Blockbuster WNBL semifinal series locked in
The 40th edition of the WNBL regular season has drawn to a close and what a year it has been.
Southside have been flying high all season, dropping just 4 games on their pathway to the semifinals. The finals race almost went down to the wire for second and third place with a thriller played out on Saturday night between two top 4 teams that ultimately determined the final placings and a set of blockbuster semifinal series.
It was the reigning champion University of Canberra Capitals that managed to secure home court advantage for the best-of-three semifinal series, cementing second place on the final day. The Boomers finished with the same record but will start their series away to the Caps and finish it in Canberra if a game three is required.
Adelaide represent the dark horse of this finals series, as they boast wins over the top two sides and nearly defeated the Caps on the road in their final regular season game.
We take a quick look at the WNBL semifinalists ahead of the Olympic Qualifying break, with Opals looking to book their spot in Tokyo in France this coming week.
1 | Southside Flyers
Southside were a relative unknown at the beginning of the season, though one thing was for certain from the get go: the squad was absolutely stacked on paper.
Fast forward to the end of the season, and the Flyers have secured top spot, a home court advantage throughout, and a potential Grand Final should they get past the Adelaide Lightning.
The loss of captain Jenna O’Hea seemed to have rattled the Flyers' fanbase, but Southside rallied together effortlessly to secure wins against their finals opponents in the Adelaide Lightning, but also Bendigo Spirit and Sydney Uni Flames to close things out. It’s a bit unfair to completely rule out O'Hea from playing the Grand Final though. She’s keeping fit to maintain the hope of receiving a green light to return in the Grand Finals series should the Flyers make it.
Both Southside and Adelaide will be without a star player in their semifinal matchup, with Lightning point guard Nicole Seekamp suffering an ankle injury that has also forced her out of the Opals lineup in France.
Get through the Lightning, and the biggest sticking point may well be in the form of a possible Grand Final match up versus the Capitals. The Flyers may have the home court advantage, but the Caps have twice dispatched the Flyers at home. If Melbourne can naviagte their way past the Capitals, a Melbourne Grand Final derby looms. It makes for a very tense potential match up either way.
2 | University of Canberra Capitals
Whenever you ride into a season as 'reigning champions', you’re always going to have a target on your back.
They’re the only team in the top four with an unblemished record in their last five matches, including that nail-biting 2 point win over fourth placed Adelaide Lightning on the final day of the season.
Nurse, Rocci and Tolo came up when it mattered against the Lightning, and their depth continues with Epoupa, Froling and Griffin all capable of turning in double digit figures on any given night.
The Capitals are also the only team in the competition to boast two wins over the league leaders, away from home no less, which is what they’ll need to do if they’re to come up against the Flyers in the Grand Final. They make a strong case for the finals but they’ll need to get past the Melbourne Boomers in their semifinal series first. Can they be the first team since Townsville to go back to back?
3 | Melbourne Boomers
After a patchy run in the finals in the earlier part of the decade, the Boomers have been given a third successive opportunity to chase an elusive WNBL Championship.
The Boomers line up has changed a few times since the days of Liz Cambage, but Guy Molloy has excelled in his recruitment each year. Their relentless pursuit of success has not wavered, and they will bring everything they have to take a shot at the title.
The biggest question mark will be the timing and influence of Monique Conti’s stunning exit of the club in favour of her career in the AFLW. Her minutes had been inconsistent all season, but with Lindsay Allen having been sidelined with injury, her minutes off the bench have been valuable.
They ended their season on an absolute high, demolishing the Perth Lynx by 29 points and firing on all cylinders. Seems they will manage without Conti, but in their way stands one of the toughest tasks in the reigning champs, who they defeated by 35 points earlier this season. With Allen returning in their win against the Lynx, the Boomers will like their chances against the Capitals.
A semifinal grudge match series beckons.
4 | Adelaide Lightning
The Lightning were the quiet achievers for the season, finishing 5 games ahead of nearest rivals Perth, but 3 games behind the Boomers and Capitals. The absence of Steph Blicavs would’ve been a challenge to overcome, but the 2018-19 runners up have kept pace with the top teams brilliantly.
They’ll be heading into the semifinals with some wind in their sails as they almost knocked off the Capitals last round on the road, losing by just 2 points in the dying moments. Had they won, the Boomers would’ve gained the home advantage in their semifinal showdown against last year’s champions.
The Lightning will be further buoyed by their wins earlier this season against the Flyers and the Capitals. Given those wins they’ll look to strike again when they take on Southside in their semi final clash. However they will also have to navigate losing the competition's leader in assists, with Nicole Seekamp forced to the sidelines after suffering an untimely ankle injury in their thrilling 1 point win against the Lynx on Thursday night.
Everyone else may have their eyes on the top 3, but Adelaide’s depth, talent and work ethic will be more than enough to give these finals an unexpected shake up. How they cover for Seekamp could well determine whether they can upset the Flyers or not.
All the semifinal action tips off on Sunday, 16 February with the Capitals hosting the Boomers at AIS Arena (5pm) while the Flyers host the Lightning on Tuesday, 18 February at Dandenong Stadium (7:30pm).