Week 1 Quarter Final Women's SBL Preview
THE 2016 SBL finals get underway this Friday night with three of the opening round matches with the fourth to take place on Saturday with the top four teams all hosting the contests.
Three of the four Game 1's take place on Friday night with the Goodlife Homes Willetton Tigers playing the Lakeside Lightning at Willetton Basketball Stadium, the Orange Autos Rockingham Flames facing the Texture WA Perth Redbacks at Mike Barnett Sports Complex and the Perry Lakes Hawks battling the Mandurah Magic at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Then on Saturday night, the minor premier Merriwa Tavern & Bistro Joondalup City Wolves take on the Lapa Brazilian BBQ Restaurant Cockburn Cougars.
While the Women's top three SBL teams Wolves, Flames and Tigers have appeared the standout teams this season, and the Hawks and Magic contest appears the most evenly matched, playoffs over the history of the league is littered with surprise upsets.
Starting on Friday night, last year's grand finalists the Tigers begin their playoff campaign at home to a Lightning team who have been the great improvers of 2016.
Coming off last year's grand final loss to Rockingham, Willetton has opted for stability in 2016 and the result has been another strong season finishing in third positon with a 17-5 record.
Lakeside, meanwhile, had some rebuilding to do under new coach Craig Mansfield after a one-win season in 2015 and he has done a tremendous job adding Alison Schwagmeyer and Devanny King, and getting the best out of the remaining group.
The result was the Lightning finishing the regular season in sixth position with an 11-11 record.
The two games between the teams during the regular season saw the Lighting win at Lakeside by 16 points and then the Tigers at home by six in a terrific contest two weeks ago.
Tigers centre Louella Tomlinson and Lightning forward Schwagmeyer are both capable of taking over games, so perhaps who can have the biggest influence will lead their team to victory.
Willetton coach Simon Parker is under no illusions at the danger the Lightning present as a first round opponent.
"They are pretty tough to defend because they go for 40 minutes but the biggest thing is to match the pace of their intensity for 40 minutes. We didn’t do that last time and matched them for about seven minutes and ended up winning the game of basketball," Parker said.
"They are pretty hard to scout as well because they play with a bit of controlled chaos, but once we shut Schwagmeyer down they only scored 40 in the last three quarters.
"It will just be about getting off to a better start this time around. I think they are a beatable but dangerous team."
Meanwhile, Mansfield is looking forward to the challenge of taking on the Tigers in a playoff series and to do so fresh off the final round bye and with Courtney Byrnes to return from illness.
"You have to think that when it comes to the finals you would like a crack at everybody," Mansfield said.
"It's always a good rivalry with the clubs next to each other and I know they have played each other several times in the finals. I would like a good crack at them. They probably have the strongest frontline in the competition as well which is always challenging."
The defending champion Flames then begin their quest for what would be a third ever three-peat in the Women's SBL when they take on the Redbacks.
Rockingham has won the last two SBL titles and had another strong 2016 season finishing in second position with an 18-4 record.
While the Flames are led by WNBL stars Sami Whitcomb, Darcee Garbin and Ifunanya Ibekwe, they have strong depth with the likes of Jacinta Bourne, Tarsha Fletcher, Ashlee Sidebottom, Talisia Bourne, Lizel Buckley, Amanda Pether and Ella Kennedy.
The Redbacks are another great improver of 2016 returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 having finished with a 10-12 record in seventh spot after winning just seven games the past two years combined.
The arrival of Ajay Jones, Rebecca Benson and Lisa Wallbutton, and returns of Ashley Gilmore and Gabby O'Sullivan has been massive in the Redbacks revival.
The two teams played twice during the regular season with the Flames winning at Belmont Oasis by 17 points and then the Redbacks winning in Rockingham by one.
While there will be plenty of fascinating match ups across the court, whichever sharpshooter out of Benson and Whitcomb can catch fire could very well have a big say in the final result.
Flames coach Ryan Petrik knows that the Redbacks are a dangerous opponent presenting an early threat to their championship defence and nobody at Rockingham will be taking them lightly.
"They beat us at home and forced us into playing some of our worst basketball for the year. They made the ball sticky for us, we finished with eight assists or something tragic, and since then we’ve really stressed moving the ball making it harder for defences to load up on the talent," Petrik said.
"Benson is an absolute Jet, she breaks almost every defensive rule we have for the average guard because she’s such a phenomenal shooter. If she gets out of control it’s going to be a long series for us.
"Luckily she plays the same position as Whitcomb and Ibekwe, just watching those match ups will be worth the admission alone."
The third Friday night contest sees the Hawks take on the Magic in what looms as a cracking first round clash.
Perry Lakes went out and signed veterans Deanna Smith and Antonia Edmondson this season to give coach CJ Jackson just the top off to his squad he had worked hard to develop the previous three seasons.
The result has been the Hawks finishing in fourth position with a 15-7 record and entering the finals on a four-game winning streak.
The Magic made a slow start to the season with Casey Mihovilovich unavailable early on, but once the second most experienced Women's SBL player returned Mandurah's fortunes greatly improved.
Mandurah went on to win 10 of the last 14 games of the season to end up with a 12-10 record and end up in fifth place. The Magic will also welcome back import Adijat Adams from a two-week suspension to end the regular season.
During the season, the Hawks scored a thumping win at home in the second round by 40 points while also winning in Rockingham by 10 points in Week 6.
There are plenty of tremendous battles to watch across the floor, but the point guard contest between Lauren Jeffers and Mihovilovich could very well be the most pivotal.
Then on Saturday night, it's the first placed Lady Wolfpack taking on the Cougars at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
The Wolves have a new coach in Craig Friday in 2016 and with the arrival of Klara Wischer, emergence of Amy Kidner among others and the experience of Shani Amos, Nikita-Lee Martin and Ellyce Ironmonger it's a strong Joondalup line-up.
That saw them claim the minor premiership with a 19-3 record heading into the playoffs.
The Cougars fell into eighth position despite losing to the Wolves last Friday night with the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and Stirling Senators both losing in the final round.
The Wolves won that game last week at Wally Hagan Stadium by 19 points while also beating the Cougars by 13 points at Joondalup back on April 22.
The battle of Cougars import Candace Williams up against Wischer could very well be worth the price of admission alone.
Wolves coach Friday is just hoping that his team can continue their form from the regular season into the finals now.
"At the start of the year we just wanted to concentrate on good team basketball. We put a process in away from the court and made sure we stuck to that to get that done, and now the rewards have come with the way we are," Friday said.
"We aren’t looking any further ahead than this week and the first week of the finals, that's all we can afford to do.
"We've got some good experience but we've also got some kids in their first playoffs who will get an opportunity. We have to play them through it and see what they can do. We feel ready and it's a great challenge. We are where we want to be and that's all we can do."
WEEK 1 WOMEN'S QUARTER FINAL SBL FIXTURES
Goodlife Homes Willetton Tigers v Lakeside Lightning, Willetton Basketball Stadium 6.30pm
Orange Autos Rockingham Flames v Texture WA Perth Redbacks, Mike Barnett Sports Complex 7pm
Perry Lakes Hawks v Mandurah Magic, Bendat Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Merriwa Tavern & Bistro Joondalup City Wolves v Lapa Brazilian BBQ Restaurant Cockburn Cougars, Joondalup Basketball Stadium 6pm
Article by Chris Pike
Photo by Mick Cronin