IN the last round before finals, two legends will bid farewell to the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL). Belinda Snell and Suzy Batkovic will grace our courts for one more time this season in the same game, taking to the floor at Townsville Stadium. Meanwhile in other matches, Perth and Adelaide will do battle in a pivotal game, as the winner will take on the Boomers in the semi-final series, while the loser will take on the UC Capitals. The Capitals and Boomers will come up against the Spirit and Rangers, respectively.
Bendigo Spirit v UC Capitals
Saturday 19 January, 3pm
Key match-up: Nadeen Payne v Kelsey Griffin
This will be a tough match-up for Nadeen Payne, who is coming up against the in-form Most Valuable Player (MVP) favourite. Griffin is averaging the second most points in the league (19.1) and the most rebounds (11.2), while Payne’s averages sit at 14.05 and 4.89. Despite the lower numbers, Payne can have an impact with her physical presence, and she will need to make sure she’s as physical as possible against the unstoppable Griffin.
Season so far: The Capitals come into this game on the back of an eight-game winning streak while the Spirit enter on a four-game losing streak. It’s a first versus second-last battle, as the Capitals sit on top with 15 wins and five losses, while Bendigo has seven wins and 13 losses at seventh. At home, the Spirit have won four games and lost five, while the Capitals’ away record sits at six wins and four losses.
The game: The Capitals’ home record is an impeccable 9-1, so Bendigo should identify this and make the most of its home-court advantage. The Spirit also have a chance to finish off their season on a high and send off their coach, Simon Pritchard on a good note, meaning the Spirit have more to play for. However, with Rebecca Tobin returning back home to the United States for family reasons, the Spirit will find it much harder to get it over the line, as there isn’t enough bigs to match up against and also maintain Marianna Tolo and Kelsey Griffin.
Dandenong Rangers v Melbourne Boomers
Saturday 19 January, 6.30pm
Key match-up: Rebecca Cole v Lindsay Allen
These two are the most dominant guards in their team, and not much separates them on the stat sheet. Cole averages the equal second-most points in the league with 19.1 (Griffin also averages 19.1 points), and is also dominant in the steals department, averaging 2.1. She also sits in the top 10 for the highest average assists, with 3.5 per game. Allen on the other hand, averaged 17.8 points per game, 5.2 assists and boasts an impressive 51 per cent field-goal percentage. Cole is likely to score more points than Allen, as she often takes the game into her own hands for Dandenong, considering the limited support. But Allen could get on top in assists, as she knows how to get her teammates involved to secure a win.
Season so far: The Boomers have booked themselves a home-court advantage in the finals after an important win against Adelaide last round. Meanwhile, Dandenong looks set to finish just outside the top four. The Rangers sit fifth on nine wins and 11 losses, with a home-court record of 4-5.
The game: The Boomers are one of the most impressive teams away from home, having won seven of their nine away games so far this season. This will be a worrying sign for the Rangers, especially since coming off a loss. With Kayla Pedersen retiring, the team will be hoping to send her out on a high note, but the in-form Boomers will also be looking to finish off their regular season well and prepare themselves for finals. Melbourne has got the better of Dandenong this season, and this game shouldn’t be any different.
Townsville Fire v Sydney Uni Flames
Saturday 19 January, 7pm
Key match-up: Suzy Batkovic v Belinda Snell
This isn’t a positional or impact match-up. It’s one of sentiment, as both legends will bid farewell to the WNBL after this match. Batkovic will finish her career as a five-time WNBL champion, six-time WNBL MVP, seven-time WNBL All-Star Five member and four-time WNBL top-shooter in one of the most decorated careers the league has seen. Snell will end her career as a three-time WNBL champion and four-time WNBL All-Star Five member, in a career filled with memorable milestones, not only in the WNBL but also in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), winning a championship in 2007.
Season so far: After winning the WNBL championship last season, the Fire have been disappointing this season. They currently sit in sixth place with eight wins and 12 losses. Their home record is actually worse than their away record, as they’ve won three out of their 10 games so far this season, while away, their record is 5-5. The Flames are another team who have disappointed. After being champions two seasons ago, they finished last this season on two wins and 18 losses.
The game: This game sees three legends bidding farewell to the game, with Suzy Batkovic, Belinda Snell and Flames coach, Cheryl Chambers making their last appearances in the WNBL. It will be a matter of which team is hungrier to send their champions off on a high note. Townsville would love to get the job done at home, but its home record isn’t impressive. The Flames will see this as an opportunity to take an advantage to try and salvage their third win of the season. Nonetheless, this will be one of the most emotional games we’ve seen in the history of the WNBL, with three stalwarts of the game putting in one last mighty effort – something they’ve been doing for their whole career.
Perth Lynx v Adelaide Lightning
Saturday January 19, 7pm
Bendat Basketball Centre
Key match-up: Asia Taylor v Nia Coffey
Both players are in super form heading into the final round of the regular season. From just Round 14, Coffey averaged 31.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, in two of the best games she’s performed in. Taylor has been doing this all season, averaging a league-high 20 points per game, as well as 8.35 rebounds. Both players are detrimental when they get going, so they will be looking to minimise each other’s influence. They are also no strangers to scoring double-doubles, so expect one of them to achieve that feat again on Saturday night.
Season so far: The Lynx were absolutely flying earlier in the season, going on a six-game winning streak after dropping their season opener against the Lightning. Since then, they’ve gone 7-6, yet have still managed to hold onto third spot. The Lightning on the other hand have stormed into the top four, winning nine of their last 11 games. This included a five-game winning streak, followed by a four-game winning streak that was broken by last round’s loss to the Melbourne Boomers.
The game: This is by far the most important game of the round, as the winner of this game will go on to play the Melbourne Boomers in the semi-final series, while the loser must prepare for a playoff battle against the Capitals. The Lynx and Lightning will both be desperate to secure a win, as the Capitals are in deadly form and have a sensational home-court record. Asia Taylor and Nia Coffey will be as important as ever, while Brittany McPhee and Nicole Seekamp are also likely to highlight their value in their respective teams. This will be a must-watch game.