The Bendigo Bank Spirit enters round 17 of the WNBL season with the chance to make club history by finishing on top of the ladder, but there’s more than just ladder position to play for this weekend.
Bendigo faces cellar-dwellers West Coast Waves in Perth tonight, where the Spirit should win to set up a huge clash with the in-form Adelaide Link Lightning.
If the Spirit wins both games it would claim top spot, but victory in Adelaide would also give Bendigo the psychological edge against one of its biggest title threats.
The Lightning has been ravaged by injury this season, but is hell-bent on atoning for a straight-sets finals exit last season.
Last round Adelaide became only the second team, along with Bendigo, to defeat reigning champions Dandenong this season, signalling the Lightning is primed for a tilt at the championship.
Spirit coach Bernie Harrower knows Adelaide has the talent to beat anyone and is keen to claim a 3-0 season sweep of the Lightning on Sunday.
“The thing for us is we have to win two of our last four games to sew-up top spot, even going into Adelaide we could certainly sew-up top spot and who’s to say that we’re not going to meet them in play-offs?” Harrower said.
“We want to have our game in place and we don’t want them to coming to Bendigo in a final knowing they beat us the last time they played us.
“It’s a tough road trip, it’ll be a good hit-out for us with finals just around the corner.”
The Spirit locked-in a top-two finish for the first time in its history last weekend following a mauling of Sydney Uni, but sealing top spot would be a landmark for the six-year-old club.
“To come from missing out on finals last year to finishing on top this year would be an extraordinary effort,” Harrower said.
“It’s something the club would be proud of, but at the end of the day finishing on top doesn’t mean anything other than getting some home court finals – Adelaide finished on top last year and went out in straight sets.
“I thought last week was the best we’ve played all year, we shot the ball well and just how we played together as a group.
“We’re right where I want to be at this time of year, we’re building our intensity level and building our momentum three weeks out from finals.”
While the Spirit is guaranteed to host the second semi-final if it gets top spot, the club is still awaiting a decision from Basketball Australia about hosting a possible grand final at Bendigo Stadium.
BA’s decision depends on a venue capacity of 3000, which teams are playing and ABC TV’s requirements.
The Spirit believes it can meet those requirements, although extra seating could cost $50,000.
“We expect that we’ll fulfil all the commitments. If we win the right to host the grand final we feel we’ll certainly be in the position to provide whatever the league wants as far as seating,” Harrower said.
“How we fund that is another thing, but we’ll certainly provide that, we’ll provide what they need in terms of signage.
“It comes down to whether they want it in a capital city or at the rightful home of whoever the hosting team is.”