THE Bendigo Bank Spirit moved a step closer to a historic first WNBL minor premiership with a commanding 89-71 win over the Sydney Uni Flames at Bendigo Stadium last night.
The Spirit’s 18th win of the season combined with second-placed Dandenong’s loss to third-placed Adelaide means Bendigo effectively holds a three-game lead over the Rangers with four games in the regular season remaining.
The Spirit (18-2) holds head-to-head advantage over Dandenong (16-4), so the Rangers must finish a game clear of Bendigo on the ladder to steal top spot.
Dandenong would need to win all four of its remaining games and hope the Spirit drops three of its final four matches.
On last night’s form that looks as likely as Mick Malthouse sharing a beer with Nathan Buckley.
Despite the club’s battle with Basketball Australia over play-off hosting rights lingering in the background, the Spirit pounded Sydney Uni.
The final margin flattered the visitors after the Spirit had led by as many as 34 points in the third quarter.
“I thought we were very impressive tonight,’’ Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said.
“For the second and third quarters that’s as well as we’ve played all season. It was so important to come out and get the win tonight. Dandenong losing is a bonus.
“We have our target of finishing on top because getting home finals is so important. To play in front of your home crowd in a play-off game is a big advantage.”
Sydney Uni scored the first eight points of the game, but had little to smile about after that.
The Spirit unleashed a 14-0 run of their own before grabbing a 22-18 lead at the first break.
The second quarter showed why the Spirit is on top of the WNBL ladder.
Outstanding defence mixed with well executed offence left Sydney Uni floundering.
The Spirit added 25 points to 12 for the term to take a 47-30 lead into the second half.
That momentum continued in the third quarter as the Spirit killed off the game as a contest with a 13-0 run in the first four minutes of the term.
“I made a point to the girls at half-time that we haven’t been very good this year at putting teams away,’’ Bernie Harrower said.
“To the girls credit they really stepped it up at the start of the third quarter and didn’t let Sydney back into the game.”
It was the Spirit’s starting five that did all the damage last night.
Centre Gabe Richards was outstanding, scoring 23 points on 11-14 shooting.
Import Kelsey Griffin was too athletic for the Flames, adding 22 points and seven rebounds.
Despite resting most of the final quarter, Kristi Harrower was just three rebounds short of a triple double.
The star guard finished with 12 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
The most pleasing performance for Spirit fans and players last night was Renae Camino.
After an injury interrupted start to the season, Camino returned to her brilliant best against the Flames.
In an ominous sign for the Spirit’s play-off rivals, Camino scored 21 points on 9-16 shooting, including three three-point bombs.
“I was really pleased for Renae tonight,’’ Bernie Harrower said.
“She’s put in a lot of hard work this year and she’s starting to see the reward for that hard work.
“When she’s in that type of form she’s very hard to stop.”
The Spirit will enjoy the rest of the weekend before embarking on a tough road double next Friday and Sunday against West Coast and Adelaide.