JUST five games remain in the 2022/23 Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) with the first of those matches tipping off tonight in a massive Wednesday night fixture. The Wednesday night clash between top of the ladder Townsville Fire and Bendigo Spirit is a last chance for the latter to try and squeeze into the finals, while for the former, they can secure top spot.
Tonight’s big clash between Townsville and Bendigo sees the sides meet in Bendigo for the first time in 13 months. Since the Spirit lost to the Fire by 10 points back on January 21 last year at home, Townsville has hosted the last three matches. Though Bendigo strung the first two of those into wins of five and two points up in North Queensland, the most recent clash between the pair – which was just 11 days ago – resulted in Townsville slamming the Spirit by 26 points.
The respective team formlines are the complete contrasts in the sense that the Fire seem to be continually going up, while the Spirit have not been able to but a win of late. Bendigo’s last win came on January 22 when they upstaged Melbourne Boomers by five points in a thrilling clash. Since then, the Spirit have fallen in five consecutive matches, including a 43-point demolition at the hands of the Boomers. Other losses include Perth (twice), Townsville and Southside Flyers.
Townsville on the other hand, has strung together 10 straight wins to rise up the ladder into top spot and set up what looks to be a minor premiership tilt. Since losing back-to-back games to Melbourne Boomers and Adelaide Lightning either side of the New Year, Townsville has not taken a backwards step, and with the re-addition of Shyla Heal, has only got stronger.
Heal played the first 13 games of her 2022/23 season with Sydney Flames, where the guard averaged 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists. While she has not been required as much for the Fire since coming into the program – Heal has averaged around 22 minutes on court as opposed to 35 with the Flames – she is still deadly when released.
Lauren Nicholson has been an incredibly reliable source, with the veteran averaging 16.6 points throughout the campaign, to support the contributions of Tianna Hawkins (17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists) and Karlie Samuelson (14.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists). Mikaela Ruef has unsurprisingly been a star off the boards with 8.9 rebounds alongside 9.5 points and 2.3 assists.
It will be a tough ask for Bendigo to overcome that kind of depth though on paper, the Spirit have the team to turn around their poor form. Anneli Maley has not missed a beat all season en route to 16.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, while the ageless Kelsey Griffin has been a huge inclusion too, with 15.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Alex Wilson (11.2 points, 3.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds) and Kelly Wilson (6.0 assists, 1.7 steals) are others who have provided that great support.
The clash is set to be one to watch with so much on the line, but ultimately if the favourites win, then the Spirit will finish the season on a six-game losing streak and bow out missing finals. But if they can get up, then it opens the door that puts pressure on fourth placed Perth Lynx in their back-to-back games, while Townsville will need to win the top of the table clash against Southside Flyers to grab the minor premiership.