WNBL: It's finals time for Sydney, Dandenong, Townsville and Perth
The final round of the WNBL regular season saw teams hopes of finals crushed, and other team's dreams realised. With Sydney finishing on top, they prepare to take on Townsville in a 3-game Semi Final series, while Dandenong will host Perth in another 3-game series with the first teams to two wins facing off in the Grand Final series.
Round 19 did not get off to a good start for Canberra, with news that guard Abbey Wehrung was set to miss the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury in Round 18.
A Thursday night match for the Capitals against Adelaide was meant to be the one they’d win, they would then face Townsville later in the round with the winner making finals, and the loser eliminated. However, things did not turn out that way. Adelaide had other plans for the Capitals, with a never-say-die attitude they came out 2 point winners at 76-74. It was a win that meant nothing for the rest of their season but meant everything for their spirit and their club.
Colleen Planeta was phenomenal, with a top-scoring effort of 29 points accompanied by 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots as she helped keep her side just in front. Alex Ciabattoni (20 points) and Laura Hodges (18 points) were there to help inspire the Lightning to this win.
Jazmon Gawthmey tried her best by top scoring for the Capitals with 16 points, but Adelaide’s early lead was something they could not recover from. Marianna Tolo (15 points) and Mikaela Ruef (6 points, 11 rebounds) both had an opportunity in the dying moments but the Lightning kept their defence strong and forced the shot to miss.
The fact that Canberra were able to turn their match against Townsville into a win would be leaving a bittersweet taste in their mouth. They strung together a much better game and proved a finals spot could of been within reach had they scored 3 more points against Adelaide. The Capitals secured a 90-83 win over Townsville to finish off their season.
Mikaela Ruef had a standout game with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, while Lauren Mansfield controlled the game from the point with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Marianna Tolo was also instrumental with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Suzy Batkovic put in another MVP worthy game, top scoring with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Her fellow bigs in Kayla Standish (14 points, 6 rebounds) and Darcee Garbin (13 points) gave the Fire some solid momentum.
Whilst the game no longer meant anything for the Capitals season, it also meant everything as it was WNBL veteran Carly Wilson’s final game. The fairytale championship ending was out of reach, but Wilson has plenty to be proud about after completing her career on 363 games as a true champion of this league.
Whilst Adelaide’s final win came against Canberra earlier in the round, they gave their all to Sydney two dates later and only lost 98-83 to the league’s current top side.
Colleen Planeta again managed a top-scoring effort, capping off an excellent breakout year for the American forward. Totalling 21 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists, Planeta has proven she has what it takes just as much as the WNBL’s most elite. Laura Hodges (19 points) and Jessica Good (15 points) also had solid games as the Lightning capped off a brilliant second half to their season.
Leilani Mitchell top scored for the Flames with 17 points and 6 assists, but one even spread of game time gave a lot of Sydney players an opportunity as they approach the finals as the team to beat.
It was the battle for second spot as Dandenong took on Perth at home, and in what was meant to be a close game proved to be a thumping by the Rangers, outscoring the Lynx 81-59. The Rangers blitzed Perth from the start, as the WNBL’s sharp shooting side from the west struggled to hit a shot.
Perth finished on a dismal 28% field goal shooting average, with stars like Sami Whitcomb, Carley Mijovic and Brianna Butler unable to find their usual rhythm. That said, Whitcomb still starred with 17 points - but it all accounts for a game that Perth would much rather put behind them heading into finals.
Sara Blicavs was a standout for the Rangers with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals, alongside Steph Cumming (19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) and Natalie Novosel (17 points, 7 rebounds).
In a game that meant nothing for both sides, Melbourne and Bendigo still battled it out like they were playing for a finals position. The Spirit took home the 1-point win at 80-79, led by Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe who totalled 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists.
Top scoring for the match was Maddie Garrick for Melbourne, who brought in 21 points to her side’s respectable effort.
Blake Dietrick top scored for the Spirit with 17 points.
Capping off a brilliant weekend, Bendigo backed up their performance against finals contenders Perth in another thrilling 1 point victory. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe delivered the winning shot from just inside the 3-point line at the top of the key, she got the shot up with 1.6 seconds to go to put the Spirit in front.
In addition to her game winning shot, Raincock-Ekunwe delivered another outstanding performance with 17 points and 7 rebounds. Nadeen Payne also put in a solid effort with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists, alongside Kelsey Griffin with 13 points and 9 rebounds.
Perth improved their shooting percentage, and got some nice figures from Sami Whitcomb (22 points), Carley Mijovic (16 points) and Ruth Hamblin (11 points, 11 rebounds).
Whilst the Capitals and the Spirt would be disappointed in just missing out on a finals opportunity, the fact that it came down to the final round shows more about the standard of the WNBL currently than anything else. Adelaide and Melbourne both showed major signs of improvement towards the latter half of the season and have set the groundwork for some big seasons ahead of them.
SEMI FINAL PREVIEWS
Sydney Flames v Townsville Fire
In all of their 4 games this season the combined difference reaches only 10 points, proving just how close these two teams are. Sydney have the upper hand with 3 wins to Townsville’s 1, but the proximity of the points scored makes this one hanging in balance. Sydney have shown this season they are comfortable in the close games, trusting their experts to do what they do best. Townsville however, are the league’s two-time reigning WNBL Champions and that experience can’t be ignored. Both team’s stars who play at opposite ends of the court in Suzy Batkovic and Leilani Mitchell will be crucial to their side’s chance at a Grand Final.
Asia Taylor v Mia Murray Taylor has clocked some big games against the Fire this season, and a player of her ability should feature heavily in finals. Mia Murray is a finals player, and her defensive intensity will be crucial to Townsville’s game plan.
Dandenong Rangers v Perth Lynx
In a complete opposite situation to Semi Final 1, Dandenong and Perth’s closest margin out of all 4 games this year has been 10 points. Dandenong have the upper hand over Perth, registering 3 huge wins to Perth’s 1. The Rangers will head into this game with plenty of confidence after their most recent win over Perth, but that won’t be stopping the Lynx from giving it their all. We know they love their perimeter game, and once they are hot that are pretty hard to stop. The challenge for the Rangers is containing their shooters, while Perth will need to shut down the dynamic duo of Steph Cumming and Sara Blicavs by changing the tempo of the match.
Steph Cumming v Sami Whitcomb Whilst Cumming may play a little taller than Whitcomb, these two scoring machines will need to provide their teams with their A-game.