WNBL Semi-Final Preview: Perth v Melbourne

The irresistible force (Perth’s offence) meets the immovable object (Melbourne’s defence) in the first semi-final series starting on Wednesday.

The Semi-Finals:

Game 1: Wednesday, 3 January at 19:30 AEDT, State Basketball Centre, Melbourne
Game 2: Friday, 5 January at 21:30 AEDT, Bendat Basketball Centre, Perth
Game 3: Sunday, 7 January at 17:00 AEDT, Bendat Basketball Centre, Perth if needed

All games live on Fox Sports

Previous Meetings in 2017:

21 October: Melbourne defeated Perth 79-77 at the State Basketball Centre
17 December: Perth defeated Melbourne 92-89 at the State Basketball Centre
23 December: Perth defeated Melbourne 84-66 at Bendat Basketball Centre

By The Numbers:

Offence: Perth 82.6 points per game (1st in the WNBL), Melbourne 75.2 (5th)
Defence: Melbourne 68.0 points allowed per game (1st in the WNBL), Perth 77.4 (5th)

The Keys:

Perth got some good news on Monday, with Craig O’Donoghue reporting in The West Australian that Sami Whitcomb has been cleared of any major injury after the weekend’s games. Whitcomb fell awkwardly in the second quarter in the game against Townsville and landed on her wrist- she did not return and there were fears that she had fractured it (not an uncommon injury- even I’ve had one of those in my storied basketball career, although mine was my non-dominant hand.)

The Lynx still enter the series battered and bruised, however, with Whitcomb no certainty to play and centre Amanda Dowe also in doubt with a knee injury sustained in Friday’s game against University of Canberra. Perth probably still has enough scoring punch with Alice Kunek and Kayla Standish able to contribute, but if Dowe is unavailable that takes away a defensive option in the paint.

The paint is the key for Melbourne, although perhaps not in the way you might think. Elizabeth Cambage finished the regular season as the league’s leading scorer and rebounder, and the Boomers’ offence flows through (and revolves around) her. But stopping Cambage isn’t the biggest issue- she averages 25 points and 11 rebounds in wins, and 20 points and just under 9 rebounds in losses, so not a huge difference in output. It’s her teammates that merit the attention- if you can keep players like Rebecca Cole, Jenna O’Hea and Maddie Garrick restrained, Cambage can get hers but you can still get the win. That happened in Melbourne on 17 December- Cambage had 38 points and 17 rebounds, arguably her best performance of the year, but the Lynx forced 22 turnovers, 6 of those off Courtney Williams steals.

But even in that game the Boomers scored well above their season average; O’Hea had 14, Garrick 16 and Cole 14; if it wasn’t for the turnovers that sort of tally would see Melbourne winning against anyone on any other night. And defensively is where the Lynx might miss Whitcomb the most if she’s unable to play. As well as the Perth backcourt of Whitcomb and Williams being scorers, combining for 39 points a game, they are also both in the top four in the league in terms of steals per game. It’s possible that the Lynx might take the gamble and play Whitcomb on Wednesday because of her defensive presence, and hope other players can pick up the slack.

I’m going for Perth in 3 here but there are some big question marks over the Lynx- and one question mark over whether Melbourne, still a relatively new team and still a little inconsistent, can take advantage of the wounded westerners.

Ozhoops Tip: Perth to win 2-1