Bendigo Bank Spirit players have been quick to shake off the holiday rust after a two-week layoff.
The squad returned to the practice court on Monday night ahead of individual shooting sessions on Tuesday morning.
That included imports Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe and Blake Dietrick, who have returned to Australia after spending Christmas in Canada and the United States respectively.
Coach Simon Pritchard said while the rust was visible, so too was the playing group’s trademark intensity and enthusiasm.
The Spirit return to action this Saturday against Perth Lynx, away from Bendigo Stadium.
Practice resumed with a half-court session, with a focus on new offensive and defensive strategies aimed at clawing the Lynx for a second time this season in Perth.
“We didn’t really get up and down the floor (on Monday), we didn’t want to come back and go too hard, we want to make the girls are right,” he said.
“We went the full two hours, put a new defence in lace and two new offensive sets in place and did a lot of teaching.
“We’re expecting Perth to get up the floor against us – off a foul shot or dead ball they run a press against us and they pressure full court, so we spent a lot of time on that.”
The clash against Perth, one of six teams chasing four finals spots, has taken on added importance after the Lynx’s loss to Sydney Uni Flames last weekend.
The Spirit headed to the break in second place on the WNBL ladder, two wins ahead of the Flames, but with two extra games played.
But the Flames were able to bridge the gap and overtake the Lynx in third position after also defeating bottom side Adelaide Lightning.
Pritchard said the Flames could not have been more impressive, particularly against Perth.
“They had a great weekend … I watched their game against Perth and they were merciless and clinical,” he said.
“They found and made their open shots and the square at quarter time was 31-20, so they really put the pressure on Perth early.
“The thing that really stood out about their win in Perth was that they had three players out – Belinda Snell, Lauren Nicholson and Carly Boag – so three of their first eight out.”
Raincock-Ekunwe was looking forward to a big second half of the season after arriving back in Bendigo.
She spent a low-key Christmas Day with her mother in Penticton, British Colombia, about five hours from Vancouver.
The Canadian Olympian said she had arrived back fresh and keen to continue the form that finds her leading the Spirit averages in points (16.27) and rebounds (8.6) and in contention for league MVP honours.
“I took about a week off basketball, I didn’t touch a basketball at all – it was nice just to refresh and not think about getting in the gym,” she said.
Raincock-Ekunwe said a trip to Perth held no fears for the Spirit after their win earlier this season and would provide her with a rare thrill on Australian soil away from Bendigo.
“It’s a beautiful city and I have some friends from Vancouver, so it will be great to have a little cheering section, so I’m really excited,” she said.
“We had great intensity at training Monday, but as expected we were quite rusty,” she said.
“I personally had very heavy legs getting off the plane the day before.
“But it was good to just get that out of the way. Simon has already told us to expect (Tuesday night’s) practice to be quite intense.”