Criticised by coach Bernie Harrower for training poorly during the week, the Bendigo Bank Spirit last night responded in the best possible way with an 80-72 win over Townsville Fire at Bendigo Stadium.
The Fire is one of only two teams to beat the Spirit this season, but a dominant double-double of 29 points and 11 rebounds from Gabe Richards ensured the Spirit’s 17th victory for 2012-13.
The win all but sealed a top-two spot for Bendigo and increases their advantage on top of the WNBL ladder over Dandenong to two games, ahead of the Rangers’ match against Townsville tonight.
Richards set the tone early with 11 points in a pulsating first term as the Spirit skipped-away to a 28-23 advantage.
Richards was held scoreless in the second under the Fire’s double-teaming tactics, but it left team-mates open and Kelly Wilson sunk three three-pointers to half-time.
Kelsey Griffin continued to find ways to the hoop for eight points and four boards to half-time as Bendigo extended its lead to 49-38.
Kristi Harrower stepped up in the third quarter and her understanding with Richards was instrumental in Bendigo taking a 67-53 lead at three-quarter time.
Richards had 17 points by the final change and added 12 in the last to snuff Fire’s hopes.
It’s been a career-best season for Richards, with last night’s match arguably her best performance.
“She’s our go-to player at the moment, when she’s in that sort of form we just keep taking it in there,” Bernie Harrowr said.
Richards was best-supported by Harrower, who had a double-double of 12 points and 10 assists, Griffin (10 points, 7 rebounds) and Wilson (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists).
“We were super in that first half, defensively we weren’t as good as I would’ve liked in the first quarter – we gave up too many points,” Harrower said.
“But after that we did a good job. I always felt like we were going to win the game, but to their credit they kept coming.
Kayla Standish was Townsville’s best with 14 points and eight rebounds, and Olivia Thompson had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Spirit hosts Sydney Uni next Friday night.