January 23, 2024 | WNBL news

Written by Mark Alabakov



📆 Wednesday 24 Jan 2024

⏰ 7:00pm AEDT

📍 Melbourne Sports Centres – Parkville


🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

It’s approaching do or die stage for the Perth Lynx and this round is critical.

Melbourne has the size, demonstrated possession play and a clutch play maker in Canada to make them a bad match up for Perth.

The Boomers frontcourt of Hillmon, Froling, sporadically Blicavs and now McKay too will all be physical beasts around the rim at both ends for Potter to deal with.

Not to mention the rebounding ability that awesome foursome bring to the table can nullify the impact of relentless hustle that Maley brings to the table.

Then at the other end, the renewed focus of going to the post early in possessions will put the Lynx is many compromising, foulable situations – an achilles heel for them this season with Potter accruing a quick series of fouls in games and having to sit.

A Lynx upset of the rampaging Boomers would be just what the doctor ordered, however, to gain a vital result and restore confidence in a team that is one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league when fueled by momentum.

How will they do it? By remembering who they are and reclaiming the personality of the team that began the season like a house on fire. That Perth Lynx attacked and got the ball in the key, or an open 3, in 7 seconds or less of gaining possession, often even on opponent made baskets. To borrow from the legendary Carrie Graf, they played with ‘relentless persistence’ – the ball moved and never stopped in one player’s hands for more than 0.5 seconds before being passed, shot or driven to the basket.

Their team assists have dropped from almost 19 per game to 16, which might not sound like much, but with the volume of 3s taken – that could be 9 extra points gained if they were to steer back to the importance of the ball moving instantly when 2 defenders commit to the player with the ball. Notably, 2 of their last 3 losses have been by 6 points and 3 points.

LOOK OUT FOR: Which team lands a body blow to the other by baiting them into foul trouble. Will it be Melbourne’s early post feeds and offensive rebounding ? Or will a return to the ‘fast and furious’ style with a by-committee attack make the Boomers have to chase to contest



📆 Thursday 25 Jan 2024

⏰ 6:00pm AEDT

📍 Red Energy Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Last time these teams met the situation was almost identical. The Spirit, loaded with talent and big game experience, were desperate, finals hopes hanging by a thread, playing in the comfort of Red Energy Arena in Bendigo. They had their backs against the wall and it quickly became curtains for the Caps as they just so happened to be in the way of a KG steam train to the tune of 25 points and 7 rebounds.

The Caps had an early spike in that game, leading briefly in Q1, before they found themselves trying to solve some defensive problems that resulted in a 30-9 free throw differential in favour of the home side.

Alicia Froling was a handful to deal with for the Caps, she alone earned 11 free throw attempts, 2 more than the entire Caps lineup, on the way to 12 points in the contest.

That’s ultimately where Canberra’s challenge lies in this one – do they have the match ups, the schemes and the foul discipline for 4 quarters to keep the Spirit to a beatable scoreline ?

In their last 4 games, the Spirit are averaging 84 points per game (93 if you remove the big loss to the Flyers from the equation), whilst the Caps are averaging 71. That’s a 13 point differential that will be hard to make up without an outlier defensive performance, or a surprising outlier offensive performance from a Caps player on the night. Both are really hard to orchestrate.

LOOK OUT FOR: Another Kelsey Griffin masterclass. There’s not many big game hunters better than KG23. Always comes to the party when her team needs her most.



📆 Thursday 25 Jan 2024

⏰ 8:00pm AEDT

📍 Quaycentre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

The first of a trio of games this round for the Flyers – 3 in 7 days. Each are important in their own right as Southside face off with a Sydney team who will still be harbouring a grudge from their recent game where they controlled large parts of the action before a series of Lauren Jackson post feeds in a row resulted in a number of Flames players being fouled out or incurring foul trouble that warranted a change in tact.

Sydney will have been in the lab, crafting a planned response should the game go in a similar direction, far more ready for the adjustment that keeps their best players on the floor for longer.

The Flyers will go with what they know, as it was a winning formula, and the onus isn’t on them to have to change anything or respond – not until Sydney finds answers to Southside running actions that gets Jackson, and sometimes Russell, on an island in low post 1 on 1 situations.

The Flyers have unlocked something in the past 2 games – with all the talent on their roster, they appear to be in the ‘right seats on the bus’. Moving Leilani Mitchell into the starting lineup makes more sense as she’s an organising, game managing point guard who can score if needed, but won’t be competing with the offensive weapons like Cole, Jackson and Russell in seeking shot attempts – she’ll get them all the ball how they like it, when they like it and from the actions they are most comfortable in. Then she’ll get her scoring looks on any second touches she gets in the possession – and she’s uber efficient when she does.

Playing through the low post a lot more also means the Flyers size is positioned closer to the basket which, last round, lead to 15 offensive rebounds and 15 second chance points against the Boomers – who have been the gold standard of possession play this season.

This should sound alarm bells for the Flames as they are second last in the competition for rebound margin, averaging 3 rebounds less than opponents.

What’s in their favour though, is that they’ve climbed up to third in the league in assists, have won 3 on the trot and have seen more Tess Madgen, Opals Captain, on the court with their team than ever before this season.

LOOK OUT FOR: Lots of pick and roll play for the Flames, with Nicholson and Madgen making a big impact in the mid-range with free throw line pull up jump shots, over the top of Jackson and Russell, in the Flyers ‘drop’ pick and roll defense.



📆 Saturday 27 Jan 2024

⏰ 7:30pm AEST

📍 Townsville Entertainment Centre

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

The ability to rise to challenges is a theme I’ve noticed from the Flyers – they beat Townsville at full strength in R1 and have played their best Basketball when they’ve been ready to be pushed – against the talented Spirit who are motivated to keep their season alive, and most recently in the nail biter against the Boomers, who were playing to clean sweep the Michele Timms Cup from them.

This game is no exception. With a game in hand, where a win would bring them 1 win behind the ladder leading Fire whilst also securing the season series – there’s a lot to play for, and the Fire are reeling and priming for a response.

It sets the table for an outstanding clash.

Townsville is once again, uncharacteristically on the back of a 2 game losing streak and has now lost almost as many home games as they have won, with a record of 4-3 in North Queensland.

They had early control of Adelaide last round, before 4th quarter shot selection and reactive defending proved to be costly – for a team that usually is the opposite of both of those things.

Woods continued to show why she’s arguably the league’s breakout star this season, carrying the Fire with 20 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds and 5 steals in 40 straight, ironwoman minutes.

A key piece will be whether Aokuso and Ruef can return to form with shot selection, shooting percentage and resilient defending – because Jackson and Russell have been a formidable frontcourt of late and they’re backed up by a very capable inside/outside threat in Ernst.

LOOK OUT FOR: The battle of the Opals-aspiring point guards, Maddy Rocci and Steph Reid. Rocci has featured in green and gold before, with Reid will getting to show her wares in Brazil for Olympic Qualifying next month. Pride will be on the line, with Rocci looking to prove a point and Reid looking to validate selection.



📆 Sunday 28 Jan 2024

⏰ 3:00pm ACDT

📍 Adelaide 36ers Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Bourne showed why she’s an unsung star for the Lightning in their upset of the season over Townsville last week. She efficiently carried the scoring for Adelaide in Q2 and Q4, the quarter where the Lightning came back to get their noses in front, and then the one that slammed the door closed on the Fire.

Basketball is a funny sport though, when Borlase exited the game it galvanized the Lightning’s offense, perhaps in realization that they each had to chip in to cover for the scoring threat that she presents. The net result was that the ball moved, execution improved and Mansfield, Willoughby, Brazel and Turner all got involved and it was the best offensive basketball all season for the Lightning as they put 90 on the scoreboard.

If they can recreate that collaborative teamwork, they can beat the Caps and string together back-to-back wins.

When you design a way to win, you design a way to lose, and the Caps were put to the sword by a determined Flames team last round, as they game planned to stop Canberra’s entire engine room, Jade Melbourne, holding her to 1/13 shooting at 7.7% and 3x more turnovers than assists.

We’ve seen how unstoppable a red-lining Melbourne can be this season, but Sydney disrupted hers and Canberra’s flow – and they’ll no doubt be rectifying how they continue to create advantages and shots for the right people at the right time and not have a single point of failure that limits them. This game is a big opportunity for the Caps to seek to get back on the winner’s list after 2 heavy defeats.

LOOK OUT FOR: Sharp and Fowler having a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Fowler thinks a step ahead and this is results in her rim-running or being open in a receiver spot. Sharp creates her own offense by cutting off the ball and competing for every offensive rebound, never picking and choosing. Both will fly under the radar, but have a profound impact.



📆 Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

⏰ 6:00pm AEDT

📍 Red Energy Arena

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Bendigo edged out the Boomers by 3 points at the Boom Box recently in their biggest win of the season, keeping their season series alive and sending it to a decider this round.

The recipe for the Spirit remains the same as previous weeks – find a way to win. One more loss ends the small mathematical chance of post season play for the team and leaves us with 5 WNBL teams contending for 4 spots in that instance.

But at the moment there’s still 6, and there’s still breath in Bendigo’s proverbial lungs – so they’ll be all guns blazing in this contest.

If allowed to get into a rhythm, Ally Wilson getting into a flow state and finding herself in ‘the zone’ can mean curtains for opponents – the patch of play last round against Perth where she caught fire from the 3 and had the explosive drive on all the social media highlight reels where she drove left to the rim, shot right for an And-1 was high level basketball. As was the absurdly accurate 3pt shooting of Mehryn Kraker, who picked a good game to have her own ‘purple patch’.

The Boomers and Coach Chris Lucas are competitors and will have a memory like an elephant and will remember letting that particular game slip, coming agonizingly close to a win in Jordin Canada’s first game back in the lineup after a number of weeks removed on concussion protocol.

The Canada the Spirit saw then, is different to the Canada now – back to a full bill of health and, last round, warranting commentator screams of ‘What time is it ? IT’S JORDIN CANADA TIME’ on her way to 21 point, 3 rebounds, 8 assists and in the process elevating herself back into the top 8 for league scoring and back atop the leaderboard for assists per game.

We often see an assertive response from veterans Keely Froling and/or Sara Blicavs after they’ve had a game at less than their usual output – and, if that rule holds true, look for both to stand tall to not only overcome a combined 4/15 from the field last round, but to stand up for themselves and their teammates if this clash gets tense and feisty.

It did last time these teams met, and this time the Boomers have a statement to make and the Spirit have a season to keep alive – the combination of both of those things will magnify every event in the game by 100 and we’re likely to see the passion cup overflow.

LOOK OUT FOR: Fireworks. Pressure cooker Basketball. And more fireworks.



📆 Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

⏰ 7:00pm AEDT

📍 National Convention Centre Canberra

📺 9NOW

🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

First VS Last place again for the Fire. Might seem like deja vu, but Townsville won’t allow lightning to strike twice … pun intended.

Coach Shannon Seebohm will have reviewed game film with the team from last round and highlighted where rushed decision making lead to interpretations of shot selection that sat outside of both the norm for the Fire, but also in the context of the best use of everyone’s talents on the floor and aligning with that.

Look for Townsville to play with greater clarity and simplification and look more like the Fire we’ve seen all year, in full flight.

For the Caps to trouble Townsville, they will need to wear them down in effort-based plays across 4 quarters, looking to push the ball at every opportunity that presents, be ravenous for offensive rebounds and loose balls and be immediate with their confronting the ball handler the moment possession changes hands and they are in defense, forcing the dangerous scoring and playmaking of Whitcomb, Reid and Woods to be impaired by having to deal with 94 feet of pressure on every possession gained for the Fire.

An unsung hero for the Caps this season, who could be an unsung hero in this match and play a large hand in the Caps cause is North Queenslander, Alex Fowler. In the shadow of the justified fanfare for Jade Melbourne’s season is Fowler who is quietly averaging 11.5 points and 5 rebounds per game, at a clip of a team-high 57% from the field and 39% from the 3.

LOOK OUT FOR: Overwhelming offensive efficiency by the Fire that leads to high percentage shots that they knock down.



📆 Wednesday 31 Jan 2024

⏰ 7:30pm AEDT

📍 State Basketball Centre


🌎 Live & Free via unbeaten.com or FIBA YouTube

Perth has to swing for the fences in this one, looking for home run hit after home run hit. Teams that have gotten the better of the Flyers have all had a high percentage of possessions at pace, most notably after getting stops on the defensive end. Whilst the Lynx aren’t typically a formidable defensive juggernaut, they can keep Southside guessing with defensive change ups and playing in a way that encourages perimeter shooting – creating seamless lead-ins to transition play if missed shots result in long rebounds.

Goodchild was a shining light for the Lynx last round, putting up an efficient 19 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists against the Spirit – which is hard to do when you have a scorer’s mentality every possession and the team is chasing down a deficit.

Look for her to continue to make her presence felt, mixing up her quick release 3 with getting on the rim, through contact.

Southside will want to do the opposite and slow the game to a screeching halt, walking the ball up the court, executing their sets via the poise of Mitchell, and getting the ball inside to a Jackson isolation till Potter and Clinch-Hoycard get into foul trouble, and then after that. The result will be the game on Southside’s terms, at the speed that suits them and doesn’t tax their tall timber in flying up and down the floor to keep up with high-octane pace.

When a storm needs weathering, enter Big Game Cole and and the poise of the ever cool as a cucumber, Leilani Mitchell.

LOOK OUT FOR: The Lynx to go for broke and roll the dice with a single game season-high amount of 3pt attempts.



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