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.