Tag: Zitina Aokuso

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.

Southside Flyers claim premiership glory

SOUTHSIDE Flyers have notched up their inaugural premiership since being rebranded with a 17-point victory over Townsville Fire on Sunday afternoon (99-82). After taking out the minor premiership it was only fitting that the Flyers also walked away with the final piece of the puzzle – a premiership ring – after a dominant 2020 WNBL season. Despite not walking away with the chocolates, the Fire will hold their heads high, pushing the Flyers all the way and enjoying a rapid rise up the ladder throughout the condensed season.

Having met only days before it was always going to be a tough battle and the first quarter was proof of that with neither side able to be separated at the first break sitting at 22 points apiece. Play commenced with none other than Liz Cambage out of the middle however it was Townsville Fire’s Lauren Nicholson that landed the first blow nailing a layup. It was not long before Sara Blicavs made her presence felt converting at the charity strip and evening things up early in the piece.

The Fire pushed out to as much as six points ahead in the first five minutes before the Flyers found their groove and Cambage was subbed out due to foul trouble in the opening few minutes. Rebecca Cole levelled the scores with just over six minutes of play left in the term showcasing just how much of a tight game the fans were in for. This back and forth nature continued for most of the term with both sides trading blows and unable to arrest any sort of momentum given the high pressure nature the game was being played under. Nicholson was playing her part for the Fire leading the charge both off the boards and on the scoreboard while Leilani Mitchell sensed the occasion and stepped up to the plate with a couple of consecutive jump shots.

With scores tied at the first break the Flyers steadily built ahead in the second term opening up a two point lead off the back of some Mitchell magic. The Southside Flyers representative seemed to have her own ball out there, displaying her impressive range and relative accuracy. The term started with Zitina Aokuso hitting a jump shot and stealing the lead for the Fire before Mia Murray also got involved in the action to extend the lead to four points.

But that did not last long with Mitchell and Cole chiming in and playing their part for the Flyers. The lead ebbed and flowed as the Flyers created a handy four point buffer before Townsville once again fought back to reduce the deficit and steal the lead. It was a high intensity term with no player able to catch their breath with  Jenna O’Hea impressing and nailing a triple before Blicavs also added her two cents worth to the tally. Nicholson continued her dominant ways while Stephanie Reid also got busy with a jump shot to get her side back within touching distance.

Two points separated the sides at half-time but it was clear that the Flyers came to play in the third quarter really putting the foot down. Known as the premiership quarter Cambage started to inflict some serious pain with a couple of much needed baskets while Blicavs proved to be a handful. If it was not Cambage attacking the rim it was Mitchell with the two causing chaos and finding the basket with relative ease to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the Fire at bay.

Townsville went three minutes without a score such was the defensive pressure of the Flyers while they managed to slot six points of their own and extend the margin to eight points. Shyla Heal started to get involved in the action nailing a handy jump shot while Aokuso also found the basket moments later but the pattern had started to become clear with the Fire unable to keep up with the steam train that was Southside.

With the silverware in sight it was clear that the Flyers were not about to let go, coming out with a higher level of intensity and real sense of determination. The Fire threw everything they had at the Flyers with Nicholson and Heal combining to cut the margin to nine and cause a couple of scares but that was short lived as the minor premiers held their nerve. Rachel Jarry was in good form and that showed making the most of her free-throws while Mitchell continued to star. Cole had a day out in the final term of play nailing a triple and relishing the opportunity to go to the line while Townsville simply did not have enough firepower to compete.

It is no surprise Mitchell walked away with Player of the Match honours with 31 points, four rebounds and five assists in an impressive showing for the Flyers. Cole also impressed throughout the game with 22 points shooting at 70 per cent from the field while also accumulating three assists, five steals and two rebounds. Cambage was quiet but still had an impact collecting 14 points, five rebounds while Blicavs managed seven points , nine rebounds and three assists.

Nicholson was once again they go to player for the Fire walking away with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Payne also had an impact with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists. Heal was down on her usual output but still managed 11 points and seven rebounds.

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.

Heal drops 28 as Fire return to Grand Final

THIS season’s WNBL Grand Final will have a home-court advantage, after Townsville Fire squeezed out a three-point victory against the Melbourne Boomers in last night’s preliminary final, 65-62. The Fire have managed a complete flip from a season ago, going from wooden spoon recipients in 2019/20 to now facing the Southside Flyers tomorrow afternoon in what will be a must-see season decider.

Neither of the two teams were able to take command of the prelim in the opening period, but good shooting and some terrific finishing allowed Townsville to hold a solid five-point advantage with Shyla Heal exhibiting some good shooting early on with seven points after one quarter.

Kalani Purcell kicked off the second with her first basket of the contest in a see-sawing affair throughout the first half. But the second term provided little scoring and inconsistent offence with both teams locking down on defence. Winning the second quarter 12-11, Melbourne trimmed the deficit to four points in time for the main break meaning that the contest still hung in the balance.

Early on in the second half, more of Melbourne’s usual producers started to make a difference such as Maddie Garrick, Cayla George and Ashleigh Karaitiana. Guy Molloy’s squad found the majority of their points in the third thanks to Tess Madgen’s ability to facilitate the ball. But the Fire returned serve with a six-point scoring run to give themselves a temporary buffer at an important stage of the game with 10 minutes to go, leading 54-47 at three-quarter time.

The Boomers had a formidable mountain to climb and Heal’s layup to get the fourth going did not help Melbourne’s cause. However, the purple and gold continued to stick around in a game as important last night’s.

Having not made a dent in the margin and actually falling behind by as much as nine points, the Boomers kicked into desperation mode with less than five minutes remaining before coach Molloy deployed his starting five back onto the court to finish the game. The same could be said for Shannon Seebohm with the only exception being Megan McKay because of foul trouble, thus allowing Zitina Aokuso the chance to help close the book.

A layup for Karaitiana, two buckets from Ezi Magbegor and a fast break layup for Garrick, sparked eight unanswered points for the Boomers in their last roll of the dice cutting Townsville’s lead down to just one point. But two made free throws with 21 seconds from none other than Heal put the Fire up by three.

Melbourne’s flurry of threes in the dying moments were not enough to save the contest, meaning Townsville would head to the grand final for the sixth time in nine years, a feeling of success that Townsville’s faithful feared they would not have for the next few years.

Adding to her collection of impressive performances in WNBL20, Heal finished her night with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists, while fellow backcourter Lauren Nicholson played a full 40-minute game compiling 12 points and eight rebounds. Adding to this was Aokuso, accumulating 10 points and five rebounds, as well as WNBL legend Mia Murray providing a much-needed presence on the glass with eight boards.

Melbourne’s frontcourt was its primary producer last night, with Magbegor (19 points and nine rebounds) and George (15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) putting up impressive statistics. Furthermore, despite no other Boomers gaining double-digit totals Madgen was instrumental yesterday even though the side could not get it done with nine points and six assists.

It is the end of Melbourne’s remarkable road, but Townsville’s triumph provides a first versus second seed grand final and a chance for the Fire to redeem themselves at the best possible moment. Even though the Flyers have two days of extra rest going into tomorrow, you can rest assured that the Townsville fans will provide their club with a massive chunk of adrenaline in 24 hours.

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.

Southside torch Fire, advance to second straight Grand Final

IN the WNBL’s new postseason format, the Southside Flyers have earned the first spot in the Grand Final series after a well-fought win against an extraordinarily resilient Townsville Fire squad, taking the contest 106-93. As a result, the Fire compete again in a day’s time against the Melbourne Boomers who eliminated the Canberra Capitals in yesterday’s opening meeting thanks to their second chance seeding.

If you thought the Flyers were going to get off to a hot start, that would be an understatement, as Southside made their opening 10 field goal attempts in front of a raucous Townsville crowd. More surprisingly, however, was that the Fire trailed by just a couple of possessions.

But proficient scoring got better for Southside, knocking down three consecutive threes, stringing together a 14-2 run to finish the side’s 41-point opening quarter and putting themselves ahead of Townsville by 16 in what was perhaps one of the best 10-minute stretches of play in WNBL history. In addition, both Leilani Mitchell and Bec Cole accumulated 11 and 10 points respectively in that time.

Kate Gaze commenced the second quarter with a triple for the Fire, hoping to put a spark in her team’s mindset early on, but who else other than Cole to answer back with a three of her own, immediately shifting momentum back to Southside.

While Townsville did a decent job of slowing Southside’s roll, the task of reducing their deficit was proving to be an even tougher task. Funnily enough though, Townsville showed some real persistence concocting a 13-2 run in the closing stages of the first half and reducing the distance to single figures. Winning the second quarter 27 to 19, Townsville’s impressive spurt before the main break provided the home crowd with some hope at a pivotal point in the meeting.

Back to the Flyers, they had three players over 10 points with Cole and Mitchell leading in scoring with 15 points apiece, whereas Liz Cambage collected her eleventh point shortly before the midway point of the contest. Meanwhile, youngster Shyla Heal (15 points and four assists) was carrying her side’s fightback next to MVP nominee Lauren Nicholson (13 points and five assists) with Townsville holding the swing of the game at half time.

A slower brand of basketball briefly came to the fore in the third, but scoring eventually picked up in the second half. Controlling the play and tempo of the game helped Cheryl Chambers and her team put a double-digit distance between the two opponents once again. However, a Heal buzzer-beater to end the third signalled a pulse in the Fire roster, down 74-86 with a quarter to go.

Townsville showed tremendous resilience against the Flyers all the way through the fourth quarter, but Shannon Seebohm’s unit just could not climb the mountain, getting to within seven points of Southside. But the minor premiers walked away 13-point winners in the end putting up an enormous 106-point total.

Managing a 52 per cent conversion rate, it was Southside’s game to lose and it just was not the Fire’s night on the whole. While Townsville shot the ball more efficiently than their opponents, the Flyers topped the Fire in almost every other category.

Following a massive second half, Cambage ended the night as the game-high scorer with 31 points and 18 rebounds in what was a mammoth effort against the center-combo of Megan McKay and Zitina Aokuso. Additionally, Cole accumulated a massive 22 points in under 28 minutes of play, whereas Mitchell (19 points and 10 assists) and Aimie Clydesdale (12 points and six assists) each put up valuable totals.

Heal (30 points, six assists and six rebounds) and Nicholson (30 points, seven assists and four rebounds) had memorable efforts last night with each All-WNBL selectee compiling team-highs of 30 points each. Aokuso (11 points and six rebounds) was the only other Townsville player with over 10 in the game.

For the second year in the row Southside will suit up in the WNBL’s season-decider on Sunday afternoon, looking to redeem themselves after last season’s season sweep against the Capitals. They await the winner of Friday night’s preliminary final between the Fire and the Boomers with an extended period of rest to their advantage.

2020 WNBL Awards recap

IT has been a big week of WNBL action with the finals announced and awards handed out at the conclusion of the home-and-away season. There were plenty of contenders given the number of impressive and consistent performers throughout a condensed season, however there could only be one MVP winner.

After a strong showing with Adelaide throughout their 2020 campaign, it is no wonder Steph Talbot received the Suzy Batkovic Medal for the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Lightning captain was a consistent figure, averaging 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game while shooting at a solid 47.9 per cent from the field. The accolades did not stop there for Talbot, who walked away with the Robyn Maher Defensive Player of the Year award as well, capping off a spectacular season despite not making finals.

Talking of finals, it is only fitting that Townsville Fire coach, Shannon Seebohm was awarded the top gong  and title of Coach of the Year, with his side enjoying a rapid rise up the ladder. Seebohm has guided the Fire to nine wins and four losses this season to claim second spot on the ladder in what has been an unconventional campaign to say the least.

Keeping on the Townsville vibe, youngster Shyla Heal has more than made a name for herself this season, collecting the Betty Watson Australian Youth Player of the Year while teammate Zitina Aokuso also made a splash and was recognised for her efforts, named the Sixth Woman of the Year. Heal has been a solid contributor throughout the season, recording an average of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.2 steals while shooting at 40.6 per cent from the field. Fellow award winner, Aokuso has played a strong cameo role for the Fire, able to bound onto the court and cause a ruckus with figures such as 9.5 points a game, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game.

Moving away from individual awards, the All-WNBL First Team and All-WNBL Second Team were announced with a couple of familiar faces returning. The all-conquering Liz Cambage took out the center position in the Firsts with the Southside Flyers representative impressing in most facets of the game to average 23.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Her accuracy from the field was also notable, going at 62.6 per cent. MVP winner Talbot also earned a nod along with Cayla George, Lauren Nicholson and Katie Ebzery. The Second team consisted of a couple of Melbourne Boomers in Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen, while UC Capitals’ Maddison Rocci also earned a spot. Heal was further rewarded for her breakout season, included in the All-WNBL Second Team while Sara Blicavs rounds out the side.

ALL-WNBL First Team

Lauren Nicholson (TF) – 18.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.08 steals, 48.1 FG%
Steph Talbot (AL) – 18.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 47.9 FG%
Liz Cambage (SF) – 23.3 points, 8.2 rebounds 1.0 assist, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, 62.6 FG%
Cayla George (MB) – 14.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.0 blocks, 43.2 FG%
Katie Ebzery (PL) – 18.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.8assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 43.1 FG%

ALL-WNBL Second Team

Maddison Rocci (UC) – 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 0 blocks, 40.5 FG%
Shyla Heal (TF) – 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0 blocks, 40.6 FG%
Sara Blicavs (SF) – 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 52.1 FG%
Tess Madgen (MB) – 14.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 44.7 FG%
Ezi Magbegor (MB) – 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1..5 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, 56.2 FG%

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