Last weekend marked the ultimate round of the WNBL’s regular season, and positioning for the Finals was on the line with Lauren Jackson’s Canberra TransAct Capitals and Suzy Batkovic-Brown’s Sydney Uni Acuvue Flames battling for the second seed and a spot in the major semifinal. By virtue of a head-to-head win last month, Canberra could have secured second with a win, but they were tested by heading on the road to face league-leading Bulleen on Saturday.
In a thrilling game, Jackson scored 40 points on 15-of-30 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. However, her effort was not enough to carry the Capitals to victory. Getting 28 points from Jenna O’Hea and more balanced scoring contributions, the Boomers outscored Canberra 31-16 in the final quarter and won 88-78. Talented young center Liz Cambage also made a statement playing against Jackson by scoring 18 points and grabbing eight boards despite foul trouble that limited her minutes.
The loss gave Sydney a chance to finish second with a win over the lowly Perth Lynx, a task complicated by the absence of Batkovic-Brown (who injured her left knee last weekend) and Eva Afeaki. Behind 24 points from Nat Porter and 21 from Deanna Smith, the Flames nonetheless claimed a 72-59 victory to finish a game ahead of Canberra in the standings.
Five teams make the WNBL Finals, which are a bit more complicated than the typical playoff format. The No. 4 and No.5 seeds (Townsville and Bendigo) will square off Wednesday in the Elimination Final. The winner of that game then faces Canberra Sunday in one semifinal. The major semifinal then sends Sydney to Melbourne to face the Boomers on Saturday. The Flames are the only team to defeat Bulleen this season and did so on the road, but without Batkovic-Brown (battling to return as soon as possible, but not expected to play next week) pulling the upset will be more challenging.
The winner of the Bulleen-Sydney matchup advances directly to the Grand Final, while the loser faces the winner of the other semifinal on Feb. 27 with the other spot in the Grand Final on the line. If the seeds hold, we’d see Canberra and Sydney play each other in that game.
- The playoffs are already under way in Israel. Behind 26 points and nine boards from Ashley Walker, who shot 10-of-12 from the field, Maccabi Ashdod earned a 94-71 victory in Game 1 of its best-of-three series with Raanana Hertzeliya. Game 2 is tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Camille Little and Maccabi Ramat Hen will try to even their series with Elizur Maccabi Natanya tonight at home. Ramat Hen lost Game 1 83-73 despite 24 points and a pair of three-pointers from Little.
Ramat Hen was more successful in last weekend’s Israeli Cup quarterfinals, defeating Elizur Holon 92-71 to advance to the semifinals. Little had 26 points in that win.
- Showdown in Poland on Saturday, where Janell Burse (Wisla Can-Pack) and Tanisha Wright (Lotos Gdynia) squared off. Burse had an excellent individual game, posting 14 points and 14 rebounds, but her teammates could get little going in Lotos Gdynia’s 65-54 win. Wright was versatile as ever, scoring 12 points, handing out seven assists and grabbing six rebounds.
- Fresh off a sweep in the Euroleague eighth-finals, Spartak Moscow Region defeated Dynamo Novosibirsk 90-42 on Sunday. Sue Bird did not play in the game, which I would guess is because she’s being rested for more important competitions. Sylvia Fowles and Diana Taurasi called it a night after about 12 minutes. Bird’s backup, Kelly Miller, scored a game-high 18 points.
- We discussed Le’coe Willingham’s Euroleague action last week, but this is the first time we’ll check in on her and Halcon Avenida in Spain’s Liga Feminina. Willingham is averaging 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while making 57.5 percent of her two-point attempts. At 17-2, Avenida is second in the league behind 18-1 Ros Casares Valencia. The only Ros Casares loss came against Avenida, which has lost twice to third-place Rivas Ecopolis (16-3).
On Saturday, Avenida blew out Espanyol 77-53. Willingham had 10 points and six boards in 17 minutes of action, while Sancho Lyttle had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
- In Italy, Liomatic Umbertide lost to Club Atletico Faenza 64-44 on Saturday. Chelsea Newton had 10 points and four rebounds.
- Swin Cash put up 20 points, 11 boards and four assists in her most recent game in China, an 84-65 win by Guangdong Asia Aluminum over Beijing. That was the last game of the regular season for Guandong, which finished fifth in the WCBA at 14-8 and will take on the Shenyang Army in the quarterfinals of the WCBA playoffs next Tuesday.