February 22, 2024 | Perth Lynx news

The only thing Perth Lynx can now do is keep on winning to give themselves any chance at still making the WNBL finals and coach Ryan Petrik couldn’t be happier to have Aari McDonald and Anneli Maley back to lead the charge.

Star point guard McDonald and captain Maley were both instrumental in Sunday’s 94-79 home victory against the UC Capitals in the last game of the regular season at Bendat Basketball Centre.

The pair combined for 41 points, 23 rebounds and 11 assists in the 15-point victory that keeps the Lynx still a chance to reach the WNBL finals with one game to go this Saturday on the road to the Bendigo Spirit.

The difference in how the Lynx looked with McDonald back and with Maley more able to show her all-round skills feeling better physically was stark, but now there’s one game to focus on.

In a way things are still in the hands of the Lynx in terms of keeping their season alive. What they have to do is beat Bendigo on Saturday, but that’s also a Spirit team currently sitting in fourth position themselves on a five-game winning streak.

Should Perth win that game, then they need the Townsville Fire to beat the Sydney Flames at home on Sunday and they will be in the top four, and have a finals berth to prepare for next week.

Job to win two games

Coming out of the FIBA break, Petrik knew that the only thing the Lynx could control was firstly beating the Capitals at home and then focus on the Spirit on the road to be any chance of playing finals.

With the first job ticked off, focus now turns to Bendigo.

“We think we’re a good basketball side, but we’re not good enough to worry about trying to pick and choose what we do,” Petrik said.

“Our job is just to win two games and we’ve got one of them done. Our season is kind of in our hands a little bit although we need to rely on some other results, but we just have to win and worry about anything else is irrelevant. We just have to worry about beating Bendigo now.”

Needed to win

While the focus was just on doing whatever it took to winning these last two games and seeing how things turned out, welcoming back McDonald was clearly a significant boost.

She could have been leading the WNBL MVP voting when she injured her knee against the Caps back on December 27 and after that win, the Lynx were 8-3 and not only solid in the top four, but battling over top spot.

Things got decidedly tougher without McDonald in the line-up and the Lynx went 1-7 without her, but it didn’t take long for things to come together again on Sunday with her in the line-up.

“We needed to win to keep the season going and everything else, but it was more a case of just getting healthy,” he said.

“Obviously we were 8-3 with Aari and 1-1000 without her so we kind of wanted to finish it off, in the worst case scenario, on a positive note. And if we keep winning then we’re still a chance. What it did was it put everyone back in their right spots.”

Everyone in right spots

Petrik noticed immediately the difference with McDonald out there not only with her own 24 points, but how she makes everyone else better too.

“I can’t stress it enough, she puts everyone back in their right spots. So now Miela isn’t so much playing point guard, she can go back to her normal role,” Petrik said.

“Chibba can go back to her normal role and Potter’s on-balls are now death because they can’t switch everything so easily.

“Then she has class about her as well so when the possession does go bad, and clearly she’s not back at 100 just yet, she can go and get you a bucket which is what every elite team needs.”

Healthier captain as well

Not only did McDonald make a significant impact in the win on Sunday, but a closer to full health Maley was massive as well.

Being able to do what she does physically once again saw the Lynx captain finish with a phenomenal 17 points, 20 rebounds and eight assists, and nobody enjoyed the performance more than her coach.

“There’s no one in the league at this point who would be at full fitness this late in the season when we’re 20 games so everyone is carrying everything, but she’s clearly a million times better than she was physically two or three weeks ago,” Petrik said.

“She hasn’t been able to jump or push off and in those last two or three games, she couldn’t grab a rebound and take off like she could in this game.

“Her ability to play point guard and push, she can jump for the ball again and she can get out in transition again, so suddenly our transition points went from virtually zero to 14 in the first half. Getting a healthy Aari and Anneli back makes us a totally different side.”