THE most extensive and exhaustive pre-season in head coach Simon Pritchard’s four-years at Bendigo Spirit has paid immediate dividends.
For only the second time in the last six seasons, the Spirit won their season opener against the much more fancied Melbourne Boomers.
Their 82-72 victory at the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna was marked by a ferocious effort on defence.
After a daunting start, the Spirit were able to rein in a lethal and multi-pronged Boomers offence for extensive parts of the contest and finished the encounter with 19 defensive rebounds and a staggering 16 steals.
Never in his years as a head or assistant coach at WNBL or Australian junior level can Pritchard recall a team he has been involved with make 16 steals.
He described the game-influencing stat as ‘mind blowing’.
“It just jumps off the page at you,” Pritchard said.
“We have decided on a different type of defence this season; if this is an indication of how many cheap baskets we can get, it’s going to be difficult for teams to beat us.”
The Boomers had the better of a frenetic opening term and led 27-21 at quarter time.
Pritchard praised a 9-4 run at the end of the quarter as pivotal in stemming the flow and reducing the margin to six points at the break, and establishing the momentum for a blistering 29-5 run in the second to give the Spirit a 50-32 half time lead.
Shooting guard Marena Whittle was a key at both ends of the floor with 14 first-half points and three steals, backed by Nadeen Payne (11 points, two steals) and import Becca Tobin (eight points and three steals).
“From there it was a case of being able to hold our ground because we knew they would come at us and they did … they were very physical,” he said.
“We had a decent lead at three quarter time and they got it back to six (points) in the fourth quarter, but we changed up our offence and took plenty of time off the clock and dried up their possession.
“With about four minutes to play we were up by 15 and they were pretty much out of time.”
The Spirit were without one of their star recruits Louella Tomlinson, while the status of Canadian import Jamie Scott, who is recovering from a metatarsal stress fracture , remains in doubt.
But they got excellent contributions from newcomers Tobin (15 points, nine rebounds, five steals), Whittle (21 points, four rebounds, four steals) and Natalie Hurst (12 points, three assists).
One of just three holdovers on this season’s roster, Payne took up where she left off from her 2017-18 club MVP-winning season to contribute 16 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Young newcomer Cassidy McLean stepped up off the bench with a pair of important threes, while Maddi Wild chipped in with five points and as many rebounds.
“Everyone came in and did their best, which is what you want … I really can’t ask for any more from the girls than their best,” Pritchard said.
“It really was a magnificent first-up performance.”
Steph Talbot was best for the Boomers with 20 points, while Lindsay Allen, who was focus for the Spirit, had 18 points, five assists and three rebounds.
The Spirit play their first home game this Saturday night against Dandenong Rangers.