Tag: wnbl 2020

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.

Experienced Flyers too good for plucky Fire

AN improving Townsville Fire outfit lost no admirers in their performance against Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) title favourites Southside Flyers, as the latter got up in a an entertaining 12-point victory. Townsville actually led at quarter time before the experience of the Flyers – led by Liz Cambage – took control to score 58 points to 41 in the middle two terms to all but secure the victory. Townsville did outscore Southside in the final term, but ultimately fell short.

It was an even opening term with the Fire winning it by a point to take a lead in their “away” game at home. Many were waiting for the Flyers to click, and it came in the second term, as Southside piled on 32 points to 24 in a high-scoring quarter. They rolled that momentum into the third term, hitting 26-17 and looking good with a 78-62 lead at the final change. The Fire hit back as the Flyers managed the load for everyone to get on the court, but it was just a little too late, going down in the 101-89 loss.

Southside was the more accurate team and it showed in the final result, topping the field goal (54-44 per cent), two-point (60-52 per cent) and three-point (41-28 per cent) accuracy, as well as dominating the assist count. The Flyers tacked up 29 assists to 14 showing their slick offensive transition skills, while still picking up more rebounds (43-39). The Fire had two more steals (6-4), and also two less turnovers (8-10) in what was an incredibly impressive ball-handling display. Townsville were good off the second chance points with 17-10, through in the end, the efficiency of the Flyers was the difference.

Cambage led the way with 31 points at 68 per cent efficiency from the field. She notched up a huge double-double with 13 rebounds – all defensive – as well as four assists and six blocks, feasting on her less experienced or younger opponents. Jenna O’Hea stood tall with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists on the night, as her team shared the points around. Leilani Mitchell (15 points, eight assists), Sara Blicavs (12 points, six rebounds) and Rebecca Cole (11 points, three assists) all hit double-figure points.

For the Fire, Lauren Nicholson was impressive with 21 points and four rebounds, with her partner-in-crime Shyla Heal knocking down 12 points, five rebounds and four assists in an all-round performance. Kate Gaze stepped up for her best game of the season thus far with 11 points, three rebounds and two assists, while Steph Reid (13 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals) and Zitina Aokuso (12 points, eight rebounds and two assists) both came off the bench to have crucial impacts.

The Flyers will now take on Perth Lynx on Saturday night, while Townsville Fire host Bendigo Spirit in the earlier game with both of tonight’s sides expected to win their respective encounters to close out Round 3. The Fire will get a second game the day after against the Spirit in an unusual fixture quirk, but this time as the visiting team.

2020 WNBL Round 2 weekday preview: Last year’s semi-finalists to clash in bumper week

EIGHT games will be squeezed over the next four days in what will be a bumper week of Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) action. With one round down and four more to go, teams have started to get an early feel for the action again, and a repeat of the two semi-finals from last year will take place this week across the two hubs of Mackay and Townsville.

Mackay hub:

UC Capitals vs. Bendigo Spirit
Perth Lynx vs. Melbourne Boomers
Melbourne Boomers vs. UC Capitals
Bendigo Spirit vs. Perth Lynx

Only one side will leave the Mackay hub winless as Bendigo Spirit takes on Perth Lynx in a battle of the bottom two teams. The pairing will first have the chance to overcome title contenders, University of Canberra (UC) Capitals and Melbourne Boomers respectively, before the Capitals and Boomers go head-to-head in the earlier game on Wednesday in what is a repeat of last year’s semi-final. The Boomers are one of only two unbeaten sides after Round 1, with a couple of wins giving them the chance to remain poised to overtake Southside Flyers in the next week. Meanwhile UC Capitals are 1-1 from their season thus far, whilst the Lynx and Spirit sit at two losses from as many games.

If we look at the two bottom teams, the key battles will be at both ends of the court. Carley Ernst has been a prolific scorer for the Spirit in her two games, averaging the 15 point, four rebounds and one block in her two games this season, and she will likely spend time going head-to-head with Darcee Garbin who is a little smaller, but just as potent, with 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.5 steals, showing she can do a little of everything.

Jessie Edwards has the extra height in the paint for the Lynx, averaging the six points and five rebounds, as Alicia Froling will aim to nullify some of that influence with a massive nine rebounds already in her two games to go with five points per game. In the backcourt, Tessa Lavey built up from game one to game two, averaging 11.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and an impressive 6.5 assists so far this season. With her team struggling to find a playmaker on offence, she is averaging almost half of her team’s 14 assists per game. Perth are in a similar boat with Garbin and Taylah Burrows (2.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists) leading the way.

Katie-Rae Ebzery is the third highest scorer from the quartet of teams in the Mackay hub this week, with the Lynx Opal shooting 17 points per game, to go with her 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. For a sub-180cm player, Ebzery is able to deny the opposition really well and provide good defence on court, then get forward and apply scoreboard pressure.

The blockbuster match of the hub will be the rematch of last year’s semi-final between the Capitals and Boomers, though fresh off an upset win over title favourites Southside Flyers, the Boomers will this time be favoured. The big question mark for the Capitals will be whether or not co-captain Kelsey Griffin can return from injury, because being one of the biggest stars in the competition, she automatically adds and extra element of X-factor for the reigning back-to-back premiers.

In her absence, Keely Froling has made the starting position her own, putting up big numbers of 15.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists, whilst Mikaela Ruef has seamlessly returned without an issue thanks to a massive 9.5 rebounds and 11.5 points per game. The fact that she often shares the five spot with Marianna Tolo, or has the flexibility to role into the four shows the amount of depth the Capitals have.

If there is one thing to take away from the Capitals thus far in season 2020, it is the development of the young talent. One only has to look at the likes of Maddison Rocci who has grabbed her starting spot with both hands, dominating on offence with 22.5 points per game, the third highest in the competition. Her head-to-head with the red-hot Tess Madgen (23.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists) is one that everyone will be glued to their devices watching. Spectators cannot forget about Jade Melbourne who has been a special talent since arriving with the team this season, averaging the six points and three rebounds, but showing enough to suggest long-term she is a starting five player.

The Boomers have quickly established themselves as a team not willing to muck around, and whilst Opals, Cayla George and Ezi Magbegor were ultimately beaten by Liz Cambage in their win over the Flyers, the team had enough of a shared load to get over the line. George is putting up 16.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, whilst Magbegor is 11.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals. The front court duo are well supported by  Ashleigh Karaitiana who has slotted into the three spot with a huge second game against the Flyers, deadly from range Р54.5 per cent Рand averaging 11.5 points.

This group will answer plenty of questions this week, but the Boomers might be marginally favoured to win both, with the Capitals getting up in their clash against the Spirit. The Spirit also could get their act together in the bottom of the table match against the Lynx, though it is hard to split them, just like if Griffin returns for the Capitals.

Townsville hub:

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

Interestingly enough, the Townsville hub has arguably the bigger question marks around the results based on the first round of action. It looks early like both Adelaide Lightning and Sydney Uni Flames will not be easy beats, with the Lightning already toppling the UC Capitals and the Flames taking care of the Spirit. The big question will be how they fair against the biggest challenger in the league in Southside Flyers, as well as a team that is touted as the most improved in Townsville Fire.

The Fire and Flames clash tomorrow will be a hotly contested match, and not just because of their names, but because both are battling for what could be that fourth spot on the table. Similarly, the Lightning have the two crunch games against the Flyers and Flames to really see where they are at. If the Lightning or Flames come away with a win, or even two wins, then that will go a long way to seeing up their season in a condensed year.

Starting with the title favourites, the Flyers are 2-1 after a loss to rivals Melbourne Boomers either side of wins over the Flames and Spirit. They should be able to win against both the Lightning and Fire at their best, but both teams have enough talent to worry the Flyers if they have an off night. It is no surprise to see Cambage leading the way, but despite 24 points and 19 rebounds against the Boomers, it was not enough to drag her team over the line. Limited minutes – eight – in the win against the Flames brought her average down to 16.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, but it’s well over a double-double when looking at the 40-minute average.

Cambage should have no shortage of support around her with Opals all across the court from Sara Blicavs helping her off the boards (14 points, nine rebounds as well as 2.3 steals), Jenna O’Hea (10.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists) covering the court well, and Rebecca Cole being the prolific scorer (17.3 points, 3.3 assists) coming off a 27-point game last start. Leilani Mitchell is able to fly under the radar this season, but her tenacity and ability to scrap for every possession, as well as feed to those potent scorers has been noticed, as she put up 8.7 points and 6.3 assists to rank equal second in that area.

Lauren Mansfield has been one of the top transfers in the WNBL for the Flames, coming across from the Lynx and assimilating in without any issues. She is averaging 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in her time, whilst teammate Alison Schwagmeyer (10.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals) has similar enjoyed the extra time on court. Turkish-Australian national Funda Nakkasoglu has come off the bench for 11.7 points per game in coming into the Australian league, while Anneli Maley, Lauren Scherf and Natalie Burton are all bigs who are averaging 7.0 points and 5.0 rebounds or more thus far in the season.

Townsville Fire might be the most interesting team to watch, with the the potent scoring back court duo of Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal. Coming from Adelaide Lightning and Bendigo Spirit respectively, the experienced Nicholson has averaged 17.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists this season, whilst the young star Heal has put up 16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. No doubt the Fire would love to get more points out of the rest of the team, but they have been quite prolific off the boards, as Nadeen Payne (5.0 points, 6.5 rebounds) has helped support the returning Zitina Aokuso (8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals) with minutes.

Adelaide Lightning have been an even team performance led by Steph Talbot who was simply unbelievable in her first two games. Clearly the player of the first round, Talbot dropped 27.5 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.0 steals, 3.0 assists and 2.0 blocks across her matches in some sensational outings, including stepping up in overtime against the Capitals with eight points. The new recruits have also come in and done well as Abigail Wehrung (16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists) and Alex Wilson (13.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals) have seamlessly slotted into the five. Wilson will have a chance to face her old team the Flames in a blockbuster showing.

The Townsville hub has plenty of potential to answer a lot of questions with two more teams having a crack at the Flyers. With the Fire back in front of home fans you can never discount them, whilst the Flames are much improved too. That Sydney Uni-Townsville clash is potentially an early head-to-head to determine a fourth from fifth position. Expect the Flyers to still win both, with the feeling that Adelaide and Townsville get up over Sydney Uni, though the Flames could easily win both as well showing just how tight the competition is.

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