Spirit soars into WNBL grand final

THE Bendigo Spirit is one win away from a second-straight WNBL championship after defeating the Dandenong Rangers 71-62 in Sunday's semi-final at Bendigo Stadium.

Superb individual performances from Kelsey Griffin and Kristi Harrower set up the Spirit's 10th-straight win over Dandenong and a home grand final on March 9.

"We didn't play great and that's credit to Dandenong because they didn't allow us to play great,'' Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said after the win.

"That Spirit style basketball got us through. All year even when we haven't played well, we've found a way to win.

"We were poor in the first half, but we lifted our defence in the second half and just kept grinding away.

"To win today and get that home final in two weeks time is just sensational for the club."

 The script was similar to so many of the past 10 encounters between the two clubs.

Dandenong started strongly, led by as many as eight in the first quarter and looked capable of scoring an upset victory.

As the game wore on the Spirit's defence tightened and Dandenong's confidence waivered.

By half-time the scores were level and early in the third term the Spirit put their foot down, grabbing a match-high 10 point lead before the Rangers rallied late to cut the deficit to six at the final break.

A three-pointer from Dandenong star Jenna O'Hea at the start of the final term put the pressure back on the Spirit.

However, the defending champions steadied.

Kristi Harrower has struggled with her perimeter shooting all season, but she found form at the right time.

With 7.38 remaining the veteran guard nailed a huge three-point bomb to bring the big home crowd to life.

It gave the Spirit an eight-point cushion and took the momentum away from the Rangers.

Dandenong did get back within five points midway through the final term, but that was as close as they would get.

 Griffin was the hero for the Spirit.

The reigning grand final MVP scored 19 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked three shots to further enhance her status as one of the best big game players in the WNBL.

"Kelsey was huge,'' Bernie Harrower said.

"It's not just the points and the rebounds, it's the effort things she does at both ends of the court."

Kristi Harrower controlled the game with 14 points, 10 assists and four rebounds, while Gabe Richards had her struggles offensively (3-14) but still contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Kelly Wilson's performance shouldn't be underestimated.

Wilson went head-to-head with much-hyped Dandenong point guard Leilani Mitchell and won the battle hands down.

Wilson scored 14 points to go with two rebounds and two steals and restricted Mitchell to just two points.

"Kelly had a point to prove today,'' Bernie Harrower said.

"Leilani has played well against us in the past, but Kelly did a sensational job today.

"She wore Leilani like a glove."

O'Hea was gallant for the Rangers, scoring 16 points, before fouling out late in the game.

Alice Kunek added 13 points, while Bridget Ardossi scored 10 of 12 her points in the first term.

The Rangers now face Townsville in next Sunday's preliminary final.

The Fire kept their title hopes alive with a thrilling 78-73 win over Melbourne in Saturday's first semi-final.

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