BENDIGO Spirit have been dealt a fresh hand of injury concerns ahead of a tough WNBL round 14 encounter against the Southside Flyers this weekend.
The Spirit look set to be without experienced centre Gabe Richards for their showdown against the top of the ladder Flyers at Bendigo Stadium this Saturday.
The two-time WNBL All-Star suffered a heavy knock to her head in the opening minutes of the final quarter of last Sunday's 81-100 road loss to the Perth Lynx.
Richards, a two-time championship player with the Spirit, was sidelined for the remainder of the game and is considered doubtful to take her place in the line-up against the Flyers.
The Spirit were already a few players down in Perth, with classy guard Abbey Wehrung missing the game through injury, and import Marte' Grays sill recovering from the hamstring complaint that has sidelined her for the past two games.
"It's kind of survival of the fittest - we hope to be competing well, but we are down a few players," said coach Tracy York.
"Abbey sustained a quad injury, so she couldn't travel with us on the weekend. She has clearly been a starter for us and playing great basketball.
"That's left us searching for another player to play that position, so that's tough."
The Flyers are not without injury concerns of their own, with Opals skipper Jenna O'Hea ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering a broken wrist in the ladder leader's weekend win over the Melbourne Boomers.
Far from dwelling on the club's injury toll, Spirit star Carley Ernst is remaining upbeat as the Spirit aim to make it three wins from their past four games.
"We do have a few injuries, but when they happen there's always opportunities for others to step up," she said.
"On Sunday we saw a few of the younger girls getting minutes and come in and score.
"It's exciting for those girls to be able to hit the court."
Young guard Kara Tessari was among those to seize their chance, nailing a pair of three-pointers on her way to scoring a season-high eight points.
Ernst, who again performed solidly against the Lynx to finish with 11 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and two assists, expects the Spirit to embrace the challenge of going head-to-head with the competition benchmark on Saturday.
"It's going to be tough game, and even though we know Jenna O'Hea won't be playing, they still have an amazing team," she said.
"We want to try and finish on a high. Obviously we can't make finals, but we do want to finish fifth.
"We play Perth again a few weeks, we'd like to get that win and get head-to-head on them, but for now the focus is all Southside."
The Spirit (4-13) enter round 14 two wins in arrears of fifth-placed Perth (6-10) and the Sydney Uni Flames (6-11), and one win behind the Townsville Fire (5-12).
Their remaining schedule tosses up the Southside Flyers before a return clash against the Lynx in Bendigo on January 24, and a final round road double against Sydney Uni (January 30) and Townsville (February 1).
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