THE Bendigo Bank Spirit breathed a huge sigh of relief after chalking-up its first win of the new WNBL season over Adelaide on Friday night.
The Spirit battled back from a shocking opening term to triumph 65-59 over the Lightning at Bendigo Stadium.
While the Spirit will be relieved to notch their opening win, coach Bernie Harrower knows there's plenty of room left for improvement.
"All credit to Adelaide, they really took us out of our stuff tonight and they set the standard of play for 95 per cent of it," he said.
"It was only in the last five minutes of play that we started to click.
"We are a long way off our best. We're heading in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go."
On the night the club unfurled its WNBL championship banner, the Spirit looked well short of the hard-nosed, disciplined outfit which swept to its first title in March.
But good teams find ways to win and the Spirit fought back.
A sloppy opening term against the switched-on Lightning meant the Spirit didn't hit the front until the last two minutes.
WNBL champions on the board
A free-throw by boom recruit Elyse Penaluna handed Bendigo a 60-59 lead and the Spirit controlled the final minutes.
But falling behind 21-10 at the opening change almost cost Bendigo the game.
Turnovers, fouls and a out-of-sorts offence left the Spirit facing a huge task.
Kelsey Griffin lifted the Spirit with the opening six points of the second term as Bendigo charged to within 37-33 at half-time.
But Bendigo left its momentum in the changing rooms and Adelaide surged to a 50-38 lead.
Crucial points off the bench from Penaluna and Sara Blicavs, whose six points came through three-point plays, got the Spirit back within two in the third term and set up an arm-wrestle.
Ultimately, the Spirit had more composure down the stretch and Adelaide will be left wondering what should have been its opening win.
Gabe Richards battled hard for Bendigo all night to finish with 16 points at 83 per cent and seven rebounds, although seven turnovers took some gloss off.
Griffin added 13 points, Penaluna had nine and Kristi Harrower stepped-up late to end with eight points, six assists and four rebounds.
Harrower held Adelaide veteran Jenni Screen well after quarter-time.
Screen opened the match with eight points to the first change, but only finished with 14. Jess Foley added 13 and Laura Hodges drained 12 for the Lightning.
The Spirit hits the road for a tough double against Sydney and Canberra in round three.