Another week, another must-win game against a top opponent in the race to the Women’s National basketball league playoffs.
It is a theme the Bendigo Spirit must get used to in the season’s final four rounds but one that seems to do little to faze the side, who are the best team in the league in games against the league’s top six teams.
The fifth-placed Spirit played their best game of the season last Friday, beating fellow finals hopeful Sydney 81-66 in front of a record regular season crowd of 1537 at Bendigo Stadium.
Bendigo still has matches against Dandenong, Townsville and Sydney remaining, as well as clashes with Adelaide and the winless
The Rangers are first on the docket in Dandenong on Saturday night and the results between the sides this season have been mixed to say
Dandenong smashed Bendigo at home by 32 points all the way back in round three before the Spirit held the Rangers to only 49 points in a 14-point win in the return leg.
A win gives either side a crucial season series victory over the other, which could prove decisive in the run home to the postseason.
“We are in complete control of what we want to do,” Spirit coach Simon Pritchard said.
“The performance against Dandenong needs to be similar to what we did against Sydney, where we control the tempo, we get them into some foul trouble, we move the ball and we aren’t as predictable as what perhaps we were earlier in the season.”
Bendigo is the league’s best against the five other sides still left in realistic finals contention – Bendigo has won eight and lost four in its matches against Perth, Townsville, Dandenong, Sydney and South East Queensland – by a comfortable
The Fire and Rangers are both 6-5 in such games, Perth is 6-6, Sydney is 5-5 and SEQ is 4-8.
Bendigo also has the second best average point differential (winning margins less losing margins) from its 12 games against the top six this season, behind only Perth (+3.25 points per game), and is alongside only Dandenong and the Lynx to have a positive point differential in the top six clashes.
While Townsville comfortably leads the league in overall point differential (+9.4) the Fire own a negative point differential (-1.81) from 11 games against top six sides. Conversely, Townsville’s six wins against the bottom three sides have come by an average of 33 points.
Those numbers make for happy reading for Pritchard, who is confident his side plays its best against league’s six frontrunners.
“We are doing a good job against the top few sides and obviously our record against them is very good,” he said.
“We are confident against them. I am confident when we play Townsville and when we play Perth and Dandenong.
“Sometimes it is just one of those things where you match up better against the better teams. Melbourne we have had trouble with and we lost that series, we still don’t have the series against Adelaide.
“Those games have been a bit of our bug bear, but we have been much better against the top handful of teams.”
Providing extra motivation for Bendigo is the fact Saturday night’s clash will be Heather Oliver’s 100th WNBL game.
Oliver played for Bendigo from 2010-12 before taking the 2012/13 season off, returning the following year better than ever and playing a vital role off the bench in a Bendigo championship and a run to a follow-up grand final.
“She has been really sensational for us, we are really happy with the way that she is playing and she is a big part of our group,” Pritchard said.