Get the popcorn ready: Southside and Melbourne set for Game 3 decider

March 14, 2023 | WNBL news

By Hayley Wildes | The Pick and Roll

The Southside Flyers and Melbourne Boomers have thrown (metaphorical) haymakers at each other through the first two games of their physical WNBL Semi-Final series, and now all attention turns to the winner takes all Game 3 for a spot in the Grand Final series on Wednesday.

With the Townsville Fire ready and waiting for their Grand Final opponent after taking care of business against the Perth Lynx in two games, the Flyers and Boomers will face off for the fourth time in five games, and that familiarity is bringing out a fierceness on-court that is incredibly fun to watch.

By now, both teams know exactly what the other wants to do, they know the defensive schemes, the offensive plays, and the strengths and weaknesses of every player that hits the court.

Southside won all three meetings in the regular season and marched away with a strong win in Game 1, but to Melbourne’s credit, they responded emphatically in Game 2 to level the series.

Game 3 is going to be an unmissable blockbuster and the team that drives to the bucket with an unrelenting attack will be in the box seat to win the game, and it’s all to do with free throws.

In all five games this season, the winner has won the free throw battle. It’s become even more telling in the Finals too, with Southside dominating that aspect in Game 1 by getting to the free throw line 22 times and connecting 16 times, while Melbourne only went 6/9 from the charity stripe.

The script was flipped in Game 2, as Melbourne found their groove and their big three attempted at least seven free throws each as the team went 22/28, while Southside struggled to get to the line, finishing just 9/11.

The referees have been calling plenty of fouls – especially in Game 1 – so players must be aware that they’ll be rewarded for taking the ball to the bucket, while defensively, players have to be smart and focus on limiting the fouls when trying to defend drives to the bucket.

The foul trouble Melbourne found themselves in in Game 1 definitely limited the impact of Kristy Wallace (who eventually fouled out) and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. The freeness that Wallace played with in Game 2, not troubled by mounting fouls, was a game-changer as she bounced back from the two-point outing in Game 1 to stuff the stat-sheet with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals and just 2 turnovers.

It would be remiss not to mention that fact that Southside clearly missed the presence of Kayla Thornton in Game 2, not just for her ability to draws fouls, create her own shot and play hard-nosed on both ends of the court, but for what she does for her teammates in drawing so much attention.

When Thornton is on the floor, defences are drawn to her and that opens up driving lanes and three-point opportunities for her teammates. Southside said over the weekend that Thornton is expected to play in Game 3, so hopefully she can get on the court and be at close to full health.

Image credit: Michelle Couling Photography

Southside attacked Melbourne in Game 1 and the Boomers were thrown out of rhythm. There were times throughout Game 1 when Melbourne looked lost and completely frustrated with their inability to get their game going – to their credit they turned up the heat in the second half to give themselves a chance – and the Flyers need to return to that unforgiving mindset in Game 3.

The point guard battle between Maddy Rocci and Kristy Wallace has been brutal and ruthless, with neither player taking a backwards step. Wallace thrives on the physicality of the game, despite her struggles in Game 1, and Rocci is rising to the occasion by doing everything within her power to help her team win.

After taking a tough hit early in Game 2 and being forced to the bench, gasping for air, Rocci returned to the game and played inspired basketball. Without Thornton leading the way, it was Rocci who took it upon herself to play with a ferociousness that would’ve made Lauren Jackson – who was sitting on the bench in a moon boot – proud.

Rocci finished with a near triple-double of 11 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists, in a performance full of heart.

Southside need to heap the pressure on Melbourne’s ball-handlers, namely Wallace and Tiffany Mitchell, as well as Cayla George and Leilani Mitchell. Wallace and Tiffany Mitchell are relentless in driving to the bucket, so containing them off the dribble is key – which is obviously far easier said than done when you’re dealing with such supreme athletes.

Containing George is a whole different task, because she really can do it all, and so often when a team has played strong defence for much of the shot clock, she’s able to rock back into a near unguardable fadeaway and take away momentum from the opposition.

Another player capable of taking momentum away from the opposition or creating it for her own team is Mia Murray. Murray, who will be retiring at the conclusion of the Boomers’ season, has been a stalwart of the league for over 15 seasons and knows all about stepping up to the moment, proven by her 2015 WNBL Grand Final MVP honours as she led Townsville to the Championship.

The Flyers need to be aware of where Murray is at every moment on offence as she’s capable of knocking down triples from anywhere on the floor.

Rocci and Bec Cole driving to the paint and creating havoc is a must for the Flyers. Southside look their best in transition when Rocci, Cole and Mon Conti are pushing the ball, while Sara Blicavs and Abby Bishop need to remain aggressive and take what the defence gives them. Blicavs’ four triples were vital and timely in Game 1, while Cole was a woman possessed as she took on the challenge on both ends of the court.

A Game 3 between these cross-town rivals is everything basketball fans could’ve hoped for. With legit superstars leading the way, stars in their respective roles stepping up, and young guns showing what they’re made of through the first two games, Game 3 is set to rise to a whole new level.


Tune in to Game 3, 7:30pm AEDT on Wednesday. Live on ESPN via Kayo and Foxtel.