The JCU Townsville Fire have reaffirmed their title credentials with a record-breaking win over Dandenong.
No one could have imagined that the top-of-the-table clash would end in the manner that it did as the Fire blew open the contest with a 35-9 third quarter to claim an 89-49 victory – eclipsing their 34-point mark against the Rangers from last season – to record their biggest ever win over Dandenong.
With Chris Lucas unable to coach due to a non-basketball related matter, assistant Claudia Brassard filled-in for the third time in her career and kept her unblemished record intact during a celebration for the club that included their Inaugural Indigenous Round.
It was the Fire’s ferocity at both ends of the floor, however, that will have their rivals finally fearing that the competition’s sleeping giants have suddenly come awake.
With just one round remaining, the Fire can guarantee top spot – and back-to-back minor premierships – with a victory over Perth or Adelaide next week.
A win would ensure that the Fire hose the second semi-final at Townsville RSL Stadium for a successive year and would put them within striking distance of home court advantage in the best-of-three Grand Final series.
“We spoke about it before the game that Dandenong were coming up here to try and finish in the top-two but we pretty much smacked them down and said no way,” Brassard said.
“That’s the spot we want, top spot, and it took us a while to gel as a team but we are peaking at the right time and playing our best basketball.
“What I was most proud of was keeping them to that score, defensively we did a great job and for us to hold them below 50 is a brilliant effort.”
Lucas was equally elated following the game, congratulating Brassard and the team before telling his chief lieutenant “not to get too comfortable in the chair” as he will be coming home soon.
After shrugging off a groin injury that had been hampering her in recent weeks, skipper Suzy Batkovic was named the First Things First MVP after finishing with a game-high 24 points to go with nine rebounds.
Opals teammate Cayla George was just as impressive with 14 points and 17 rebounds, while Nat Novosel, fresh off WNBL Player of the Week Award, overcame a severe ankle injury which prevented her from training all week to post 20 points and four rebounds.
Micalea Cocks was another telling contributed with 13 points including two crucial three-point bombs, while Kate Gaze continued her purple patch with seven points and five rebounds.
Dandenong captain Steph Cumming top-scored for the visitors with 13 points.
“There was a really good buzz within the team tonight, it all starts with defence and I felt like our defence really took another step up,” Batkovic said.
“In the second half we tidied up a few things, we made sure we boxed out, we tightened our defence up a little bit and this was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Click here to see full box scores from the Fire’s 40-point win.
Top-Five biggest wins over Dandenong
40 points – 2015/16
34 points – 2014/15
24 points – 2009/10
24 points – 2002/03
17 points – 2006/07