Title contenders clash to open New Year

A COUPLE of massive top five clashes open the 2024 portion of the WNBL season. Alongside a top of the table clash later on tonight from 7:30pm in Townsville between the Fire and Perth Lynx, the all-Victorian contest between Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers at Parkville is set to be a beauty.

Sydney Flames split the two teams on the live ladder between third placed Southside and fifth placed Melbourne Boomers, though the latter is equal with the Flames. The importance of the victory for both sides is evident and not just because of the Flames.

A win for the Flyers would create some breathing room between them and the other two sides, while joining the Lynx on eight wins, or edging closer to top spot if Perth causes an upset over the top of the table Fire. That contest is just as critical, with Townsville having the potential to move two games clear on top, while the Lynx can join the Fire in pole position after losing to them just prior to the new year.

Southside comes into the match with some up-and-down form, losing to both the top two sides, while knocking off bottom three sides Bendigo Spirit (twice) and UC Capitals across the month of December, The Flyers are on a 5-2 record since the start of Round 4 and have beaten the top two sides in the early days of the season as well.

In their previous encounter way back in Round 1, Melbourne Boomers secured the seven-point win over the Flyers at the State Basketball Centre, getting up 77-70. Mercedes Russell and Lauren Jackson are a formidable one-two punch for the Flyers and will be hard to contain, while Rebecca Cole (15 points, four assists) and Maddison Rocci (5.1 assists) have become key playmakers for the side.

The Boomers have their own firepower though, with Jordin Canada (14.9 points, 8.6 assists) one of the best playmakers in the league. She will find open looks for her teammates and draw opponents on offence, pairing well with Sara Blicavs who can focus on being closer to the basket. Naz Hillmon (13.7 points, 9.3 rebounds) has been a welcome addition to the Boomers, with both her and Keely Froling (9.9 rebounds) up to the task to tackle Russell and Jackson.

Expect the game to go down to the wire with the first tip-off at 6pm, allowing fans to check out that top five clash before honing in on the later top of the table contest between the Fire and Lynx.

Just last week on New Year’s Eve, Townsville proved too strong for Perth Lynx, running away with the match bby 23 points, 87-64. That was perhaps a little unfair to the Lynx who had been competitive up until the midway point of the final term. Missing star talent Aari McDonald, the Lynx did not have the answer for Sami Whitcomb and Courtney Woods on the scoring front.

Off the boards, the duo of Zitina Aokuso and Mikaela Ruef combined for 19 rebounds, while also getting on attack and putting up 21 points between them. That depth of talent is a scary proposition for any side, with Whitcomb and Woods draining 47 between them, as well as 10 assists and five rebounds. Steph Reid is the playmaker for the side, having a near double-double of eight points and seven assists in that win.

Though still without McDonald who is recovering from a minor ligament tear to her right knee, the Lynx have the talent to stand up. Boasting the best rebounder in the competition in Anneli Maley, they just need others to step up and help her in the absence of McDonald. Last week she tried to do it all with 18 points and 13 rebounds, team-highs in both stats. Amy Atwell (15 points, four rebounds) tried hard to provide support, but the rest of the Lynx side was single-digit points.

Expect Townsville to be too strong at home again with the depth the Fire have, but Perth will be better for the last clash learning plenty out of it, and the Lynx can go back to the drawing board.

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