It’s been billed as a possible grand final preview, with the title hopefuls shaping up against the defending champions.
But whichever way you look at it, tonight’s first-versus-second clash between the Bendigo Bank Spirit and Dandenong Rangers will be one of the biggest Women’s National Basketball League matches to be played at Bendigo Stadium.
Top spot is up for grabs and victory for the high-flying Spirit could make the team championship favourites, according to coach Bernie Harrower.
“It’s probably one of the biggest games we’ve played in,” Harrower said.
“It’s a huge game for both clubs. I just feel that whoever gets the better of this game will probably be outright premiership favourite.”
If the Spirit (10-1) wins, it will have a stranglehold on top spot at the halfway point of the season.
Bendigo has head-to-head advantage on the other top four teams and victory would give the Spirit a one-win break on the Rangers (10-2), with a game in hand.
“It’s a situation where if we can get that mini-break on them it takes the pressure off us on having to win every game between now and the end of the season to keep top spot,” Harrower said.
“From our point of view if we lose the game not all is lost, we still have opportunities to try and get back, we still have head-to-head over Dandenong.”
The Spirit enjoys a superb record against the Rangers and has won their past four meetings – including two wins this season.
But Dandenong has added WNBA import Monica Wright to the most potent offence in the league since its last loss – 82-80 to the Spirit at Bendigo Stadium in round four – and is riding a seven-game winning streak.
In Bendigo’s favour, though, is its watertight defence which is the hardest to break down in the WNBL, while Dandenong’s is leakier than all other teams, apart from cellar-dwellers West Coast.
“I think they’ll come out all guns blazing, but they’ll certainly try different things to stop us offensively,” Harrower said.
“We expect there will be some different type of game plan against us this time, but the good thing about our team is that we’re able to make those adjustments on the run.
“Both teams are in good form, it will come down to who plays the best defence and who shoots the ball the best as to who will win the game.”
As an interesting aside to the main event, fans could see the match-ups of the Spirit’s star import Kelsey Griffin against fellow WNBA player O’Hea, while retired Opals point guard Kristi Harrower is likely to take on her heir apparent, MacLeod.
With both teams boasting plenty of talent, Bernie Harrower is hopeful of a big crowd for the 7.30pm tip-off at Bendigo Stadium in Marong Road.
“Other than the final we played in Bendigo a couple of years back, it will be the biggest game we’ve ever played in Bendigo. I’d be disappointed if we don’t get a big crowd there.
“I’d like to think the Bendigo people would come out and support us.”