Spirit determined to atone for Fire defeat

THE Bendigo Bank Spirit will have the added motivation of atoning for its only loss of the WNBL season on Saturday when it host the Townsville Fire at the Bendigo Stadium.

It has been a near perfect season for the Spirit so far in its championship defence, with the sole blemish a 79-67 loss to the Fire in Townsville in their season-opener.

Since that night on October 4, the Spirit has won its past 16 games to sit four games clear at the top of the ladder.

Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said avenging the round one loss to the Fire would provide his players with an extra edge for Saturday's contest.

"No doubt... it wouldn't matter whether it's Townsville, Dandenong or whoever else; when you've been beaten by a team you certainly want to try to atone for that the next time you play them," Harrower said on Friday.

"We were fairly poor when we were up there earlier in the year, and take nothing away from Townsville - they certainly outplayed us.

"Our seasons have probably gone in different directions since that game.

"We haven't lost a game and they've dropped six, including three at home, but it's all about Saturday and we're keen to perform well against a side that we will probably come up against somewhere in the finals."

The Spirit's defence has been superb in its past two games, holding West Coast and Melbourne to just 49 points each.

However, the defence will be put to the test against the Fire, who are one of the highest scoring teams in the WNBL, averaging 79.1 points per game.

"Townsville is a very talented offensive group, so we certainly need to play good team defence," Harrower said.

"When we do that we're very good and tough to beat, and that's what we'll be looking for."

Offensively, the Spirit's array of scoring options has been shown during their past four wins where the most points scored by a player has been Gabe Richards' 18 against Canberra.

Among the biggest threats to the Spirit on Saturday is Townsville centre Suzy Batkovic, who won the past two WNBL MVP Awards while playing for Adelaide.

Batkovic is averaging 18.8 and 12.1 rebounds per game.

"Our record against Suzy is quite good," Harrower said.

"Gabe Richards tends to do a good job on her. In that game earlier in the season when they beat us, they scored 80-odd points and we kept Suzy to 12.

"The problem is if you start just worrying about Suzy, they've got so many other players who can score and you lose track of them.

"Suzy could score 20, but the main job for us is to make sure the others don't get away from us, so that's what we'll be worried about. We want to keep the whole team down."

The Spirit and Fire are locked together at eight wins apiece from their 16 encounters.

The Spirit has won its past seven games against the Fire at the Bendigo Stadium, including last year's grand final, 71-57.

Saturday's game tips off at 3pm and will be broadcast live on ABC TV.

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