Fire look to complete amazing WNBL turnaround
JCU Townsville Fire will look to make the Chemist Warehouse WNBL grand final with favourites Jayco Southside Flyers a defensive grind and keep the minor premiers below the triple digit mark, as they seek to complete one of the more remarkable recent turnarounds in Australian sport.
A few months after finishing bottom of the ladder with five wins from 21 games, Townsville have advanced to the season decider in a compressed and gruelling schedule.
The Fire were the team of the last decade during which they won three titles, but missed out on finals in each of the last two campaigns.
High scoring guards Lauren Nicholson and Shyla Heal have been outstanding, and have been complemented by a feisty frontcourt unit with coach Shannon Seebohm getting the most out of his team.
Forward Mia Murray who played in all of those title-winning teams and will be lining up in a grand final match or series for a sixth season, isn’t surprised by how a young new-look side has advanced so far in a short space of time.
“We’re getting told time and time again that we’re the surprise packets of the league, but when Shannon put together this team, he knew the type of personnel he wanted,” Murray said.
“As soon as we got together and started pre-season, I could tell it was a pretty special group.
“Once I got asked to play for the club, it was like we need to get back into that successful sphere that we were once so dominant in.
“We’ve got there and it (winning the championship) would mean a lot.
“Particularly the age of the team, if we went the distance it would be really special for this group.”
“We need to make it a real grind, and limit their transition because once they get out in that open floor, they are pretty unstoppable and especially when they are hitting their three-point shots.”
Townsville have lost all three games this season against the Flyers, but after trailing 41-25 at quarter time in last Wednesday’s semi-final, outscored them by three over the remainder of the journey.
Seebohm, who early in the week was named WNBL Coach of the Year, has gone back and looked at the two regular season losses Southside suffered.
“Obviously they didn’t shoot the ball as well in either of their losses as what they have in a lot of their wins.
“It’s easier said than done, but honestly I think we’re not going to win any games that are around the 100-point mark against Southside.
“We really need to make sure we do a much better job defensively of making them uncomfortable and pushing them out of their sets, and really trying to limit the amount of open shots they get.”
Centre Liz Cambage will again prove a handful for the smaller Townsville frontcourt, but Seebohm was encouraged at how hard his players made the Chemist Warehouse Opals superstar work for her 31 points in the semi-final.
He also stressed the importance of locking down on other players, with the likes of Bec Cole and Leilani Mitchell both scoring freely early in that game.
“She (Cambage) played ten extra minutes in that semi-final than what she’s been playing per game in the regular season and her scoring output is going to be fairly high no matter what you do,” Seebohm said.
“They’ve got a number of weapons that they can go to and for us it’s just about playing as tough as we can and being as disciplined as we can.”
While uncertainty surrounds the availability of Southside captain Jenna O’Hea, Seebohm is preparing for the eventuality she will play.
He wasn’t concerned about his team having to back up less than 48 hours after a tough semi-final while Southside had an extra couple of days rest.
Adrian Warren is a freelance contributor to WNBL.basketball
Jayco Southside Flyers v JCU Townsville Fire
Sunday 20 December 2020
2.00 pm AEST/ 3.00pm AEDT
Live on Foxtel, Kayo, ABC