THE Bendigo Bank Spirit's WNBL winning streak has ended at 16 after the defending champions lost to Townsville for the second time this season on Saturday afternoon.
The lacklustre Spirit were beaten 81-70 at the Bendigo Stadium in what was their first defeat since losing to Townsville in the opening game of the season.
The 11-point defeat, a margin that flattered the Spirit, was also Bendigo's first on its home-court since losing to Canberra on November 11, 2012.
The Spirit were never in the contest after half-time - Townsville led by as many as 23 points in the third term - and with the game shown live on ABCTV, coach Bernie Harrower described the performance as an "embarrassment on national TV".
"It was a really disappointing performance from a group of players who stood in the rooms before the game and said we want to get some redemption for that ugly first game we had against Townsville when we lost," Harrower said.
"We gave nothing today and it was just a very poor effort.
"Kristi (Harrower) stood up, Gabe (Richards), Kelsey (Giffin) in the finish and Jane (Chalmers) gave me something at the end, but apart from that, I didn't get a yelp out of anyone else.
"Sometimes people will say it's the loss you need to have, but that certainly wasn't the case today.
"We were totally outplayed, embarrassed and there's not much positive to come out of the game at all.
"Today shows we've still got a lot of work to do."
Having strangled Melbourne and West Coast defensively their past two games, the Spirit got a taste of their own medicine from the Fire.
The out-of-sync Spirit shot the ball at just 34 per cent from the field (22-64), with the side struggling offensively from the outset when the Fire raced to a 14-3 lead.
Townsville led the entire game, with the only momentum the Spirit had during the match a burst in the second quarter when they cut the deficit to one point.
The Fire led 41-37 at half-time, before busting the game open with a dominant third term.
Townsville scored the first eight points of the third quarter, and with the Fire constantly forcing the Spirit into mistakes, there was no let-up.
It took the Spirit almost five minutes to score their first points of the third term through Elyse Penaluna.
By the end of the term the Spirit had been outscored 25-8 as the Fire took a 66-45 advantage into three quarter-time.
The Spirit outscored the Fire 25-15 in the last term, but by then the damage had been well and truly done.
Kristi Harrower (20 points, five assists) and Gabe Richards (19 points, 10 rebounds) were Bendigo's two standout players, while Kelsey Griffin scored the Spirit's last nine points of the game to finish with 16.
No-one else scored more than six points.
Harrower and Richards combined to score 23 of Bendigo's 26 points during the second term.
Fire centre Suzy Batkovic was her usual imposing self with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while captain Rachael McCully also scored 18 points.
Batkovic sent a scare through the Fire in the last term when she limped off the court after trying to defend a Jane Chalmers' drive.
However, after having her ankle re-taped, the dual WNBL MVP returned to the court.
While the Spirit had won 16 games in a row to be all the talk of the WNBL, Saturday's loss just six games out from the play-offs is a timely reminder for Bendigo of the quality of opposition it will come up against in the business end of the season.
The Spirit take on Logan at the Bendigo Stadium Friday night, before a trip to Townsville on Sunday to take on their nemesis again.