the pointy end of the season, while it is hard not to include the other bigs in Keely Froling (10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds) and Mikaela Ruef (8.1 points, 6.7 rebounds), contributing to the best rebounding side in the competition. The Spirit have had the two standout performers in Carley Ernst and Tessa Lavey who have done everything they can this season putting up 34.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists between them. Ernst will have her hands full against the bigs, but will hopefully have some support from an improving Mary Goulding (7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals), while Jennie Rintala (5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds) has been the next biggest contributor in the back court with Lavey.

It will take a special effort for the Spirit to get up, but stranger things have happened in basketball. Expect the Capitals to be just too strong though, and they are genuine title contenders for their third straight flag.

Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

2020 WNBL Round 1 weekend preview: Flyers and Flames face tough turnaround in opening week

SOUTHSIDE Flyers and Sydney Uni Flames will become the first teams to face off in three games across four days when they double-up on today and tomorrow following their Thursday night clashes. There will be a blockbuster five games across today and tomorrow in order to conclude Round 1 of Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) action, and then there is no rest for the wicked with Round 2 kicking off on Monday. We preview the two different hubs and their matches:

Townsville Hub:

Bendigo Spirit vs. Sydney Uni Flames
Melbourne Boomers vs. Southside Flyers
Southside Flyers vs. Sydney Uni Flames

Up in Townsville, four teams will need to back-up off a two-day break to face off this afternoon, before the Flyers and Flames go at it again tomorrow. The much talked about Flyers and Melbourne Boomers clash is the pick of the round, with the title favourite Flyers likely to get a tougher resistance than against the Spirit on Thursday whom they smashed by 42 points. The experience gap in that game was clear, but the Boomers have more than enough stars in their own right to worry the Flyers and make them kick up into top gear to get the points.

In their first matches, Melbourne claimed a solid 15-point win over the Flames, before Southside went ham on the Spirit. It would be easy to expect the Flyers to win this game well, and while they should start favourites in every match they play, Melbourne will make life difficult. Both teams looked good in their respective matches, with Southside having more rebounds and assists, but were relatively even across the board. Both are more than capable of picking up second chance points too, which makes them a difficult proposition for any opposition.

The head-to-head of the match has to be Cayla George up against Liz Cambage with the Opal talents likely to have a huge say in the overall result. Cambage was the better performed player in Round 1, picking up 19 points in just 20 minutes, shooting at 63 per cent from the field, as well as five rebounds and two assists. Her free-throw shooting could improve at 50 per cent, but George’s accuracy was well down too with 40 per cent from the field and missing her three triple attempts. She racked up an impressive nine rebounds as well as two assists and two steals. George will also rotate with Ezi Magbegor with either able to play at the four or five, and Magbegor had 16 points and 11 rebounds in a double-double effort. No doubt Magbegor will also have Sara Blicavs for company who racked up 17 points and 12 rebounds in a big first-up effort.

Rotation off the bench will be crucial as the Flyers have to front up the next day with about a 20-hour turnaround from the final whistle on Saturday to the first tip-off on Sunday. With Sydney Uni Flames playing the earlier Saturday game, they will have an extra two hours to rest up for the huge encounter with the likely ladder-leading Flyers who will be hard to stop even if they are a little sore.

Coming away from the loss against Melbourne, the Flames should be relatively happy with their performance. It was not a win, but they pushed one of the top teams all the way. Their almost brand-new looking set-up seemed to go okay, though accuracy really hurt them, averaging just 32 per cent from the field. Lauren Mansfield was the standout with 17 points and seven assists, whilst Lauren Scherf was reliable as ever for 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. The one to watch was the returning Funda Nakkasoglu who helped herself to 12 points, half of which came from the free-throw line, and the other half from two triples. She only shot 2-10 from the field which showed with time she could be a more damaging shooter.

They will not be fancied to beat the Flyers, but should be favourites to take care of a young Bendigo Spirit outfit. Piper Dunlop is a star in the making, with the teenager coming off the bench and holding her own to showcase her accuracy from beyond the arc, nailing a three-pointer in her six minutes on court. Carley Ernst was the only player to really worry the Flyers on the scoreboard, knocking down 16 points and seven rebounds, as they too struggled with their field goal percentage. Alicia Froling was the only player to average more than 50 per cent from the field, and she only had the three attempts, but was crucial off the boards with 11 rebounds.

The Spirit lacked that cohesion and experience going forward, and only had the 12 assists, which they will need a lot more of if they are to upset the Flames. It was a baptism of fire for a new team coming up against a side that was not only so well drilled, but full of international experience. The Spirit managed to get minutes into every player, if Tessa Lavey (18 per cent field goal accuracy) can drop more shots in her next outing, then the Spirit will be a much more damaging outfit.

Prediction: Southside Flyers to win both matches against Sydney Uni Flames and Melbourne Boomers, Sydney Uni to defeat Bendigo Spirit.

 

Mackay Hub:

Perth Lynx vs. Adelaide Lightning
UC Capitals vs. Townsville Fire

All four teams in the Mackay hub will be well rested after playing last on Wednesday night, as they go head-to-head on Sunday. While they will enjoy they break, they will not have it easy for long, with the four teams to then back-up and go on Monday in what will be a 24-hour turnaround. The one exception will be Adelaide Lightning, with the Lightning leaving the Mackay hub to play in Townsville on Tuesday, which the Fire will do once they have completed their home games here.

The Round 1 matches on opening night went different ways, with Adelaide Lightning holding off a fast-finishing University of Canberra (UC) Capitals outfit, while a new-look Townsville Fire made light work of Perth Lynx in a big victory. The Lightning looked in control after three quarters against the reigning back-to-back premiers, but then the Capitals stormed home with a Maddison Rocci layup levelling the scores and forcing the match into overtime. While they trailed by a point at one stage, the Capitals conceded the last 11 points of the game – eight to Steph Talbot – as the Lightning secured the win.

In the other game, Townsville Fire hardly looked like losing, running away with a comfortable 25-point win over Perth. The only question mark will come on the strength of the opposition, because like Bendigo, Perth’s youth and departures over the off-season mean they are likely to be in the bottom two teams in 2020. The Fire could only beat who they could beat, and despite fronting up with a new-look starting team, it seemed to work perfectly, and everyone played their role to suggest the Fire will be a big improver this season.

The Fire and Capitals match is set to be the one of the round, with Kelsey Griffin potentially returning for UC which will add that extra elite talent to the mix. In her absence, Keely Froling dropped 19 points and had four rebounds, whilst Mikayla Ruef racked up 13 points and had six rebounds in an impressive performance. The 40-minute outing for Rocci was telling however, with the young gun dropping 21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals on the opposition. She may well end up going head-to-head with equally exciting young gun Shyla Heal in what could be a matchup to watch.

Both teams have a mix of experience and youth, with Heal recording four rebounds and two assists to go with her 15 points, while Lauren Nicholson notched up 16 points, four rebounds and two assists. No doubt Fire fans would like to see returning young gun Zitina Aokuso used in even more minutes since coming back from a long-term injury, putting up eight points and seven rebounds in a promising return. Expect this game to go right down to the wire, and could come down to if Griffin plays or not, but do not be shocked if Townsville cause an upset, though the Capitals will be favoured.

Adelaide will be highly fancied to move to 2-0 to start their season when the Lightning takes on Perth which will be important ahead of their clash with the Flyers on Tuesday. To grind out an overtime win against such a quality opponent in the Capitals will be vital for the team’s confidence, and it was Talbot who was sensational with 31 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, seven steals and four blocks in the performance of Round 1. No doubt Perth will try and nullify her impact, whilst former Lynx player Marena Whittle will be hoping to put up a good effort after not scoring in her first outing. Abbey Wehrung, Alex Wilson, Chelsea Brook and Louella Tomlinson all hit double-figures though in a team effort.

For Perth, Darcee Garbin was a lone-hand on the scoring front, managing just the 12 points, six rebounds, two blocks and two assists. She will need a lot of help from her teammates in the second match if they are to cause an upset, with Katie Ebzery always tightly watched, whilst the season is more about getting experience into the young players coming through with a number of College returnees in 2020.

Prediction: UC Capitals to win in a thriller against Townsville Fire, and Adelaide Lightning to get the job done against Perth Lynx.

Picture: WNBL