It’s often said great teams are built on defence and if the Bendigo Bank Spirit’s WNBL season so far is anything to go by the club is a championship contender.
The Spirit is on top of the ladder with a 10-1 record, owed mostly to its fanatical defence which aims to break teams down rather than blow them away.
It’s helped the Spirit boast the WNBL’s best defensive record – conceding only 66.1 points per game, while its offence is only fourth best at 73.7.
“I think it does come down to how well you play defence to how many games you win,” Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said.
“It’s always been a philosophy of mine you can have off games offensively, but there’s no excuse for having off games defensively. Even the game we lost to Canberra we kept them to 59.”
Statistics don’t always tell the full story, but the Spirit’s choking plan is shown in the stats.
Bendigo has trailed at half-time in eight of its 11 matches, but hasn’t been outscored in a second half – winning 19 of 22 quarters after the main break.
The Spirit averages a point less than its opponents in first halves – 35.7 to 36.5 – but increases its output to 38 points in second halves, while restricting teams to just 29.6.
And only once has the Spirit lost a final term, by two points after leading West Coast by 25 points at three-quarter time in round three.
“Everybody’s fresh and shooting the ball well early in the game, but I think our style of defence wears teams down over 40 minutes, we build our pressure as the game goes on,” Harrower said.
Offensively, the Spirit’s strong backcourt gives it an advantage from beyond the three-point perimeter.
While the Spirit shoots roughly the same from the field as its opponents, a 32.6 per cent to 23.4 per cent accuracy from range has contributed to 186 points from threes to its opponents’ 99 this season.
“We’re a big three-point shooting team, I encourage the girls to shoot the three,” Harrower said.
“I even encourage the bigs to shoot the three, it’s a huge shot when it goes down.”
The Spirit hosts reigning champions Dandenong on Saturday night and will try to control the Rangers’ stars including Opals Jenna O’Hea and Kath MacLeod.
Bendigo snatched victory at home last time, when it trailed the Rangers by seven at three-quarter time before a thrilling 82-80 triumph.
“When you’re playing star-studded teams – and that includes Dandenong this week – you’ve got to restrict them,” Harrower said.
“If they score 85-plus we can’t win that game.”