BENDIGO Braves coach Megan Moody believes her side has the mental toughness and talent to handle a pressure SEABL grand final.
The Braves face a confident Launceston Tornadoes in Saturday’s season decider at the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna.
Launceston, under Dallas Wings WNBA development coach Derrick Washington, finds itself on a five-game winning streak – a run that includes an impressive qualifying final win against the Braves at Bendigo Stadium on July 28.
But as the Braves women push for their first national title since 2007, Moody insists what happened last time counts for nothing with a championship up for grabs.
“I think anyone who saw our game here last time, we struggled to put the ball through the whole and we missed a lot of shots we would normally make,” she said.
“And we had quite a few defensive lapses.
“If we can minimise those lapses that we had and make the shots we normally make, that should put us in good stead.
“In saying that, they are working really well together as a group – (Alex) Wilson, (Lauren) Nicholson) and (Ellie) Collins have been their three who have been there all season – then we you throw (Lauren) Mansfield back into the mix, coming back out of an Opals camp, and Courtney Williams coming in off the bench, they have a very strong line-up.
“We’ll need to make sure that we are aware of what personnel are on the floor at all times.”
Moody has opted for a low-key approach to the grand final, ensuring her players remain calm and relaxed and able to enjoy the moment.
“But ultimately we still have one last box to check,” she said.
“It would be nice to get that championship, but obviously they have a lot of confidence right now and a lot of support behind them.
“It’s going to be a battle.”
The Braves have dominated the season like few others before them, compiling a perfect 20-0 regular season, before their sole loss to Launceston, followed by a pair of impressive wins against Geelong Supercats and Kilsyth Cobras.
A feature of those two finals wins was the impressive spread of contributions.
All five starters – Nadeen Payne, who leads the team this season in both points (22.5) and rebounds (9.4), Kelly Wilson (a league-high 12.1 assists per game), Gabe Richards, Ashleigh Karaitiana and Kara Tessari – ended the preliminary final against Kilsyth in double digits in points.
They were backed by some key contributions off the bench from guard Bianca Dufelmeir, Andrea Wilson and the much-improved Maddi Wild.
With such an array of contributions and players such as Richards and the Wilson sisters boasting vast WNBL finals experience, it’s no surprise Moody has supreme confidence in her players’ ability to rise to the big occasion.
“We’ve shown we are one of the best teams all season – we had a little hiccup in the first week of finals, but I think that it was good for us to go away and re-evaluate things,” she said.
“We want this – this is what we have worked for all season.”
With scorelines of 95-81 in the Braves favour and 84-77 to the Tornadoes three weeks ago, it’s fair to expect the grand final to be a high-scoring affair.
If that’s what indeed eventuates, Braves star Ashleigh Karaitiana believes the Tornadoes might be playing into Bendigo’s hands.
“We have so many scorers on our team that if they shut one of us down, there are other people to step up – and it could be any one of us,” she said.
“If we can lock down one or two of their main three scorers, it would go a long way to us winning.
“Nicholson is always going to get her fair share of points, but she can’t beat us by herself.”
Karaitiana shapes as a potential wildcard, after missing the qualifying final against the Tornadoes with New Zealand Tall Ferns commitments.
The 26-year-old was the undoubted find of the Tall Ferns’ Asian tour, under WNBL Melbourne Boomers coach Guy Molloy, and has continued that form in the SEABL finals.
Karaitiana scorched Geelong for 13 points in the opening quarter of their semi-final in Bendigo on her way to a game-high 27 points.
In much the same vein, it was one of the youngest Braves Tessari, who set the tone in last week’s win against the Cobras, with back-to-back-to-back threes in the opening quarter.
For at least one Brave, Madi Sexton hopes the championship game will mark a fond farewell.
We’ve shown we are one of the best teams all season – we had a little hiccup in the first week of finals, but I think that it was good for us to go away and re-evaluate things.Megan Moody
The former Braves junior will head to the United States the day after the grand final, where she will play college basketball on scholarship at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Sexton will be one of five players in the line-up on Saturday left from the team which lost last year’s championship game to Geelong.
The others are Kelly Wilson, who led the Braves in that game with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Dufelmeier (eight points, five rebounds), Wild and Tahnee Cannan.
Moody was certain that loss would serve as some motivation to the players who were involved.
“No one ever remembers a runner-up; unfortunately that’s how it is,” the first-year head-coach said.
“For us as a group, it would be a nice finish to a season – we’ve had a great season to this point, but we’d like to finish it on a high.
“We’ll use that (loss) as a little bit of motivation and we’ll remember that hurt … but let’s not feel that again.”
The grand final starts at 5.45pm and will be live-streamed on the SEABL Facebook page.