Flyers or Capitals? WNBL Grand Final hinges on game 1
After two brilliant semifinals series, the stage is set for the 2020 WNBL Grand Final in the league's 40th season.
One could argue it is the old versus the new, with the reigning champion University of Canberra Capitals set to defend their title against the Southside Flyers who are competing in their inaugural season.
The quality of the league and the finals teams was on show in the semifinals, with an excellent Adelaide Lightning gallant in defeat against the Flyers, while the Capitals navigated their way past a very talented Deakin Melbourne Boomers outfit in a series that had everyone talking.
Now it all comes down to this. The best two teams all season will go head-to-head in game 1 of the best-of-three Grand Final series tipping off at 5:00pm on Sunday at Dandenong Stadium.
Can the Capitals go back-to-back?
Make no mistake, the Capitals roster is loaded and they will like their chances of securing a second straight WNBL championship.
The Capitals are star-studded, experienced and boast winners throughout their roster, also featuring the most recent two league MVP's in Kia Nurse (2020) and Kelsey Griffin (2019). The latter is also a three-time WNBL champion and Grand Final MVP who has done it all before, while head coach Paul Gorris is this season's Coach of the Year.
Throw in Opals centre and three-time WNBL champion Marianna Tolo, one of the best point guards in the league in Olivia Epoupa, and one of the best players to come off the bench in the league in Keely Froling, the Capitals are deep. Oh, and then there is Maddison Rocci too! Arguably the only other team with as much star power as the Capitals is the Flyers, and it is only fitting they will play off for this year's crown.
The Flyers lost only 4 games this season, and two of those came at the hands of the Capitals, and both turned into blowouts. Needless to say that the Capitals are not intimated by the Flyers.
When the two teams met in November, the Capitals inflicted the first loss of the season on the Flyers, a 19-point road victory. Their 24 point win on January 19 was also emphatic. While Griffin was missing due to injury in the second win, O'Hea was absent for the Flyers. What was common in both victories by the Capitals was that they had five players score in double figures. Sandwiched in between those wins was the Flyers' 5 point win over the Capitals. In that loss, the Capitals only had two players in double digit scoring, and it is something that will be looking to avoid once again. A spread of scoring is likely to be the key to the Capitals chances against the Flyers.
After an impressive semifinal game 3 win against the Boomers, the Capitals stars are all in good form. They will head to Dandenong for game 1 full of confidence, knowing they have beaten the Flyers on their home court both times they have met.
The return of Jenna O'Hea
She is back.
The minor premier Flyers have been without arguably their most important player, with team captain Jenna O'Hea sidelined by a broken wrist suffered in a thrilling overtime victory against the Boomers back in January. However the Opals captain is set to make her much-anticipated return on Sunday for game 1.
While the Flyers have been good enough to progress through to the Grand Final without her, and Aimee Clydesale the difference-make in game 2 against Adelaide, O'Hea's return will see the Flyers return to full strength, and it could not have come at a better time against a stacked Capitals outfit.
O’Hea was providing 14.1 points,4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting the three-ball at a blistering 47.1% prior to her injury. While Aimee Clydesdale was able to successfully step into the starting void, with O'Hea back in the lineup, head coach Cheryl Chambers now has a more versatile and potent lineup. Just how much O'Hea can contribute may well play a large role in determining the victor. A three-game series could well fall into the hands of the Flyers who will be hosting games 1 and 3 if required.
Experience and veteran leadership counts for everything in the finals, and O'Hea is one player you want by your side when you go into battle against the one team to have seriously troubled the Flyers this season. With her return, the Flyers have all the key pieces back -- their 5-headed monster -- including Leilani Mitchell, Bec Cole, Mercedes Russell and Sara Blicavs, all averaging 13 points or more.
In mentioning the championship qualities of the Capitals, the Flyers have just as much experience and veteran leadership.
Russell is the league's Defensive Player of the Year, and will be charged with negating Tolo. The potential match=-up between Nurse and Cole pits two of the league's top 5 scorers against each other, both named to All-WNBL First and Second teams this season. Froling will have her hands full with Blicavs, and O'Hea up against Griffin will be fun to watch, however the battle of the point guards could well determine who holds aloft the WNBL trophy.
All-WNBL First Team member Mitchell will go toe-to-toe with Epoupa, with the importance of both players to their respective club's title aspirations crucial. Epoupa's playmaking has been exceptional in the finals and it was her offensive spark against the Boomers that put her side in the box seat to win. Mitchell's three-point shooting has been key for the Flyers this season, but it could be her ability to defend Epoupa in the grand final series that determines he team's fate.
It all hinges on game 1
The one thing for certain is that we are about to witness one cracking WNBL Grand Final series! The best of Australian women's basketball will be on show, and it is extremely tough to call out a winner.
I'm hedging everything on the outcome of this Sunday's game 1.
If the Flyers can snare Sunday's game at home, I think that they can ride that confidence and sense of belief to win one of the next two games and win their first WNBL title. Whereas if the Capitals come away with a road win this week, the Flyers will find it extremely difficult to score a win in Canberra, and therefore I see the Capitals earning a record 9th WNBL title.
It all comes down to Sunday in Dandenong.
Flyers by 2 in one of the best games of women's basketball you may ever see.
202 WNBL Grand Final Series Schedule
Game 1 - Sunday, 1 March: 5:00pm @ Dandenong Stadium | Live Stats
Game 2 - Wednesday 4 March: 7:30pm @AIS Arena | Live Stats
Game 3 (if req) - Sunday, 18 March @ Dandenong Stadium | Live Stats
Every game will be broadcast live via Fox Sports Australia or online via Kayo Sports.