N the end, it was very much a tale of two halves.
The Bendigo Spirit capped a successful WNBL road double yesterday with a hard-fought 80-71 win over a plucky Canberra Capitals outfit at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre in Albury.
Paced by new recruit Kelsey Griffin’s game-high 20 points, the Spirit took their record to an impressive 8-1 and kept top spot on the WNBL ladder, a half-game ahead of the Dandenong Rangers.
Bendigo over-ran Canberra in the second half, turning a five-point half-time deficit into an eventual nine-point win on the back of some gritty defence and superior offensive execution.
Despite the absences of superstar Lauren Jackson (hamstring) and coach Carrie Graf (bereavement), the Caps shot a sizzling 67 per cent from the field in the opening half to have Bendigo Spirit coach Bernie Harrower looking for adjustments.
“It all starts with our defence, I was a bit disappointed we’d given up 44 points in the first half,” Harrower said.
“We had to dig deep and come up with the effort stuff and I thought we did a good job of that in the second half.
“Credit to Canberra, they shot the lights out in the first half and we had some breakdowns in our gameplan that we didn’t execute and we fixed that up at half-time.”
In addition to Griffin’s offensive display, the Spirit was well served by inside presence Gabe Richards (14 points, eight boards) and the backcourt duo of four-time Olympian Kristi Harrower (11 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and Kelly Wilson (13 points).
For Canberra, young pivot Sam Norwood led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds while former Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits star Jess Bibby added 14 points.
In a free flowing start in front of almost 900 fans, both teams came out smoothly, with crisp ball movement a highlight.
But a quick burst from playmaker Nicole Hunt allowed the putative hosts to claim a handy 25-20 lead at the first interval.
The Caps continued to outwork their more-fancied opponents in the early going of the second period, with local favourite Bibby staking the Caps to a 31-22 advantage.
However, Bendigo steadily worked its way back, Canberra taking an identical five-point margin, 44-39, into the long break.
Following some defensive change-ups from coach Harrower, the Spirit came out hard to open the third quarter, closing the gap in quick time.
Bendigo ramped up its defensive pressure throughout the period, forcing Canberra into hurried shots and denying the open looks the Caps enjoyed in the first half.
Consecutive corner triples to Bibby steadied the ship somewhat but it was Bendigo with a 62-60 lead and all the momentum heading into the final 10 minutes.
Bendigo was relentless throughout the final quarter, a Wilson triple staking the Spirit to a 69-62 lead with six minutes to play.
A big sequence from Griffin — a monster block at the defensive end and subsequent layup at the other — showed just how crucial an addition the former wnba player will be.
Canberra closed to within four points late in the game but Bendigo’s superior execution, notably from Harrower and Griffin, ensured the Spirit headed home with a priceless pair of road wins.
Harrower admitted he was especially pleased his team bounced back from last weekend’s shock loss to the Capitals.
“We’re 6-0 on the road so far this year and if you want to finish top-two, you have to win at least 75 per cent of your road games,” Harrower said.
“I was concerned about this road trip, after such a good start, the last thing I wanted was to be 6-3 after this weekend.
“But credit to the girls we dug deep in both games and we were able to come out on top.”