21/02/2024

The 2021/22 WNBL Championship race is so close. (Photo: @MelbBoomers; @PerthLynx; @UCCapitals; @AdelLightning/Twitter)

Four teams remain in the hunt for the WNBL Championship. Who will take it home? The Inner Sanctum analyses why each team can win the championship and the weaknesses that each team will need to improve.

The regular season is now complete. True to form, such has been the unpredictability of this season, it took until the very last round to be played to finalise the final four teams that will square off in this year’s WNBL finals series.

The first-placed Melbourne Boomers will take on fourth-placed Adelaide Lightning, while the second-placed Perth Lynx will face the University of Canberra Capitals who finished in third.

The Inner Sanctum takes you through why each team can win the championship and the weaknesses that each team will need to improve.

Melbourne Boomers

The Melbourne Boomers have been a force to reckon with this season, only losing four games during the regular season.

There is no doubt that this team has the potential to be the last one standing to take out the coveted title.

The Boomers are ruthless defensively, which has proven to be the key to their game plan, as illustrated in several of their games during the 2021/2022 season.

In the semi-finals, the Boomers will be facing the Capitals.

In its most recent matchup in the final round of the regular season, Melbourne dethroned Canberra by 55 points, which is a testament to its strengths.

But at a glance, Melbourne’s shooting efficiency in the past has proved costly, most noticeably in the dying moments of games.

If the Boomers want to break through to win the championship this season, they’ll need to take advantage of small margin scores and fire up offensively to avoid previous heartbreak such as their preliminary final loss to the Fire last season.

Ashleigh Matosevic

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Perth Lynx

The Perth Lynx have had one of the more unique seasons in the competition this year, with the Western Australian border being closed when the season kicked off. This meant the Lynx started the competition a month after the other teams.

Once it began its campaign, Perth played interstate and did not return home to play its first game until March. In total, the Lynx played four of their 16 games of the year at home in front of their fans.

Despite the challenges the team were able to rally together and made a challenge to take out the minor premiership. It came down to the Lynx’s last game of the year and in a tight contest, they narrowly lost to the Townsville Fire to finish second on the ladder.

The resilience that the Lynx have shown this season shows why they’re capable of winning the championship this year. They are a strong team that can band together and can face the unique situations that can arise in finals games.

Part of what makes this Perth squad so strong is that the majority of the team is composed of players who are local to Western Australia and have played in the local state basketball association. The current roster only has three players who have not played in WA before this season.

These players are also the other piece of the puzzle that can help the Lynx win. Imports Marina Mabrey and Jackie Young have been some of the best players throughout the year in the competition.

Mabrey and Young averaged 18.7 and 18.1 points per game respectively. These are big numbers that opposing teams have struggled to defend against during the regular season.

The other weapon in Perth’s arsenal is Sami Whitcomb who has also averaged 13.9 points per game and is backing her shooting up with 4.8 rebounds per game. Round this out with Lauren Scherf who is also scoring 12.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game and you have one of the stronger teams at both ends of the court.

Having lost to the Capitals recently in Perth, the Lynx will have to look for an even contribution from the whole team to win which was why they struggled last time.

In their previous meeting, Jackie Young did all she could to lift Perth but lacked the support around her to help get the win. Perth also struggled defensively, allowing Canberra to get off to a fast start.

If the Lynx can help Young share the offensive duties and come out with a stronger defensive effort to slow a fast start from the Capitals, it will go a long way to them getting past the semi-final stage.

Kristin Sims 

University of Canberra Capitals

Despite losing the final two matches of the regular season – one of those a whopping 55 point loss to Melbourne – Canberra will be heading into its semi-final clash with Perth with confidence. 

The Capitals are a side built for finals basketball and are coached by one of the greatest coaches in the country in Paul Goriss (two-time WNBL championship-winning coach).

Canberra has one of the best WNBL finals performers ever to hit the hardwood in Kelsey Griffin. The 34-year-old is a three-time WNBL champion and three-time WNBL Grand Final MVP and is made for finals.

Griffin plays both ends of the floor at an elite level, is an incredible leader and there is no doubt we will see her elevate her game come Thursday night. 

The difference in the Capitals winning this year’s title may come from their two young guns, Jade Melbourne and Tahlia Tupea.

Melbourne will need to continue to bring her energy and passion off the bench and score in double digits. Whilst Tupea, who is considered an underrated member of the Capitals due to coming back from a long term injury – has the ability to distribute the ball and light it up from deep when needed.  

A defensive-minded team and a culture of winning have Canberra in the perfect spot to contend once more.

The Capitals’ experience in winning titles (nine in total), as well as its veteran players and coaching staff, will make it very difficult for Lynx to reach the Grand final, despite the Lynx’s regular-season record. 

Paul Graham

Adelaide Lightning

The Adelaide Lightning have had a strong run until recently, having lost four of their last five games coming into finals. This is a concern for the Lightning considering they have lost momentum and seemingly their confidence.

One thing that Adelaide doesn’t lack is talent and offensive weapons, Alanna Smith and Steph Talbot have been a one-two punch for the Lightning all season.

Smith averages over 17 points per game while Talbot averages 12 points per game. The pair also averaged over eight rebounds per game as well.

Talbot also led the league in assists and averaged six assists per game. The 27-year-old finished the season with 102 assists, 18 more than second-placed Stephanie Reid with 84 assists.

Along with their established players as well as local talent in Abigail Wehrung and Chelsea Brook, American imports Kiana Williams and Kylee Shook have helped the Lightning elevate themselves.

This was evident in the Lightning’s win against the Flyers in February, where both Williams and Shook combined for 30 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Adelaide will need to regroup after its loss to Southside in Jenna O’Hea’s last game to beat the Melbourne Boomers, which will be a mouthwatering contest considering how destructive both teams can be offensively and the fact that it lost to Melbourne towards the end of the season. 

Madeline Irwin

The WNBL Semi-Final series between the Melbourne Boomers and the Adelaide Lightning starts on Thursday 7:30pm AEDT.

The first game of the other WNBL Semi-Final series between the Perth Lynx and UC Capitals kicks off at 9:30pm AEDT on Thursday.

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