WNBL24 Round 15 Preview

February 21, 2024 | WNBL news

Written by Mark Alabakov



📆 Wednesday 21 Feb 2024

⏰ 6:00pm AEST

📍 Townsville Entertainment Centre


🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Pending other results in the round, this could be the Grand Final of the regular season, with the winner being in the box seat to be crowned a top of the table finish and the validating morale boost that comes with it.

Southside got first blood in game 1 by the narrowest of margins. Townsville made an enormous statement in game 2 and blew the doors off the Flyers.

Southside and Townsville are evenly matched. The problem the Fire have with front court depth aren’t as worrisome, because as strong as Southside’s frontline is with Russell, Jackson and Ernst off the bench, their best work is done in stationary situations like post ups on the edge of the keyway or pick and pop 3pt shooting. This means the fatigue and fouling risk reduces to a regular, manageable level.

Then when considering their perimeter play, Reid VS Rocci is always a great contest with Reid being one of Rocci’s toughest match ups to handle as she does an exceptional job of being a step ahead defensively when guarding her.

Whitcomb VS Cole is box office. Both are worth the price of admission to watch on the offensive side of the ball as they can light it up in a quarter and have double digit points in it. What makes them elite, however, is that they both have a gear above everyone else to click into on the defensive end when they need to pull out a match defining lockdown defensive performance.

Notably, in the 2 previous games between the Fire and Flyers, the Flyers bench has had the biggest impact between the 2 team, outscoring Townsville by 8+ points on each occasion.

In the Fire’s decisive 28 point win in Round 7, Southside shot 8.3% from the 3pt line. Currently they lead the league in 3pt shooting percentage with 37% as a team. In the same game, Ruef had 15 points, Brown had 10 and Zahui B had 8 – Ruef averages 9, Brown averages 7 and Zahui B is currently injured. So, if Ruef and Brown score their average, Zahui B’s points are removed from the team’s scoreline and the Flyers 3pt shooting is closer to their average, the net result is the scoreline become much, much closer.

And then we have our selves a ball game.


Culture coming to the fore. Where results may make this game for all the minor premiership marbles, there aren’t any magic wands to make things happen. Both of these teams are incredibly talented, however in games like this the team with the strongest culture, true togetherness and camaraderie will allow one of these championship contenders to overcome obstacles and emerge victorious.



📆 Saturday 24 Feb 2024

⏰ 2:30pm AEDT

📍 National Convention Centre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

This is a big test for Melbourne. On paper, they have all the tools for a result over the Caps, however in recent weeks they haven’t  looked to have the same drive and desire that made them ominous and a team nobody wanted to play.

A team that flew out of the blocks at the beginning of the season on fire, knew exactly who they were, played to their identity and made fluid adjustments in-games have stalled in recent weeks and their killer instinct appears dormant.

The Boomers were in the top 4 for points per game for most of the season, but now sit second last with 71 per game … and the scoreboards in their last 2 games have read below that.

Their field goal percentage, which was also top 4, is now dead last.

They’ve slipped in rebounding margin – where they averaged almost 5 more rebounds than opponents, has dropped to only 2, and though dead last in the league at 3pt shots made per game (averaging 6.5) they have attempted 25 and 30 in their past 2 losses and shot at 25 and 13% respectively.

The inclusion of Kristy Wallace helps their cause, with her WNBA level skill set, but more importantly the steely-eyed determination and fire-in-the-belly that she competes with every second of every game.

On the eve of finals and in the precarious position where a loss against the Caps and a Bendigo win will end their season – the Boomers need to bounce back quickly and find their ‘edge’.

Opal Sara Blicavs is 2/19 from the field in the past 2 matches combined, and 9/40 in the last 4. Coach Chris Lucas will no doubt be trying to find ways to get her some easy looks to get her motor running again.

The Caps close out their 2023-24 season with this game and will be wanting to go out with a bang. Melbourne has had a great individual season, Sharp has been a revelation with an increased role, Potter has shown signs of returning to her promising best and Fowler has been rock-solid and flown under the radar to be a reliable contributor and big part of the Caps’ future plans. They’ll go for broke trying to get the ‘W’ in this one and will play with the freedom that comes with removing the need for a conscience, knowing there is no next week.

Even in the circumstances, that can be liberating. And that makes them dangerous.


If the heart of a champion truly beats inside the chest of the Boomers.




📆 Saturday 24 Feb 2024

⏰ 5:00pm AEDT

📍 Melbourne Sports Centres – Parkville

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

A wise coach once taught me that ‘you’re most vulnerable when you think you can’t lose’. The Boomers felt the pain of that lesson last week and the Flyers will be wise to shift the focus away from ‘beating’ the Lightning and expecting it to be a routine result, and better served to measure themselves against the championship standards they’ve set for their own performances and how they ‘show up’, and take this Talbot version of Adelaide seriously.

Since Talbot’s inclusion, Adelaide’s team defense has improved notably. They held the Caps to 7.5 less points, and the Boomers 14.5 less points, than their season’s points per game averages. The Lightning have climbed to first in the league for blocked shots per game and second in the league for steals per game.

Couple that with the fact that the Lightning now have the depth and flexibility to bring players the caliber of Talbot and Mansfield off the bench, and Brianna Turner recapturing her best Basketball form and suddenly the Lightning are giving teams fits at both ends.

The Flyers need to treat this game as a dress rehearsal for finals-like levels of detail, physicality, hustle and skill because they’re going to get that later in the round up north, against the league leaders. Knocking off the Lightning will take a total team performance where Cole adds scoring punch in transition and off the dribble, Jackson and Russell are inside targets, Ernst and Mitchell spread the floor with 3pt shooting, Rocci delivers the ball where and to whom it needs to go and then Puoch and Dickey contribute with hustle efforts and rebounding.

When everyone gets involved and the ball is shared, the Flyers can beat anyone. When it sticks, the balance shifts in a way that makes them vulnerable – and we’ve seen enough upsets this season to know that you always have to have your wits about you.


Steph Talbot’s inclusion continuing to make Adelaide a team that won’t stay down, regardless of momentum or margin. Talbot is an anomaly. She’s physically the ultimate prototype Basketballer – a ferocious, multiple effort competitor, a capable ball handler, driver and creator that will never say die.




📆 Saturday 24 Feb 2024

⏰ 7:30pm AEDT

📍 Red Energy Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Judgement day for both of these teams, the course of their season hinges on it. If the Spirit win, they’re in. If the Lynx get the chocolates, they’ll be cheering for Townsville to beat Sydney – in which case they would take their place in the top 4.

The Spirit have turned a corner since committing to starting Kelly Wilson at Point Guard, with her sixth sense for the game of basketball putting her on the rare air tier of Harrower and Timms in the history of the WNBL, as well as playing at tempo in transition.

When they defend and rebound well, the constant pressure of a rim-running Froling or Griffin and the lane running of Ally Wilson to be a threat, inside and out, has proven to be a handful for opponents to deal with.

Griffin, in particular, has her ‘refuse to lose’ mode on speed dial and has had a phenomenal second half of the WNBL season, so much so that it has completely changed the trajectory of the Spirit’s season. Pending this result, she may be successful in steering them to the promised land of finals basketball.

Perth, last round, looked like a Ferrari that had the engine placed back inside it. They’re at their best with Aari McDonald’s dynamic scoring, decision making and game management ability down the stretch. Her absence has been almost season ending for the Lynx after an impressive start to their season’s campaign, but her return was the spark they needed to pick up exactly where they left off – which was on the road to the WNBL finals … and this result hinges on it.

McDonald’s ability to be a force multiplier for others lead to the Lynx having 5 double digit scorers last round – achieving this for first time in 6 games, averaging only 3 double digit scorers in their past 5 games prior to Aari’s return.

This one has potential classic written all over it – it could easily be one of those bucket-for-bucket, down-to-the-wire OT games when the likes of Griffin, Atwell, Ally Wilson ans Aari McDonald make go-ahead baskets one after the other in a perennial arm wrestle to the finish.


An incredibly fast start, see ‘sprint’, by one of these teams to begin the game. Then it’ll even out and the team with the most efficient offense will open up a lead in Q3 and hold it to the final buzzer.




📆 Sunday 25 Feb 2024

⏰ 3:00pm AEST

📍 Townsville Entertainment Centre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

An acid test. Both of these teams have a lot to play for. For the Flames, a win secures a finals berth, a loss leaves it in the hands of the Basketball Gods. Townsville needs to win to secure back to back minor premierships and more importantly, break the string of losses against teams a number of places below them on the ladder.

The Flames are hungry, have a coach in Guy Molloy who is known for, and has demonstrated to be a meticulous preparer of game plans. He’ll be in the lab, cooking up the right recipe to lead Sydney into the finals equation. Nicholson’s season has taken a sharp upward trajectory and she is playing at a league best level at the right time of the year. Her mature, standing-tall performance against the Flyers last week was exemplary.

Townsville’s lack of front court fitness and depth is being preyed upon by opponents with success and they haven’t quite found the solution. Zitina Aokuso and Mikaela Ruef are so different stylistically, but at their best have proven to be effective performers in the WNBL.

The challenge lies in the fact that all teams are trying to make them chase their match up in sprints down the floor, get them moving side to side in the half court having to defend actions and then attacking them when they’re pre-fatigued. This routinely puts them in situations vulnerable to foul, especially if a guard is crafty and seeks contact with their body on purpose, and limits their usual effectiveness offensively because of the physical impact of fatigue and psychological impact of being in, or risking, foul trouble.

Against the Spirit last round, both Ruef and Aokuso got into early foul trouble, Aokuso fouling out with a whole quarter left to play and the Spirit posts of Froling and Griffin combined for 33 points (over half Townsville’s total score), 22 rebounds and 9 assists when smaller Fire guards came to try to help.

It’s a sore spot that has become a target that makes the Fire far less imposing and ominous than last season. Best believe Sydney will factor this into their plan too.


The irresistible force of Madgen and Nicholson. Both are lionhearted competitors who have both the clutch gene and a high caliber skill package that allows them to impact the game in multiple ways.

They will leave nothing in the tank in trying to get the Flames a finals berth and that alone just might get them over the line.




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