Adelaide showed the Bendigo Bank Spirit the WNBL title fight is anything but a two-horse race in a 20-point thumping of the league leaders yesterday.
After an unspectacular 65-41 victory over West Coast in Perth on Friday night, the Spirit couldn’t stop the in-form Lightning romping to an 86-66 triumph.
The weekend’s results leaves the Spirit (19-3) needing one win from its final two matches to clinch top spot and a second semi-final at Bendigo Stadium.
The importance of that advantage was pressed home in yesterday’s loss, where Adelaide confirmed its status as a genuine championship contender after downing second-placed Dandenong last weekend.
“We knew that coming in today, you don’t go to Dandenong and win on their home court comfortably and not be a genuine team,” Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said.
“They’ve got all their players back now, they’re fit and healthy and that makes them a tough match-up.
“We have to make sure we learn from today’s game, get back to working hard and make sure we don’t drop our bundle now two weeks out from finals.”
Although disappointed to concede 86 points and shoot the ball at 31 per cent from the field and seven per cent from the arc (1-15), Harrower knows his charges were a long way from their best on the back end of a tough road trip.
“Take nothing away from Adelaide they’re a very good basketball team, they’re very good defensively,” he said.
“We just need to get back to doing what we do well, we shot the ball poorly today – a lot of that is caused by their pressure as well.
“Come finals time we’ll have our confidence up and not having to travel to for two days to get here will hopefully make a difference.
“We’ve got to regroup, if we regroup and do the hard work we’ll be fine.”
Adelaide’s tall timber – led by reigning league MVP Suzy Batkovic (19 points, 13 rebounds) – was always going to be a concern for the Spirit, but foul trouble for Kelsey Griffin made matters worse.
The US import had four fouls in the third term and had to watch for long periods as the Spirit saw a six-point three-quarter time deficit balloon to 20 by the final buzzer.
Griffin fouled-out with five points and three rebounds in the last term, taking some of the gloss off her 15 point and 11 rebound match-winning return against West Coast.
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A staggering 57 fouls were called in yesterday’s physical encounter, compared to 27 in the Spirit’s match in Perth.
Maddie Garrick (10 points) was the only other player to score double figures in Perth, as many of the Spirit’s starting five played limited minutes before the Adelaide match.
Kristi Harrower again led from the front against the Lightning with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, while Gabe Richards also sunk 16 with eight boards.
Kelly Wilson added 13, but Adelaide’s spread of five double-figure scorers outgunned Bendigo.
The Spirit returns to Bendigo Stadium for its final two matches of the regular season, beginning with a clash against Canberra on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Townsville cemented its place in the play-offs when it defeated Sydney Uni in overtime on Saturday night.
The Fire are certain to finish fourth and will play the third-placed team, most likely Adelaide, in the first semi-final of the WNBL play-offs.