THE Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) steps up another level this round with seven games taking place over a bumper weekend. The Grand Finalists in Melbourne and Townsville will be hoping to get back on the winner’s list this week while teams like Bendigo and Dandenong will be hoping to keep its streaks alive.
Adelaide Lightning v Townsville Fire
Friday, 4:30pm at Titanium Security Arena
The key match-up: Lauren Nicholson v Casey Samuels
These forwards both played impressive basketball last week. Nicholson sunk 15 points with five rebounds and two assists. She shot two for two from the three-point line and finished with a 62 per cent shooting success rate, which was the highest for the game. Samuels finished with 16 points, seven rebounds (six defensive) and two assists. She played a much more offensive style of basketball, having 15 shots in total but finishing with a 26 per cent success rate. She shot nine times from outside the arc, landed three, and hit five of her six shots from the free throw line. Nicholson will have to play tight on Samuels and stop her getting loose on the arc, but will also be mindful of her danger on the inside. Nicholson will not jack up as many shots, but her efficiency will be her biggest asset and Samuels’ biggest issue.
Season so far: Last week, Adelaide opened the season against Perth. The Lightning took the win by 12 points, with most of their side having strong performances. Four of their players scored at least 10 points, and boasted a much better shooting percentage (46 per cent) than their opposition (35 per cent). Comparatively, Townsville lost its game to the Rangers by five points. Suzy Batkovic had a stellar performance with 20 points and 16 rebounds, with the next best performance coming from Samuels (16 points and seven rebounds). Unfortunately, the Fire were let down by minimal support from their team, with the next best performance coming from Micaela Cocks, who had six points and eight rebounds.
The game: Keeping Batkovic away from the board is going to be hard for the Lightning. Her defensive rebound game opened strong last week so she’s likely to minimise the Lightning’s put-backs. Casey should deal damage at range and will likely shoot most for the Fire. For Adelaide, Nia Coffey should dominate in defensive rebounds and lead scoring on the inside. Nicholson and Colleen Planeta will likely prove damaging at range and should consistently put up points on the inside. If the Fire are going to hold the Lightning back, they need to keep Coffey in check and do their best to defend her without giving away the foul. Last week, Adelaide’s forward had 12 free throws where she scored nine of her points, so provided the Lightning defend clean, it should go their way.
Dandenong Rangers v Sydney Uni Flames
Friday, 6:30pm at Dandenong Stadium
The key match up: Rebecca Cole v Brittany Smart
Cole led the scoring (18 points) for the Rangers in their match against Townsville last week, shooting at 70 per cent from inside the arc. She finished with the best shooting percentage despite finishing fourth in shots taken. While not as successful on the inside (3-7), Smart managed to sink three shots from outside the arc. She will likely find some more success on the inside, but at range Cole will need to keep Smart accountable. Smart will also need to keep her area locked down to keep Cole finding her way inside. The athleticism of both players should be well on display in this contest.
Season so far: The Rangers defeated the Townsville Fire by five points over the weekend. Five of their players scored at least 11 points, and they did not rely on one or two players to carry the weight, unlike Townsville. As stated prior, Cole had a strong game, similarly to Betnijah Laney (12 rebounds) and Tess Lavey (13 points). Sydney however, lost to the Capitals by 19 points. Alex Bunton held strong for her team with 27 points, shooting at 76 per cent and leading on rebounds for her team with seven. She also scored the most points in the league this round, with Smart and Tahlia Tupaea putting up a few of their own. The Flames’ biggest issue was a lack of a whole team performance, so they will need to all lift in their upcoming match to get the result.
The game: The Rangers’ full team effort is going to cause some issues for the Flames. Cole will likely damage on the outside, with Laney snatching the ball under the ring, and Kayla Pederson and Lavey putting them down at range. Bunton will be the Rangers’ biggest problem, so they should aim to shut her down early. She is the most impactful player on the inside as the league stands now and is prone to being fouled. The Rangers will need to keep their defence clean and watch out for Smart at range as she comes into her new position. However, the Rangers should be sure to not underestimate her creativeness on the inside.
Melbourne Boomers v UC Capitals
Friday, 7:30pm at Geelong Arena
The key match-ups: Kelly Wilson v Lindsay Allen
These two both proved dominant on the stat sheet last week, but for different reasons. While Wilson only scored nine points in her last game, she still took eight rebounds and had a league-high 11 assists, which was six above second place. She was really close to earning a triple-double, spreading her impact as best she could. Comparatively, Allen sunk 18 points, shooting well from inside and outside the arc at 58 per cent. Stopping Wilson’s effective passes will be hard as it comes down to her teammates’ support to lock down cutters and moving plays. She will have to work with her team to minimise passing options, but that is easier said than done. Allen will shoot well all day, so it’s also important for Wilson to keep consistent pressure on her and keep her from straying too far.
Season so far: The Boomers opened their season with a loss to the Bendigo Spirit. From regular play, they shot 26 compared to Bendigo’s 29, but were let down by sloppy defence, giving away 21 free throws. They were strong on the rebounds with strong performances from Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Jenna O’Hea under the ring and strong scoring from Allen (18) and Steph Talbot (20). On the other end, the Capitals came out strong with a 19-point win over the Flames, shooting clean (57 per cent) and dominating in most areas of the game. Lauren Scherf shot well, hitting 22 points at 72 per cent, while Kia Nurse also played well, hitting four outside the arc (26 points total). Wilson was also pivotal.
The game: Talbot and Allen will likely lead the scoring, with both being equally damaging at range. The duo, along with O’Hea, should sink a few threes and probably draw out a few defenders. Allen’s impact extends well on the inside though, so she will need to be well covered. On the opposite end, Scherf and Kaili Mclaren should both pose threats on the inside, while Nurse will likely get loose at the arc and throw up a few threes. The Boomers will hopefully have cleaned up their game from last week as they come up against a neat and proficient Capitals outfit.
Bendigo Spirit v Dandenong Rangers
Saturday, 7pm at Bendigo Stadium
The key match-ups: Rebecca Cole v Marena Whittle
Cole and Whittle both led the scoring for their team over the weekend. As previously mentioned, Cole sunk 18 points at 70 per cent. Embracing her new role as a shooting guard, usually driving to the ring, Cole has shown that she can jack up at range and will hopefully find more success outside the arc this week. Whittle plays similarly, putting up 19 shots around the court last week, and snagging 21 points. Cole is still adjusting to her new role so if Whittle was to apply the right pressure, it could shake her shot enough to minimise her. However, Cole should not be underestimated. She proved last week that she can own the role, and she is likely to keep it up against the Spirit.
Season so far: The Spirit comfortably edged out the Boomers last week to take home a 10-point win. Whittle was pivotal at range alongside Nadeen Payne, while Rebecca Tobin who performed well under the ring, defensively and offensively. They shared the ball but were confidently seen over the line with huge gap in free throw numbers (13 to 21). The Ranges won last week’s game but shot quite poorly (37 per cent).
The game: Like last week, Payne and Whittle should prove a problem at range. They should both hit up at a few from deep, while Tobin waits patiently under the ring to put back a few. Stopping Tobin will probably be difficult for the Rangers, but their biggest issue might come from their own shooting. They had some issues with their accuracy last week, but many of their players still had considerable impact. Lavey should be damaging alongside Cole, who is still adjusting to her new role. She is likely to deliver an impressive performance, with Laney and Pederson playing strong under the ring.
Sydney Uni Flames v Melbourne Boomers
Sunday, 1pm at Brydens Stadium
The key match-ups: Alex Bunton v Cayla George
Bunton’s performance last week earned her the highest league scorer merits (27 points). Her efficiency on the inside was consistent as she remained strong on the rebound at both ends of the court. George will have to out-position Sydney’s tall under the ring to limit her impact. George herself was not as pivotal on the scoreboard but under the ring she had the game in her pocket. While Bunton only shot one extra than George, Bunton copped a few shooting fouls and hit seven from the free throw line. If George is to minimise the tall, she will need to be really clean defensively and improve her accuracy at the board.
Season so far: Last week, the Flames lost to the Capitals by 19 points. The Capitals covered their bases a lot better, while the Flames had a few under-performers. The Boomers also lost their game last week to Bendigo, giving away too many fouls. Both teams will have to lift if they want that ‘W’.
The game: Bunton was outstanding last week, but her impact may be lessened this week as the Boomers aim to lock her down. The Flames were not blessed with a whole team performance last week, so if the Boomers can minimise Sydney’s centre, they should hold strong. Smart will likely step up for the Flames, while the Boomers should play more on the outside using Allen and Talbot to sink a few threes.
UC Capitals v Adelaide Lightning
Sunday, 2pm at National Convention Centre
The key match-ups: Lauren Scherf v Nia Coffey
Scherf had an impressive performance, scoring 22 points with a 72 per cent shooting efficiency, despite only playing 22 minutes. She traditionally positions well inside and uses her strength to get at the ring. Coffey will have to dictate her movements if she plans to stop Scherf. Coffey cuts well to the ring and manoeuvres well on the inside. She is quick and precise, so Scherf would be wise to learn her patterns quickly. On the rebound, Coffey might be too much. Comparing them, Scherf snagged five rebounds while Coffey had 15, so Coffey will likely hold a lot of control.
Season so far: The UC Capitals had a comprehensive win over Sydney, with huge performances from Scherf, Nurse and Wilson. They were the much more efficient side and dominated on the rebound. Adelaide similarly had a strong game against Perth, winning by 12 points and showing strength on the rebound. They also had more than 11 free throw opportunities.
The game: The Capitals will likely prove difficult for the Lightning due to their strength at the boards and their dynamic offensive style. Wilson will likely rack up plenty assists with her supreme passing ability. Scherf should score well alongside Nurse, who will damage at range. If Coffey’s game is anything like last week though, the Capitals will also have some issues. Her performance should also bring in Nicholson, Planeta and Nicole Seekamp to the scoreboard, which could swing the game either way.
Perth Lynx v Townsville Fire
Sunday, 1pm at Bendat Basketball Centre
The key match-up: Kayla Steindl v Suzy Batkovic
Steindl played rather unconventionally for a centre last week, taking nine shots from the three-point line. She hit three, but only took five shots on the inside. She would be likely to take up that position again, but if she plans to best Batkovic, she will need to shut her down off the rebound. Last week, Batkovic earned a double-double with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Her defensive work was too strong, so it’s unlikely anyone will better her under the ring. It is also important to add that she had 23 shots in total but only hit nine. She is relentless at the board and may prove a lot for any opponent, but she can be shook.
Season so far: Townsville’s accuracy last week was its biggest let-down. Many of the Fire’s usual stars failed to perform, and a big reason they came close was due to Batkovic and Samuels’ performances. The Lynx had a similar issue but had a more well-rounded performance. They threw up a lot but also struggled to land on the scoreboard. However, Steindl played well alongside Asia Taylor and Alison Schwagmeyer to keep them close.
The game: This game could involve a lot of counter-attacking due to both teams struggling at sinking the ball. The Lynx have an advantage in that they may have more coverage. Steindl will likely have a few goes from the three-point line but should also experiment on the inside. Hopefully Taylor will show more success in her shooting and should find herself with at least 20 points, with the same applying to Schwagmeyer. There is no doubt that Batkovic will tear up the court again, with another double-double likely on the cards. Hopefully she can find a way to bring in more of her teammates, with a less than impressive team performance last week. Samuels should also sink a few, and if she too can lift her accuracy, the game’s tide could surely change.