Bendigo Bank Spirit coach Bernie Harrower says his team is a title contender after its perfect start to the WNBL season.
The Spirit again came from behind in two sensational wins on the road at the weekend, defeating last season’s runner-up the Bulleen Boomers 70-69 and reigning premiers Dandenong 70-58
Bendigo has now won four games away from home without star recruit Renae Camino, or an import, and is two wins clear at the top of the ladder after round two.
“When we get to full-strength, the potential is we can be a contender – I’ve got no hesitation in saying that,” Harrower said.
“You still need a lot of luck, you still need things to go your way if you want to make a run at a championship, but all the pieces of the puzzle – at the moment – are falling into place.”
Bendigo entered the season with a largely new-look squad, but the form of its seasoned campaigners combined with the seamless addition of its recruits has been irresistible.
“We just have great chemistry within our group, it really is sensational,” Harrower said.
“We’ve got people that have left their egos at the door and have just come in and want to be a part of what we try to do here in Bendigo and be a part of the group.
“A lot of people didn’t rate us because we lost so-called superstar players.
“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many superstars you’ve got, if they can’t play together then they’re not much good to you.”
The Spirit’s superstar, Kristi Harrower, once again proved her importance to the team at the weekend, though.
With Bendigo trailing Bulleen in the fourth quarter on Friday night, Harrower led the Spirit to a thrilling victory by draining a three-pointer followed by the match-winning two-point basket with just 16 seconds to play.
The veteran sunk 14 points for the game, while Kelly Wilson top-scored for Bendigo with 16 and Gabe Richards netted 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Australian Opal Rachel Jarry, who missed the chance to win the game for Bulleen, top scored with 19 points, while two-time Spirit MVP Tess Madgen was restricted to 10 points for the Boomers.
Harrower and Richards were again instrumental as the travel-weary Spirit staged an incredible turnaround to defeat Dandenong on Saturday night.
Trailing by 15 points late in the second quarter, the Spirit outscored Dandenong 49-22 for the remainder of the match.
Harrower, who shot at zero from seven in the first two quarters, was unstoppable after half-time scoring 24 points.
Gabe Richards chimed in with 19 points and another 11 boards, while Canadian international Chelsea Aubry was back to her best with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Jenna O’Hea was held to just nine points on her return to Dandenong from the WNBA, while fellow Opal Kath MacLeod top-scored for the Rangers with 18 points.
The only sour point for Bendigo was a heel injury to Madeleine Garrick, the extent of which is unknown.
The Spirit plays its first match this season at Bendigo Stadium on Saturday night against West Coast with Harrower keen to ensure Bendigo consolidates its position on top of the ladder.
“We’ve done the hard yards over the last two weekends with all the travel and the quality teams that we’ve played,” he said.
“West Coast had a very good win against Sydney, so it’s really important we don’t underestimate them or disrespect them or we could definitely lose that game,” said the long-time basketball coach.