Bendigo Spirit went down then bounced back up but ultimately fell short of Perth Lynx in a demanding WNBL battle on Sunday.
The Lynx were unstoppable in the first half as they stormed to a 54-37 half-time lead behind 16 first-half points from emerging forward Carley Mijovic and relentless, physical defence.
With a vocal Bendigo Stadium crowd behind them the Spirit found their defence and regained their shooting touch as they came back to within four points late in the third quarter.
Yet the Lynx turned the tables on the Spirit with two timely three-pointers as they took their lead back out to double figures before powering home in the final quarter to win 86-73.
Lynx centre Louella Tomlinson scored 10 of her 17 points in the second half along with shooter Sami Whitcomb, who also had 17 points.
Belinda Snell led the Spirit with 16 points while Kelsey Griffin had 15 points, five rebounds and four steals and Gabe Richards 11 points and 13 rebounds.
The Spirit’s 20 turnovers, many of them in the first half, proved especially costly despite the home side winning the rebounds count 35-27.
Lynx coach Andy Stewart knew his side would face a second-half challenge after the Spirit had won their two clashes earlier this season.
“At half-time we said the storm was coming and we had to weather it when it did,” Stewart said.
The Lynx now sit equal top of the WNBL ladder with a 6-2 [win-loss] record along with Sydney University Flames and South East Queensland Stars while the Spirit (5-4) have dropped back to sixth place.
Richards said the Lynx were up for the game and her side hadn’t been able to slow them early.
“They came out and were firing, it felt like none of them could miss,” Richards said.
“They pushed the tempo and got themselves a really handy lead at half-time.
“Our defence wasn’t where we would like it to be, where it should be and it dug us into a hole.
“We do seem to thrive on digging these stupid big holes for ourselves then trying to climb back out of them.”
Richards said the 15-points scoring run in the third term took too much of a physical toll against an athletic Lynx team.
“We made a good push in that third quarter and our defensive intensity really picked up but they came back and hit some really big shots on us and it really killed the game,” Richards said.
“It took a lot of effort to get it back to four points and those big threes just took it away very quickly.”
The Spirit have played a league high nine games in the first six rounds, a tally only matched by the Melbourne Boomers.
Richards still believes her club can climb back up the ladder despite a hectic few rounds to come.
“We’ve had a tough start to the season and it’s only going to get tougher,” Richards said.
“We’ve got two more games next round then we have to go back up to Townsville – we’ve played Perth three times already without even seen Melbourne or Sydney.
“So the draw is a little funny like that but we’ve had schedules like that in years before and won championships so I guess we can do it again.”
Melbourne Boomers couldn’t keep up with reigning champions Townsville Fire at Townsville RSL Stadium on Sunday as they fell to an 85-57 loss.
Suzy Batkovic led the Fire with 17 points and nine rebounds while Tess Madgen’s 21 points, five rebounds and six assists plus Elyse Penaluna’s 18 points, six rebounds and seven blocks were best for the Boomers.