The semi-finals leave us with Townsville and Melbourne battling it out for the WNBL championship; Townsville are looking for their third title in four seasons, whilst Melbourne is looking to hoist the trophy for the first time since the 2010/2011 season, back when they were still Bulleen.
Earlier this season:
7 October: Townsville 63-54 Melbourne at State Basketball Centre
29 October: Townsville 64-57 Melbourne at Townsville Stadium
23 November: Townsville 73-66 Melbourne at Townsville Stadium
Offence: Townsville 80.6 points per game (3rd in WNBL), Melbourne 75.2 (5th)
Defence: Melbourne 68.0 points allowed per game (1st in WNBL), Townsville 70.1 (2nd)
In 2011, Liz Cambage was the league MVP; last year, Suzy Batkovic of the Fire won that accolade, and so the obvious matchup to look at is Cambage v Batkovic in the paint. There is a non-zero possibility that one or both of the two centres could end up in foul trouble fairly quickly; let’s just say they take an… impassioned approach to the game. But assuming they get their season averages- also pretty likely- and you need to start focusing on their teammates.
For Townsville, Batkovic has ample help from players like Cayla George and Darcee Garbin. Garbin in particular is playing significant relief minutes and posting a career-high average in scoring; not only that but she’s picked it up late in the season and is averaging over 17 points per game over the last six outings.
The Fire’s forwards are pretty dependable but the guards hold the keys here. Townsville needs some scoring output from Micaela Cocks, Mia Murray and Sydney Wiese from the perimeter. I feel that they haven’t been super-consistent but generally, Townsville has one of these three firing at any given time; if they can get two or three players to post double figures in scoring to help the front line, the Fire probably posts enough points to win.
For Melbourne, they enter the game having lost all three regular-season matchups to Townsville, although the third game in late November was a 7-point loss without Cambage in the lineup. In that game Jenna O’Hea and Louella Tomlinson were the two top scorers, and they had a good cameo from Ashleigh Grant with 11 points in 16 minutes. If O’Hea and Maddie Garrick are given free reign on offence it could be a long night for the home team.
My X-factor for Melbourne in this one is Kalani Purcell; she’s a player who can do basically whatever is needed from her. One week she’ll have 10 or 11 rebounds; the next, she’s posting 8 assists. She’s not relied upon in Melbourne’s system to score a lot of points, but she’s able to contribute at both ends of the floor, so keeping her off the glass and keeping the ball out of her hands will be big.
Melbourne and Townsville allowed the fewest points all year on average, so these are unlikely to be high-scoring affairs; instead the two teams will be grinding it out starting on Saturday.
Game 1: Townsville Stadium, 6:30 pm local time Saturday (7:30 pm AEDT)
Fox Sports live coverage on channel 506