WNBL24 Round-7 Preview

December 12, 2023 | WNBL news

Written by Mark Alabakov



📆 Wednesday 13th December

⏰ 6:30pm AWST

📍 Bendat Basketball Centre


🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

An intriguing opening contest for round 7 as the Flames bring their 2 game win streak, and 3 wins in the past 4 games, to Perth to play the rampaging Lynx, fresh off a gutsy OT grind-it-out win in Adelaide.

Many would agree that Sydney are far from a finished product and while the gains and progress might be marginal and the wins be of the smallest of margins, their scope for improvement is greater than any other WNBL team from this point to what they could look like by season’s end. The championship foundations of Coach Guy Molloy, Tess Madgen, Cayla George and Lauren Nicholson don’t suddenly forget how to win.

With every game together they show moments and periods of play where it clicks for them. That has stretched to become full quarters and full halves. The addition of Madgen in to the lineup and rotation will be incredibly helpful on and off the floor, but it also means time in re-adjusting and re-calibrating roles and how the pieces best fit so that the Flames can present the best version of themselves.

They sit only one win behind the Lynx and will want to get this result to even up their season series, the first game of which the fast and furious Lynx ran away with an 85-71 win, with 5 scorers in double digits.

Perth will have their wits about them though – they’ll be well aware that this Flames team is very different to the one they faced in round 1 of the season. This is a fantastic opportunity for them to have to compete and beat a team that will be in the top tier of the league for thoughtful defensive strategy and the threat of having 3 Opals on the roster that can each be a match winner on any given night. The Lynx have thrived on challenge all year and have shown an ability to steer themselves back on track – beating the Boomers after back to back losses and then outlasting the Lightning last weekend in OT, after an un-Perth-like 3/27 3pt shooting night in their loss to the Boomers in the rematch.

A big driver of their ability to get knocked down but stand back up off the canvas confidently and quickly re-claiming who they are is Aari McDonald. She’s an early season MVP candidate for a reason and is a do-er and not a reactor when momentum shifts away. Emily Potter has been a great addition to the Lynx and the WNBL itself, averaging 13.5 points and 8 rebounds per game, having a big hand in Perth’s win against the Boomers. The cold-blooded shooting of Amy Atwell is back and she had ice in her veins as she landed an enormous 3pt shot from the carpark against the Lightning in crunch time.

A match up that will fly under the radar is that of Anneli Maley VS DiDi Richards. Both are long, and athletic competitors and will be flying all over the court chasing down rebounds and loose balls. Whoever gets the edge on that battle will go a long way in helping their team get over the line.

Sydney has won 3 games by 6 points, 2 points and 2 points, they found a way when games go down to the wire. Perth is the 2nd fastest finishing team in the competition, averaging 21 points in 4th quarters – they come to play when it’s winning time.


The impact match ups have – how they can be helpful, but you can also ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and solve a problem whilst creating another. For example, Sydney will have a hard time matching up with McDonald and might have to give Nicholson the job on her … at the expense of Nicholson’s energy levels at the other end where they need her to be a scorer, and then who does Bradley guard?

Perth will have a hard time defending George, Potter will be compromised to defend the paint on drivers and have to chase George on the 3pt line … but the moment she does, George will drive her. Maley would accept that defensive challenge, but now she’s out on the 3pt line when you need her defending … and who does Potter guard?




📆 Thursday 14th December

⏰ 7:00pm AEDT

📍 State Basketball Centre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

This one is going to be huge… and not just because of the number of 6 foot plus athletes involved ! Last time these teams met, it was early in the season with teams still finding their way, and the result was a nail-biting Flyers W.  Both teams have improved since then with their clarity, synergy and being able to stand up with resilience when challenged. The Fire and Flyers are title contenders for a reason and expect this one to have fireworks as both teams won’t want to give an inch.

Townsville have built the number 2 ranked offense and number 1 ranked defense in the league currently, whilst the Flyers have the number 4 ranked offense and number 2 ranked defense. Touch distance from one another, with the smallest of gaps separating these teams statistically, so it’s likely to come down to individual performances … and both teams have multiple match winners.

The Fire backcourt of Reid and Whitcomb is a championship-winning combination, with the ability to organize and create for others as well as finish plays themselves. The dynamic duo are both top 7 in the league for assists and combine for an average of 10/18 Fire assists per game. They also both combine for almost 30 points from the team’s average of 81 ppg – so they do their bit on the scoreboard, but are arguably more important as catalysts for the team. They make their teammates better. The inclusion of Amanda Zahui B will take time to fully click, but her debut VS the Caps was mighty – 11 points, 6 rebounds (2 of which were offensive), 1 steal, 1 block and lead the team in free throw attempts with 5 … all in only 17 minutes. She looks to be a very handy addition to the roster.

The Flyers are riding the triumphant return of Mercedes Russell as she continues to show why she’s a premier post player in the competition, top 4 in points per game and rebounds per game, and making big baskets as a focal point in clutch moments. Bec Cole is back to her career best and playing with a level of confidence that makes her dangerous as perimeter scoring threat that doesn’t stop cutting, attacking off the dribble or sneaking out ahead for transition layups. She’s transformed from being a corner shooter a year ago to being top 7 in the competition in points per game and knocking down big time shots like the corner 3pt dagger against Perth and her 1st quarter buzzer beater against the Spirit last week. You don’t make shots like that unless you’re playing with a full heart and confident mind.

The difference makers in this one could well be a team’s co-stars – can Puoch replicate her stellar performance against Bendigo again? Can Mikaela Ruef re-produce her Player of the Week best against one of the league’s best and tallest frontcourts ? Does Lauren Jackson turn back the clock and carry the Flyers, or emerging Opal Zitina Aokuso put the Fire on her back, when dealing with opponents of similar talent and size?


A legitimate finals atmosphere. What’s on the line? The season head-to-head series and ladder position for finals. Southside is up 1-0 and this win would be worth 2, as they’d ice the season series as well as getting ladder points. Townsville needs to pull out a victory to send it to a 3rd season series game and to keep a ladder buffer on the Flyers. Both of these teams are tough to deal with in the finals, and even more so when they have home court advantage and you face the proposition of having to beat them twice at their place in a series.





📆 Friday 15th December

⏰ 5:30pm AEDT

📍 Southern Cross Stadium

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Coach Chris Lucas has a theme of seeking a ‘Response’ from his teams when they are faced with adversity. After copping their first loss for the season on the chin, the Boomers had a quick opportunity to seek redemption and respond … and respond they did. Binding together for a clinical 2nd half against the Lynx last weekend, winning the second half 50-23 and holding the dangerous Perth team to 4 points in the 4th quarter. Hillmon, Canada and Froling showed their class, but one athlete that flew under the radar and tipped the scale in her team’s favour was Aimee Rocci. When healthy, Rocci has shown a poise, IQ and ability game manage throughout her WNBL career to date and it allows the Boomers to unlock a new flexibility – the chance to play the impactful Jordin Canada in off-ball scoring positions without the burden of having to handle the ball and get the team into their offense.

The Caps will look to draw confidence from pushing the Boomers to the OT brink when these teams met only a few short weeks ago. Melbourne, Sharp and Fowler were all stellar in that contest, putting 20+ points on the board each. Though an exciting young core contingent, all 3 of those promising athletes haven’t scored 20 points in any of their 4 games since. The Boomers will have each of them in their sights from a scouting perspective and the challenge will be to not only overcome more defensive attention, but breaking a cycle of games where they haven’t performed to that same level since.

The Boomers will have to not let their guard down and treat the winless Caps with the same level of respect as they would any other opponent, or the ‘nothing to lose’ Canberra could gain an edge, and momentum, based on pace and effort-based possession play. Canberra also poses the threat of getting hot from the 3pt line, whilst shooting a modest 30% from the 3 as a team, they’ve hit the 2nd most 3pt shots as a team in the competition to date, which means they’re comfortable letting it fly from downtown.

Melbourne still presents a formidable mountain to climb though, averaging a league leading 14 offensive rebounds per game, recovering 35% of missed shots as extra possessions.


The difference ‘winning when it’s hard’ makes on a team’s self-belief and resilience.

The Boomers flexed their muscle on Perth last week and redeemed their loss and will draw upon that real and tangible belief in tight moments or if the game stays close here. The Caps don’t have that tangible winning experience, which is a psychological hurdle to overcome in a league so competitive. There’s only so many times you can sustain self-belief when you haven’t been able to feed off the fruits on that labor as yet.




📆 Friday 15th December

⏰ 7:30pm AEDT

📍 Geelong Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

A test and opportunity awaits both of these teams. They’re the only 2 teams on 2 wins for the season so far, with one of them leap frogging the other on the ladder after this. They’re 2 teams relatively evenly matched, pound-for-pound, in terms of size, depth and athleticism.

Their last game had both teams force the other into errors and that pressure kept the game close – going into OT where Kelsey Griffin put the Spirit on her back and refused to leave Adelaide without a win. Griffin has a long and storied history of coming up big when her team needs it. She can be a functioning part of a good team, or has the ability to take over when a job needs doing. Someone like Bourne is likely to get the Griffin match up, which will be a worthy opponent as an emerging athlete in the league, but she’ll have her hands full.

The Davis/Froling tandem will match up with Brianna Turner and be a battle on the glass, as Turner leads the league in rebounding with an average of 15.5 rebounds per game – but this time she’ll be dealing with the sheer height and reach of Davis (whom Turner replaced as an import post player for Adelaide way back when) and the multiple effort, physical play of Froling.

Lauren Mansfield being the Lightning’s primary point guard means the Spirit can play Kelly Wilson more as she has a similar height, similar type of player with elite court vision and IQ to lock horns with. These 2 have had many the admirable contest between them over the years and they’re a joy to watch play because of the sixth sense they both have for the game of Basketball.

The backcourt battle will go a long way to determining the outcome – Borlase and Willoughby VS Wilson, Wehrung and Kraker. Expect Mehryn ‘fire’ Kraker to take a physical contest with Willoughby seriously and both are competitors that welcome a challenge. Borlase is playing confidently and appears comfortable in knowing she has the keys to try to score whenever she can – Ally Wilson is low key a very quick, agile and lock-down defender who can bother Borlase and challenge her decision making. If Ally Wilson does a handy job of containing her and making her expend energy trying to find time and space to score, what impact does that have on her shot selection and the amount of shot Adelaide will want her to shoot? There’s a difference between 20 points off 25 contested attempts and 20 points off 10-12 well-orchestrated, clean looks at the basket and the impact that has on a team. If the Lightning get the latter version, the Spirit will find themselves with yet another scoreboard deficit to have to make up.


Kelsey Griffin in ‘refuse to lose’ mode. It’s clear to everyone watching – this is Griffin’s team and she doesn’t like losing.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In each of the games Griffin has played in this season for the Spirit, the moment there’s a momentum shift, when the chips are down, when it’s time to score or get a crucial defensive stop – Kelsey Griffin proactively and instantly features in the forthcoming possession. She’ll take it upon herself to go get the basket or get on the FT line, or defend the star player and get a stop or critical rebound. Every. Single. Time.

Without fail. You could set your watch to it.





📆 Saturday 16th December

⏰ 6:00pm AEDT

📍 Quaycentre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

A yardstick match for the Flames, and one to be weary of for the Fire. It’s no secret that the Fire are the most in-rhythm and efficiently performing unit in the competition so far this season – number 1 for field gool, 3pt and free throw percentages and in the top 3 for assists.

It’s a test against the best and the Flames may rise to the occasion or fall to the level of their habits, in any case they’ll get to see the bridges they need to cross in order to get to Townsville’s consistent level of performance over a number of seasons, whether in victory or defeat. Good teams leave you with valuable information if you look for it – over and above the result of the game.

The Fire will utilise their size to get post players involved and, by committee, wear down the limited post rotation for the Flames. Townsville has Aokuso who is having a solid scoring season and does a good job of screening and rolling, Ruef who is a rebounding demon and can pick and pop to range, and Zahui B as a rebounding and shooting threat, mostly still an unknown to opponents on how her game presents at WNBL level. All 3 can impact the game and take energy and awareness from their opponents to stop across 4 quarters.

Sydney has the reigning MVP, Cayla George who is still finding her way back to playing her best basketball this season, but remains a talented 3pt shooter, crafty passer and quick baseline driver. She has a great chemistry with Madgen and is fast developing one with Nicholson, often the most pretty basketball moments for the Flames are when any combination of that trio are in concert with one another in actions. But foul discipline is haunting George, having fouled out of 2 of the past 3 games, in 16 and 28 minutes respectively. Sydney doesn’t have the post depth to cover for her absence – so it’s critical she’s able to adjust and stay on the floor. McSpadden has played serviceable minutes off the bench as a back up, setting solid screens, competing for offensive rebounds and being ready to score when her opponent helps off her to stop the ball handler – but if George fouls out or gets in foul trouble, it’s a big ask for any post in the league to go toe-to-toe the trio of Aokuso/Ruef/Zahui B and hold the fort.

Townsville aren’t a team you can defend one single way all night and get over the line against. They have problem solvers, clarity on problem solving strategies as a team and one way to keep breaking their rhythm is when they think they have the answers, changing the questions. Look for Coach Guy Molloy to be crafty with some defensive adjustments or disruption to keep the Fire on the back foot. Another way to break their rhythm is outworking them with effort based plays and not backing down from the physical ‘fight’ for position or possession – this is where Clarke, Bradley, and Rowe can play major roles in influencing the outcome.


Lauren Nicholson’s first game against the team she enjoyed championship glory with. This is significant because, as much as players and coaches involved in new teams will try to play it down, it is a strange feeling and can bring up many emotions – but you need to get through it to disarm anxiety and de-sensitize yourself to it, so you can just go about playing basketball and keeping the main thing the main thing. Look for the Flames teammates to step up in voice and in action, absorb a lead role and take any pressure and focus off Nicholson, allowing her to settle into the game, get comfortable and begin contributing and capturing the great player she can be, now in new colors.





📆 Sunday 17th December

⏰ 3:00pm AEDT

📍 Melbourne Sports Centres – Parkville

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

More intrigue this round exists with this clash. Adelaide, still agonisingly close to stealing another victory, but falling short at the final hurdle – often self-inflicted with either poise VS opponent pressure or the impulse of wanting to help the team win meaning someone breaks the synergy they’d shown be profitable earlier in the game, and cost them the result they seek. If Adelaide can create clarity this week on late game intentions, who and what they are seeking to garner a result and get repetition of executing that VS pressure that could be the missing piece to them knocking off another top 4 team.

I still think that Adelaide is yearning for that one more reliable scorer on their roster. Who can be the one to give them 10-12 points reliably weekly ? With nothing to fear and nothing to lose against the Boomers, this would be a great time for someone to step up on the scoreboard for them in a big game.  Bourne and Brazel both had double digit points last weekend against the Lynx, which put the Lightning in striking distance … pun intended. Another scoring observation to keep an eye on is that Borlase and Willoughby don’t both score ‘well’ in the same games, it’s often at a 5-10 point expense of the other. Is there a way for Coach Nat Hurst to utilise their talents in such a way that can have them both in high double digits, as both can be a handful to the defense alone – but they could be a nightmare if they’re both firing at once.

For Melbourne, this is the second ‘don’t let your guard down’ match up. Adelaide aren’t going to be pushovers, but we’ve seen Melbourne appear to have a good mix of sheer work ethic and possession play, with game managing by Jordin Canada, and the handy cameo Aimee Rocci appearance.

This is a game for the Froling/Blicavs duo to send a statement to the competition on how dominant and impactful they can be. They’re taller, stronger and more ready for physicality than their likely match ups. If they come with an aggressive mindset offensively, it gives Canada a high alert threat on either side of the floor to utilise, or to occupy defensive attention and open up more of the floor for her to operate.

Adelaide is in the top 3 in the league for fast starts, judging by their 1st quarter average points of 21.5. To the contrary, Melbourne is a top 2 team for 2nd half finishes, coming home like a freight train with an average of 43+ 2nd half points.


Froling and Blicavs to tag team together to help the Boomers close out the round with a win, with the team’s smash mouth possession play and routinely big second half ‘responses’ being a difference also.




📆 Sunday 17th December

⏰ 5:30pm AEDT

📍 Red Energy Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

One thing Coach Cheryl Chambers does a great job of is building supportive team environments that are all business when they need to be, but light and fun all the rest of the time. A happy team is a good team and you only need to watch last weekend’s post game press conferences on the WNBL channel on YouTube to see the relaxed and comfortable vibe in their camp. The result: Southside are hitting their straps and playing some good basketball. They played the Spirit only a week earlier and handed them their biggest loss of the season, all whilst playing 4 of their starters less than 25 minutes each.

They’ll come into this one off the back of finals-level sharpness of playing the Fire in their last hit out, either full of confidence or seeking to get back on track.

Regardless of result from earlier in the round, the Spirit have some work to do. The top 4-5 teams are pulling away from the pack and they need to find ways to put points on the board to keep up with the best scoring teams in the league, and it won’t be as simple as just making their free throws.

Kelsey Griffin’s inclusion has helped as a focal point, Ally Wilson continues to give defenders panic attacks with her explosive change of direction and drives to the basket and Abbey Wehrung has shown that she can catch fire from the 3pt line.

They had 51 points against the Flyers last start, for context, the Perth Lynx had 50 points on the board against the Flyers at half time.

Southside is a team you can get out in transition on – but the Spirit will need to tighten the screws defensively, in order to create those opportunities. Southside walked into layups and 2 on 1s last weekend, which was a far cry from what we know this Spirit team is capable of. This is a game to re-claim who they are, show what they can do and aim to get their season back on track.


A closer game, but more of the same. Statistically speaking, last weekend’s game was a run-of-the-mill, standard Southside performance … nothing out of the box. The Spirit will come out of the blocks physical and intent on making a statement. However, if challenged, Southside can absorb that and has another gear to go to.



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