What the Bendigo Spirit lack in talent they make up with grit, determination and old fashioned hard work.
This is not to deny the talent they do have, but it has to be said that they lack the depth of the other teams in the competition.
Last night, they faced Townsville Fire without two important players – AFLW and WNBL guard Tessa Lavey and WNBA point guard, Leilani Mitchell. Mitchell has played her last game for Bendigo – she announced during the week she would will no longer participate in the rest of the season as she is pregnant with her second child.
In a game where the Fire were without leading scorer and American import, Monique Billings (averages 16 points a game) – their overall team effort shone through.
They shared the ball well and showed their depth with key performances from their veterans, Mia Murray and Nadeen Payne who both hit some important shots and made hustle plays on both ends of the floor.
Murray in particular had a couple of important sequences in the fourth quarter, with a three point shot and drawing an offensive foul in back to back plays, as well as a blocked shot moments later.Embed from Getty Images
As the game progressed it was clear the Spirit struggled without an on court general. Alex Wilson who signed after pre-season and is still getting her touch back, was running the point early but appears to be reluctant to fulfil the position full time.
Maddie Garrick, who is a known shooter, came off the court with an injured ankle in the second quarter and failed to return to the game.
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Bendigo started the game with tempo and energy that has so far been a staple of its season, crashing the rebounds, being physical inside the paint and hustling for loose balls.
This was led by newly announced Opals squad member, Anneli Maley, who was rewarded with a call up to the Australian squad after an outstanding start to the WNBL season with her incredible rebounding ability and much improved scoring.
The Spirit’s lack of a point guard was evident, and they’ll be desperate for Lavey to return. At times they needed someone to change the tempo and run some set plays for their scorers, but this was hard to control without that leadership.
Their flex offence, which relies heavily on executing good screens and reading and reacting to the defence, looked stagnant at times. Their best offence came from Maley (18 points) – pushing the ball in transition after a defensive board, but you can’t expect one player to do it all.
The Fire will be happy that they were made to earn the away win. Lauren Nicholson was solid, scoring her mid range jumpers, veteran guard Micaela Cocks had some nice moments off the bench and Zitina Aokuso was a presence inside.
Aokuso came up with the play of the day late in the fourth quarter – rebounding, diving for a loose ball and flicking it back to American import Sug Sutton for the three point dagger to put the result beyond doubt. The Fire would win by 10 points, 77-67.
Despite the loss there were some good signs for the Spirit. Although Alex Wilson (15 points) missed a lot of shots and was lacking a bit of poise, she was engaged in the game from start to finish and appeared to be playing with the confidence that we’ve seen her play with in past seasons. She’s a prolific scorer, and coach Tracey York will be hoping she gets that shooting form back quickly.
In a competition that has a lot of elite talent, including players with WNBA and international experience, Bendigo has proven that though it may be undersized and lack depth, they don’t lack heart.
The Spirit are one of the most enjoyable teams to watch, and there’s no doubt opposition teams are aware of the battle they face when they match up against the blue and yellow.
They’ll next head to Canberra for a match against the Capitals on Sunday, who will be looking to bounce back from their loss to Perth during the week. The Fire will be hoping for back to back wins when they face the Boomers on Saturday night.
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