The Fire and the Flames, between them, have won the last three WNBL championships. After meeting in last year’s semi-finals, the two teams will do battle again in a three-game series starting on Thursday night.
Game 1: Thursday, 4 January, 8pm AEDT at Townsville Stadium (broadcast on Fox Sports 9:30pm AEDT)
Game 2: Saturday, 6 January, 3pm AEDT at Brydens Stadium (live broadcast on Fox Sports)
Game 3: Monday, 8 January, 7:30pm AEDT at Brydens Stadium (if needed, live broadcast on Fox Sports)
Previous Meetings This Season:
19 October: Sydney Uni defeated Townsville 66-63 at Townsville Stadium
2 December: Townsville defeated Sydney Uni 88-85 at Brydens Stadium
29 December: Sydney Uni defeated Townsville 107-81 at Brydens Stadium
By The Numbers:
Offence: Sydney Uni 81.1 points per game (2nd in WNBL), Townsville 80.6 points per game (3rd in WNBL)
Defence: Sydney Uni 74.9 points allowed per game (4th in WNBL), Townsville 70.1 (2nd)
The first two games between these teams were three-point affairs, and both went the way of the road team. The third game was quite decisive, though, with the Flames defending their home court in a 26-point win just last week, a result that will give them supreme confidence coming into the semi-finals. A five-game winning streak doesn’t hurt, either.
At first glance, the key for Townsville would appear to be Suzy Batkovic- as Suzy goes, so go the Fire. But the Fire’s forward line hasn’t been the problem this year. In games where Batkovic has been quiet, or in foul trouble, Cayla George and Darcee Garbin have been able to step up and fill the void. Indeed, Garbin’s 10-point, 4-reboudn average off the bench is a bit deceptive as she’s had pretty regular 20-point nights in recent weeks, and George is almost averaging a double-double.
For mine the guards are the keys for the Fire. They need points from their backcourt to help out the forwards and open up space for them to operate; no Fire guards are averaging in double figures in scoring, the highest being Mia Murray on 8.8 points per game, so they need some production on offence if they are to win this series.
The Flames have five players averaging in double figures- basically their entire starting group. Jennifer Hamson is also basically an on-demand double-double, averaging 12.9 points and 9.5 rebounds, and Asia Taylor averages 19.6 points, good enough to be fourth in the league. Belinda Snell is shooting 39% from deep on the year, and both Snell and Katie-Rae Ebzery average over 5 assists- they’re second and third in the WNBL respectively in that stat. Alex Wilson’s 12.6 points per game rounds out the starting five.
Depth could be an issue, though. The Flames are smart, experienced players and unlikely to give up cheap fouls, but if foul trouble becomes a factor that could be a weakness Townsville could exploit. That goes double for Taylor and Hamson; giving Batkovic and Garbin space in the paint would be disastrous for Sydney Uni’s title defence.
This is a hard series to pick, so I have to take into account one final X-factor that won’t be reflected on court: my inherent pro-Townsville bias. So I’m going to say Townsville in three, and may the best team win.
Ozhoops Tip: Townsville to win 2-1