WNBL: Grand Final awaits, while All Star Five announced
The 2016/17 WNBL Grand Final will see the league’s leading team Sydney Uni Flames take on the Dandenong Rangers in a 3-game series.
The Flames took the Semi Final series in two games, as the reigning premiers Townsville couldn’t make it over the line. Game 2 saw Leilani Mitchell cause headaches for the Fire, as the point guard dominated with 16 points and 7 assists, leading her team to a Grand Final.
There was a late surge from the Fire, who came out from half time with a point to make. It was a standout performance from Suzy Batkovic, who brought in 14 points and 17 rebounds, alongside Mia Murray who tried her best with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
But it came down to Sydney’s efficiency and clean-cut version of basketball they’ve been doing so well this season. Committing just four turnovers to Townsville’s 16, proved how effective the Flames are with the ball. They didn’t win the rebound count, but they didn’t have to. Having more shots at the hoop and their expertise with taking care of the ball in offence were the cause of Townsville’s woes, and the reason the reigning champions lost their shot at a WNBL Championship three-peat.
Tahlia Tupaea was brilliant off the bench for Sydney, totalling 18 points and 10 rebounds, alongside their consistent performers in Belinda Snell (13 points), Alex Wilson (11 points) and Asia Taylor (10 points, 8 rebounds).
You can catch all the highlights from the Fire and Flames' Game 2 here:
The Rangers will face the Flames in this season’s Grand Final after overcoming the Perth Lynx in three games.
The Rangers were vocal in the lead up to their Game 2 about stopping Sami Whitcomb, but the Perth guard wasn’t having any of it. Scoring a WNBL Semi-Final record of 41 points, alongside 9 rebounds and 4 assists, Whitcomb was out to save her team’s season, and she did just that in Game 2. Shooting at an epic 62% from the field, Whitcomb also dropped 8 three-pointers from 12 in a historic finals performance.
For the Rangers, Steph Cumming was brilliant with 30 points and 7 rebounds and Sara Blicavs was strong with 14 points. But it was a Whitcomb cyclone that took control of Game 2, and ensured this Semi Final series was going down to 3 games.
However, the Rangers were quick to bounce back from their loss to ensure they would make an appearance in the Grand Final, beating the Lynx at Dandenong Stadium, 81-63.
It was all Steph Cumming again, with her massive 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists leading the way for the Rangers.
The task was to clearly shut Sami Whitcomb down, and whilst Amelia Todhunter did a great effort on the Lynx guard - she still managed 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. It was a solid effort defensively for Dandenong who limited her effectiveness, but you must be pretty damn good to still ring in those numbers on a ‘bad day’.
Helping Whitcomb was point guard Tessa Lavey, who provided plenty of sparks for the Lynx beyond the arc and with some decent passing inside the key. She totalled 8 points, 5 assists and 2 steals for the night.
Natalie Novosel (16 points) and Jacinta Kennedy (13 points) were also on hand to provide the Rangers with the depth inside that they needed.
Grand Final Preview
These two teams have kept their scores relatively close throughout the year, with Sydney holding the upper hand with 2 wins to Dandenong’s 1.
There’s not much between the two teams, but as we’ve seen so many times this season if it remains close, Sydney are experts at taking home a close win.
These two teams have very different strengths, and a one-on-one match up won’t be the focus of the match. Leilani Mitchell is the key to Sydney, the firing point guard makes her team play well and will run out the entire match. Steph Cumming plays a different, but very important role for the Rangers with a bit more height and ability to take it to the rim inside. A key one to watch though will be Asia Taylor and Sara Blicavs - both talls have the ability to step up in big moments and provide sparks for their teams.
The story so far…
Dandenong Stadium 3/12/2016 Dandenong 91 Sydney 83 Dandenong: Ally Malott 22 points | Sara Blicavs 19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists | Steph Cumming 17 points, 6 assists Sydney: Belinda Snell 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists | Alex Wilson 20 points | Leilani Mitchell 14 points, 7 assists
Brydens Stadium 17/12/2016 Sydney 82 Dandenong 67 Sydney: Asia Taylor 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals | Leilani Mitchell 10 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists | Jennifer Hamson 10 points, 12 rebounds | Alex Wilson, 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists. Dandenong: Natalie Novosel 14 points, 5 rebounds | Aimie Clydesdale 15 points, 4 assists | Sara Blicavs 7 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.
Brydens Stadium 11/2/2017 Sydney 81 Dandenong 77 Sydney: Leilani Mitchell, 19 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists | Jennifer Hamson 16 points, 14 rebounds | Belinda Snell 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists. Dandenong: Steph Cumming 25 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists | Ally Malott, 20 points
Grand Final schedule:
Saturday March 11, Brydens Stadium.
Friday March 17, Dandenong Stadium
* Sunday March 19, Brydens Stadium (if permits).
All Star Five
The WNBL All Star Five has been announced, with four teams represented as Suzy Batkovic (Townsville Fire), Marianna Tolo (Canberra Capitals), Asia Taylor (Sydney Flames), Sami Whitcomb (Perth Lynx) and Leilani Mitchell (Sydney Flames) claim the honour.
Batkovic has become the seventh player in WNBL history to be named in six or more All Star Five teams. Batkovic finished second in points per game with an average of 21.2 and totalled an average rebound count of 10.6.
Tolo's return to the WNBL has been a clear success, finishing third for points per game with 18.1 points, and third again for rebounds with 8.5 per game.
It's her first season in the WNBL and Flames forward Taylor is the only All-Star Five member to be claiming her first selection. The depth she has provided Sydney has been first class this year, and finished on 16.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Lynx guard Whitcomb has arguably been the standout all season, leading the competition with an average of 23.6 points, and scored a regular season total of 567 points.
Flames player Mitchell has been the league's dominant point guard all season, and has led the league in assists, averaging 6.12 per game. She has also averaged 16.1 points and 3.9 rebounds throughout the season as well.
You can check out all the All Star Five highlights below: