The Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames travel to regional Victoria this weekend knowing their post-season aspirations are on the line against an in-form Bendigo Spirit.
With just two games to play in the regular season and a log-jam of teams fighting for the final three play-off positions, Saturday’s clash in Victoria’s goldfields looms as perhaps the most pivotal game of the round.
Eight teams are still well and truly in calculation for the 2011/2012 finals and it seems multiple teams enter each game knowing that a loss could end their finals aspirations.
For the Flames, taking on the in-form Spirit on the road is always a challenge and the Sydney Uni team is well aware they will have to be at their best to counter the Kristi Harrower-led Bendigo outfit.
Bendigo lost a heart-stopping overtime clash with Adelaide last round after a dominant display the week prior against reigning premiers Bulleen and will enter this one full of confidence.
Sydney Uni dropped an important game to Dandenong at home last Friday and know that an improved defensive effort will be key in returning to the winners’ circle and staying in the play-off hunt.
As with many of the WNBL fixtures this week, this game has some mouth watering individual match-ups and showcases a host of proven big game performers.
Former Flames swing player Deanna Smith enters this game in white-hot form and her ability to create scoring opportunities in transition makes her a key for Bendigo.
Her clash with fellow Victoria Country product and Flames star Belinda Snell will be a crucial one, as will the potential head to head battle between rising stars Katie Rae Ebzery and Tess Madgen.
Up front, young Flames centre Ellyce Ironmonger will have a stern test against veteran Spirit centre Gabe Richards and the battle of the import power forwards Amy Denson and Chelsea Aubry is another to watch.
But of course, no conversation about the Spirit is complete without mentioning Kristi Harrower, who will engage in an engrossing battle with Athens Olympic team-mate and Flames floor leader Alicia Poto.
Flames coach Karen Dalton said her team would need to be at their defensive best to grab the crucial road win.
“Bendigo is very organised on offence, has plenty of scoring options and shoots the 3 point shot well, so it will be a challenge for our defence,” she said.
“When we have played well, it has been on the back of our defence and at this time of year, defence and rebounding are the important elements for any team.”
When last these two teams met back in round four, the Flames recorded a narrow 81-79 victory, providing an indication of just how evenly matched these two teams are.
Tip-off for the crucial clash in Bendigo is 7.30pm.