Inconsistency hits home

Joel Peterson | Bendigo Weekly | 27-Oct-2017

Kelsey Griffin has had an impressive start to the WNBL season. Photo: Joel Peterson.

If there are two things you need to be successful this Women’s National Basketball League season they are consistency and resiliency.

One trait is something the Bendigo Spirit has shown in spades, the other they are still searching for.

Bendigo is 1-4 after five matches and has played basketball that has been brilliant at times and at other moments downright awful.

Bendigo plays the first of three straight home games tonight against Adelaide, and is hoping for a repeat of its last match, a contest that came last Saturday against none other than the Lightning (second, 4-1).

It was the kind of game the “honourable loss” tag could be associated with, made more encouraging after the Spirit were thumped 106-79 by Perth two days prior.

Bendigo dealt with having spent the previous three days on the road, foul trouble and an injury to Betnijah Laney in the clash in Adelaide but battled its way to a 79-75 overtime loss to the hosts.

Along with plenty of confidence heading into tonight’s matchup given how close they came last week, the injury to Laney is the major by-product of the contest.

She injured her left knee – upon which she had surgery 18 months ago – but a scan early this week showed no damage more serious than a strain.

Pritchard said on Tuesday “I can’t imagine she will play”, though a better-than-expected recovery has her in the frame to suit up if she passes a fitness test, albeit on a heavy minutes restriction.

“So that means Ash Karaitiana will have to play some minutes alongside Rachel Banham, and Ash and Heather Oliver will probably have to find a bit more offensive output for us which they can definitely do,” he said.

After a wild opening three weeks that saw Bendigo play four games on the road – three interstate, and just one at home – the Spirit embarks on a much-needed three-game home stand that will be valuable as a chance to settle into the season.

“It’s been a pretty manic start, so to be back home and playing in front of our crowd will be a big help,” Pritchard said.

Spirit coach Simon Pritchard, Betnijah Laney, Kara Tessari and Rachel Banham visited Bendigo Health this week.

Offensive output, for the most part, has not been Bendigo’s problem through five matches with the Spirit leading the league in points per game by a wide margin.

Instead, it has been the Spirit’s at times calamitous defence that has been the main concern, conceding scores of 93, 90, 106 and 79 in Bendigo’s four losses.

“Against Perth it was embarrassing. We just came out flat, not ready and our communication was just terrible,” Spirit forward Nadeen Payne said.

“The Adelaide game was sort of the standard for us, even though we lost. We really thought the game could have gone either way.

“We got into a bit of foul trouble, myself included, but the girls off the bench like (Ash Spencer) really played well.”

Adelaide got into foul trouble too, in a game that saw 49 fouls called and the teams combine for an enormous 61 foul shots.

Star Abby Bishop fouled out but poses the big threat for the Lightning, the long-time WNBL star averaging an impressive 20 points and seven rebounds so far this campaign.

If they are without Laney, Bendigo will have to replace her scoring load of 13.8 points per game but also her ability to facilitate, with Laney averaging more than three assists.

However Gabe Richards’ most recent performance (22 points, six offensive rebounds) would also indicate Bendigo’s bigs can pick up some of the offensive slack.

“Gabe was excellent on Saturday so hopefully she can keep that kind of form rolling, Kelsey has been unbelievable both in possession work and her scoring,” Pritchard said.

While the results may not always be there for the Spirit, their pressing, up-tempo style provides plenty of entertainment.

“It’s such good fun to play. I’ve never played a press like this much before and when you get it right and can get out and run the lanes it’s great fun,” Payne said.

“I think for us it’s fun so we hope we can get a big crowd in for the next few games and make it fun for the crowd too.”

Tonight’s game tips off at 7pm.


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