WNBL Round 18 Preview

Sydney Uni vs Townsville

Time: 7:30PM

Friday 7th February

Brydens Stadium

For Townsville, this game is its most important game leading into the Finals. With a win, they can potentially grab third place on the ladder, leapfrogging a struggling and injured Melbourne to a Finals' showdown at home. Sydney played admirably against the Bendigo Spirit, only dropping the game by 9 points. The Flames will be no pushover for the Fire, especially playing away from home. The Spirit have been led by Rohanee Cox for the past 2 weeks. Cox has averaged 17 points and 7.3 rebounds in this time-frame, leading her squad towards the end of the season where the games don't count for anything with regards to their position on the ladder. However, if there is one thing Rohanee Cox and fellow veteran, Katie-Rae Ebzery would want, it would be to send Townsville home unhappy without a home-final.

Townsville needs to win this game. With Melbourne currently half a game in front of them, a win is crucial for that important home-final. Last week, it was Steph Cumming who stepped up as a member of the starting line-up for a big game, while the bench continued to give a solid performance. Which member of the Fire's starting line-up will support Suzy this week? Standish? McCully? Cocks? Cumming again? It seems to be a different player each week. With the Finals on the horizon, each starting 5 member needs to be playing their best basketball. Hopefully, Olivia Thompson can earn some more playing time as she is a talented youngster able to score quickly if she gets going.

Sydney Uni is going to make Townsville chances of a home-final much tougher in this game. Flames by 6

Credit Geoff Tripp for photography.

Melbourne vs Dandenong

Time: 7:30PM

Friday 7th February

State Basketball Center

A little cross-town rivalry to start the second-last round should really spice things up. Dandenong are flying towards the second-chance Finals' game against Bendigo, playing great basketball in the process. Meanwhile, the Boomers struggle to deal with the loss of both Rachael Jarry and Chelsea Poppens. Melbourne's attack needs to be led by both Rebecca Cole and Rebecca Allen. In the absence of Poppens, Cole is doing her best to make up the difference. Averaging 15 points and 3 rebounds in games without Poppens, she's way up from her season averages of 7.6 points and 1.8 rebounds. Coach Guy Molloy has given her extended opportunity to shine, and she has not disappointed. Bec Allen is now left to lead the team, alongside captain Tess Madgen. Allen's last game against the Rangers saw her put up 24 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. Don't be surprised if she puts up an even bigger game this week. Also, look for Amelia Todhunter to provide a big impact off the bench.

The WNBA-experience that the starting five players of the Boomers have will make life hard for the Rangers, but how will the former Boomers play? Alice Kunek and Jenna O'Hea are both players that are at the top of their positions in the league. O'Hea will have her MVP-candidacy tested by Bec "Spider" Allen, who is a top defensive player in the league. If O'Hea can shake Allen loose and score at her usual 20-point weekly outburst, the Rangers should be up in this one. Alice Kunek's game revolves around her work on the offensive end and with Kunek averaging 22.7 points in her last 4 games, Kunek needs to keep her shooting streak going. The Rangers need to keep looking to her as she is more than capable in challenging the depleted Boomers on defense as well.

The Boomers are going to send their home crowd out on a high with this being the last game at the State Basketball Center for the season. The Boomers are likely to cause a big upset in this one. Boomers by 2

Dandenong vs Bendigo

Time: 7:30PM

Saturday 8th February

Dandenong Basketball Stadium

This game is likely to give us a taste of the A-grade basketball we are destined to witness in two weeks time. Bendigo have got the better of Dandenong both times this season. The Spirit has held Dandenong from going on a typical high-scoring outburst in each encounter. So far in this season, Bendigo has tamed Dandenong and for Dandenong to win, the Rangers need to start with defense. Guarding the paint is more than important. Kayla Pederson and Jenna O'Hea need to lock down the painted area while limiting opportunities for Kelsey Griffin, Elyse Penaluna and Gabe Richards. They need to force the Spirit to shoot from outside and have the guards play off the three-point line, instead of settling for long two's.

Bendigo need to go straight to their bread and butter which is to force their way into the key, looking for buckets from their bigs. The inside/outside game that the Spirit possesses is one of a kind; Sara Blicavs, Kelly Wilson and even Kristi Harrower are all able to knock down a long-range shot. Elyse Penaluna will be going up against former teammates Jenna O'Hea and Alice Kunek, so get ready for the talented big to show why her squad is better than her former mates. Sara Blicavs is recently coming off a Player of the Week performance and with Dandenong struggling to get any impact from the bench, Blicavs could prove to be the difference with her offensive and defensive output.

Sara Blicavs will be the difference. Spirit by 8

West Coast vs Adelaide

Time: 7:30PM

Saturday 8th February

WA Basketball Center

Nothing but pride to play for in this game. West Coast are looking to earn some late-season respect around the competition, while Adelaide are fighting to show that they should have made the Finals and to earn respect entering next season. The Waves have lost 20 games on the trot now. As bad as this may sound, they have not been an awful side this season. Nobody expected them to set the world on fire, but I'm sure they still would have expected more with the youthful squad they possess. Nobody will want this win more than Waves veterans Natalie Burton, Melissa Marsh and Toni Edmonson. These girls have led this team through thick and thin all through the year, and will be attempting to stop Adelaide in their tracks in this encounter. The big task for them would be to stop Laura Hodges. Hodges is having another fantastic year, so if Burton can hold her back, the Waves might beat a team in their season series (they beat Adelaide in Round 1).

Laura Hodges is currently coming off winning the Player of the Month award for January after playing 5 games with a stellar 20.8 point and 6.8 rebound average, leading her team to a 60% month. She also has the lead in highest field goal percentage at 59.2%. Hodges is a virtual lock-in for an All-Star five nomination, and will look to solidify this nomination against West Coast. Laura typically starts well and it will be her quick start that gets her Lightning the win once they catch the young Waves napping. Jenni Screen has been playing some terrific basketball and it has been Screen who has kept the Lightning in the Finals' picture for longer than expected after losing Jess Foley.

Adelaide will finish the season strong with only 2 games to go. Lightning by 11.

Canberra vs Townsville

Time: 1PM

Sunday 9th February

AIS Arena

Abby Bishop vs Suzy Batkovic. After you've taken that in, you can go on with reading the rest of this preview. The league's two premier bigs, who may even be considered the league's two best players, will be squaring up in this one. Townsville is one of the only two teams (other being Melbourne) with anything to play for, ladder-wise. Canberra played a fantastic, well-balanced game of basketball with the whole team chipping in. The hustle which they exhibited was terrific, with Natalie Hurst and also Energizer bunny, Jess Bibby, diving on balls and making interceptions without fear of what was to come next. Abby Bishop has just picked up her 3rd Player of the Week award for the season after scoring a career high 29 points against the Boomers. Bishop will ride this confidence into her match-up with Suzy.

With the most on the line, Townsville travel to Canberra knowing that the Capitals have the ability to knock them, or and any other team off. They flexed their defensive muscle against the Lightning last week, holding them to only 2 points in the third quarter. That may be unlikely to happen again, but the Fire needs to close out on Canberra's plethora of shooters, especially Jess Bibby who can get it going in a hurry from the bench. Rachael McCully is Townsville's biggest weapon and x-factor. She can shoot, pass, defend, and on the whole, keep the team together. Rachael needs to find Townsville's shooters early on to get past Canberra's interior presence.

Canberra have been in top form lately and they look to continue their winning ways with a win at home. Capitals by 7

Bendigo vs Melbourne

Time: 2PM

Sunday 9th February

Bendigo Basketball Stadium

Bendigo will play against a depleted Melbourne side to end the round. Amber Hegge and Rebecca Allen have their work cut out for them in trying to contain the Spirit's fearsome trio underneath the rim. Kristi Harrower is having a season to remember and it should only continue with the depleted Boomers. They've lacked the true presence in the middle and have struggled to defend the paint with Abby Bishop taking advantage of this over the past two weeks. Look for Harrower to keep her assist numbers ticking over by making some unbelievable passes through the heart of Melbourne's defense. Chelsea Aubry has seen increased minutes and has upped her performance with the added playing time. Look for Aubry and less-utilized players to earn some more playing time with the Finals around the corner.

The Boomers have exceeded all expectations this season. They were tipped to be a cellar-dweller, but Guy Molloy has led them to the promise land. Big parts of this were because of Chelsea Poppens and Rachael Jarry, but now without the both of them, how will they cope? Nicole Romeo and Amelia Todhunter are both key pieces to the Boomers late-season run. They both provide a huge spark scoring-wise and can immediately ignite the Melbourne offense. Both players can hit a clutch-three, take it to the rack and both can provide big hustle plays; these two will be key to how the game unfolds.

Bendigo is just too strong. Even when Poppens was playing, the Boomers struggled against the Spirit and this time round, without her, the Boomers are likely to crumble against Bendigo. Bendigo by 14

Logan vs Sydney Uni

Time: 2PM

Sunday 9th February

Logan Metro

The last game of the long 7-game round sees the Logan Thunder take on the Sydney Uni Flames. Logan has had a difficult season, but will look to finish the season off strong. Natalie Taylor has made a fantastic return from injury, but her impact was needed much earlier in the season. She adds to Logan as another scoring option where she is averaging 13 points a game. She joins Sarah Graham as part of a dynamic scoring backcourt. Emma Langford needs a game similar to the one she had against Melbourne (24 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) after three poor games. She has the opportunity to do this against the Flames who aren't as strong on the inside compared to her last two opponents.

Sydney Uni defeated Logan comprehensively last time they played, beating them by 18 points. Kathleen Scheer has been fantastic as the first option off the bench. Her scoring and defense has allowed the Sydney to play their starters less without losing anything on either offense or defense. When these two teams last met up, it was Alicia Poto who was the best performer on the court. She finished with 22 points and 4 assists, hitting 6 three's at the same time. Poto needs to work the ball from the perimeter, and in combination with Katie-Rae Ebzery, they should be able to create many open attempts.

Sydney by 8