By Lachy France
Brydens Sydney Uni Flames just managed to defend their home court, but this week brings a new challenge as they host the red-hot Bendigo Spirit to Brydens Stadium for a Friday night blockbuster. These two sides have already combined for a spectacular match in Bendigo, and this week’s contest could be just as electric.
The Flames’ first win of the season came in Bendigo in a see-sawing contest that eventually saw the Sydney Uni side take out the win… Since then, Bendigo have definitely been the more in-form of the two sides, moving to 7-3 and sitting pretty atop the WNBL ladder. The Flames, on the other hand, have hovered around the .500 mark all season and currently sit 4-3 through their seven games to this point, positioning them in fourth spot on the ladder. However, form has proven to count for little this season, with just two wins separating the top six positions on the ladder and wins that seemed like upsets at the time proving to perhaps not be quite as surprising in hindsight.
Kelsey Griffin’s Australian citizenship opened up another import spot for the Spirit this season, and they used one of these to bring in Canadian Olympic team player Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, which has been an inspired move for the Spirit. Griffin and Raincock-Ekunwe are the Spirit’s two top scorers, and are currently the only members of the team to average over 10 points per game. The pair also lead the Spirit in rebounds, combining for 16 per game, and slowing the pair will be key to a Flames victory.
Fortunately for the Flames, they have just the players to have a crack at doing exactly that. Louisville product Asia Taylor is putting up astounding numbers, averaging 17.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, whilst Jennifer Hamson should be back from injury this week to reprise her role as one of the best rim protectors in the league. Hamson averaged 3.2 blocks per game before being forced out for the last couple of weeks, whilst also contributing 11 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.
Alex Wilson has flourished as a player since the departure of Flames star Katie-Rae Ebzery to Russia, improving her scoring markedly. Averaging just 8.4 points per game in 2015/16, Wilson has improved her mark to 12.1 points per game, but it is the improvement in her shooting efficiency that stands out. Wilson shot at 34% from beyond the arc last year, but has improved that to 41% this season, and showcased this with a brilliant stretch of three consecutive treys during the win over Townsville. The Flames certainly have a bevy of three-point assassins, with Wilson joined by Belinda Snell and Leilani Mitchell as players who can hit the long bomb consistently, but the former Rookie of the Year is certainly leading the line in that respect and the Spirit will certainly have to keep an eye on the shooting guard throughout the contest.
With an intense battle in the paint set to explode at Brydens Stadium and a Flames side that loves to push the pace, this could be one of the most fascinating games of the season so far. This Flames side has shown themselves to love the tight contests, and this game should be no different.
Tickets available here: http://bit.ly/2gc5jwF