Avoid Adelaide Lightning at all costs.
That’s the message for the Bendigo Bank Spirit from Canberra coach Carrie Graf and Logan coach Jason Chainey ahead of WNBL finals.
Bendigo’s immediate focus is on beating Dandenong at Bendigo Stadium on Sunday to earn a grand final spot.
But the loser is likely to face a rampant Lightning if, as expected, Adelaide douses Townsville Fire in the other semi-final on Saturday.
It’s not a match-up the Spirit would look forward to, according to Graf and Chainey.
The Lightning has won seven games in a row – including one against Bendigo and two on Dandenong’s home court – after returning to full strength from injury setbacks.
Adelaide is increasingly seen as a genuine title contender and has added motivation following a straight-sets finals exit last season.
“If I was a betting man I’d put my money on Adelaide,” Chainey said.
“I think momentum is very important going into finals, they’ve got good momentum and they’re extremely deep across the floor with Olympic and finals experience.”
Graf believes any of the top-three teams can win it.
“I’d flip a coin, it’s anyone’s ball game,” the former Australian Opals coach said. “Bendigo has the wood on Dandenong having beaten them three times this year, so they have a great chance to win that semi.
“But having said that, finals play is a whole lot different to regular season play – anything goes in finals.
“I think Adelaide are desperate, they’ve got veteran experience and there’s less pressure on them coming from third in some respects.
“Dandenong have got athletic talent and great experience from last year’s championship win, so I think it’s anyone’s championship.
“If you’re Bendigo you’d much prefer to play Dandenong (in a grand final) because there’s that comfortability about how to play them.”
In Bendigo’s favour is home court advantage, with the club certain to host a preliminary final at Bendigo Stadium if it loses on Sunday.
The grand final venue is yet to be decided, but the Spirit has guaranteed it can hold the minimum 3000 spectators if it earns the right to host the game.
“(Home court advantage) is a big one, when you get momentum the crowd jumps on your back,” Graf said. “There’s no question home court advantage is a positive.”
Chainey recalled the crowd’s impact in the only final the Spirit has hosted, a 21-point elimination final win over Logan two seasons ago.
“They packed the stadium out, you couldn’t hear at timeouts, it was an awesome atmosphere,” he said.
“I think it’s probably worth a few points early and late in a game, but apart from that you can shut out the crowd as a player – but it’s still fairly important.”
Although the Spirit doesn’t have an abundance of WNBL finals experience, many of the squad have played in big matches – including senior and junior internationals.
The most experienced campaigner of all, skipper and point guard Kristi Harrower, is crucial to the Spirit’s title hopes, Graf and Chainey agreed.
“Kristi is just at an amazing part of her career and is playing extremely well and I think she’s going to be the lynchpin as to whether or not they win,” Chainey said of the four-time Olympic medalist.
The Spirit has never played in a grand final in its five previous season, but Chainey believes Bendigo can make franchise history.
The Spirit’s second semi-final tips-off at 4pm on Sunday, with tickets available from Bendigo Stadium’s box office or on its website.