A DOMINANT performance from centre Gabe Richards led the Bendigo Spirit to a stunning 84-79 win over South East Queensland Stars on Saturday night. Less than a week after losing to the previously winless Adelaide, the Spirit scored arguably their best win of the season on the back of a WNBL career-high 33 points from Richards.
The top of the table Stars had threatened to blow the Spirit away for the second time this season when they led by seven points at the main break. However, a half-time spray from coach Simon Pritchard, a lift in defensive intensity and Richards’ dominance in the paint turned the game in the home side’s favour.
“I wasn’t proud of our first half performance, but the second half was really good,’’ Pritchard admitted. “Our defence in the third quarter was outstanding. We set a target of 10 points and that’s what we kept them to. I think they only scored one field goal in that third quarter, the other eight points were from free throws.”
The Spirit’s defence helped create some easier looks at the other end of the court and the Stars had no answer to Richards’ creativity around the basket. The Spirit led by one point at the final change and, despite the Stars hitting the front twice in the last quarter, remained cool under pressure down the stretch.
Guard Kelly Wilson iced the game from the free throw line in the final minute. Pritchard lauded Richards’ performance.
“It was the efficiency in the way Gabe played that was so impressive,’’ Pritchard said. “She shot at 67 per cent, which is outstanding with the pressure she was under. She copped a lot of contact and could have had more calls go her way.”
Belind Snell had 15 points and six rebounds and Kelly Wilson had a solid all-round game with 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Spirit star Kelsey Griffin was held to 10 points, but she still had a big impact on the game, adding 10 boards, four assists and three blocks. Jane Chalmers made a crucial cameo performance off the bench, scoring six points.
The key ingredient for the Spirit is consistency. After a hectic schedule in the first month of the season, Pritchard expects his side to gain some momentum in the next few weeks. “We now have a week to prepare for a home game against Perth which is fantastic for us,’’ Pritchard said.
“We’ve been travelling so much and preparing for two teams each weekend that it has been really hard to find that consistency. Hopefully, we’ll see a consistent four-quarter performance against Perth rather playing well for a quarter here and a quarter there.”
Saturday night’s win lifted the Spirit to a 5-3 record and they’re in fifth place on the WNBL ladder ahead of next Sunday’s clash with fourth-placed Perth (4-2).