Big Spirit on show as Bendigo claims first win
BENDIGO Spirit marked a remarkable second half turnaround against Sydney Flames on Saturday night to claim its first victory of the 2023-24 Cygnett Women’s National Basketball League season.
After a nil-four start, Bendigo had to bring the heat for its second home game at Red Energy Arena.
There was plenty to play for, especially for Spirit coach Kennedy Kereama in his 100th WNBL match.
Midway through the second term it was the Flames who held a 15-point lead with Sydney’s break was built on five consecutive three-point plays as Spirit added just five points.
The last two minutes of the half would be crucial as Spirit cut the margin to nine points.
In the fourth minute of quarter three Bendigo was up 53-51 after Alicia Froling was fouled on her shot which fell and then converted from the free-throw line.
As Spirit’s shooting accuracy and defensive intensity lifted, Sydney’s dropped dramatically.
Brilliant from three-point range in the first half the Flames could not regain their spark.
For Bendigo there were many outstanding performers as it won the third, 28-9.
“Our third quarter was exceptional,” Kereama said. “To hold a team as talented as Sydney to 20 points in a half was a superb effort.”
One of many key contributors to the victory was Alicia Froling who scored an equal team-high 17 points and won seven rebounds.
In a match marked by many moments, Froling’s defensive block late in the third, and another by Mehryn Kraker typified Spirit’s desperation and want for victory.
“Those sorts of plays lift the whole team, and the fans,” Froling said.
Even when down by 15 in the second, Froling said the team’s spirits were high.
“The key was to keep working as a group and stick to the game plan,” she said.
Kereama said a free-throw percentage of 88 per cent and greater discipline in defence had been two focus areas for this match.
“Our ability to control tempo was also great,” he said.
Spirit captain and four-time WNBA champion Kelsey Griffin did not take to the court because of lingering concerns with her hamstring injury.
For Bendigo it was a case of who’s on court, not who isn’t.
Among the many highs in Bendigo’s victory was the play of Micah Simpson in the last 48 seconds in which she won a defensive rebound and was on the end of a Kelly Wilson assist to score two points.
“There were many great moments, that was right up there,” said Kereama.
“Micah has worked so hard in training and the response of all the team, especially the starting five, to her play was incredible.”
For Flames coach Guy Molloy and league legend Cayla George the result was incredibly disappointing.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Molloy said. “We were very good for most of the first half.
“Ill-discipline was costly. “We lacked discipline and composure as the game went on.”
The long-time coach said credit was due for Spirit’s play, but Flames also rued shot selection and errors in the second half.
“We just didn’t play the way we can,” Molloy said.
A WNBA champion with Las Vegas Aces in 2023, Tokyo Olympian and four-time WNBL champion, Cayla George said the Flames line-up would learn plenty from defeat in Bendigo.
“As disappointing as this result is, we stick together, work hard and look to the opportunity to bounce back next round,” she said.
Next challenge for Spirit is in Adelaide next Saturday night on Lightning’s court from 7pm.
The Lightning is on the rebound from a 17-point loss at home to Townsville Fire.
In the lead-up to Christmas, Bendigo Spirit has an away game on 9 December against Southside Flyers.
Spirit faces Adelaide on 15 December at Geelong Arena and two days later is back at Red Energy Arena to play Southside from 5.30pm.