Sharp shooting Sparks secure semi-final spot

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The Sydney Uni Sparks completed another Victorian sweep in Round 16, proving they are a force to be reckoned with on the road. On Saturday night, they took down the Sandringham Sabres 69-60, and then backed up on Sunday with a 77-54 win over the Melbourne Tigers. The victories mean the Sydney Uni Sparks have secured a home eastern conference semi-final with two matches remaining in the regular season. This is a huge result for the Sparks, in their inaugural SEABL season.

In their first game for the weekend, Sydney Uni took on the Sandringham Sabres, who they had beaten the previous week by 35 points. Coach Dalton warned her team this would be a completely different game. Her players would need to come ready to play as the Sabres now had home court advantage and have a couple of players who are legitimate offensive threats in Nicole Romeo (20.9 ppg) and Jasmine Gill (19.7ppg).

The Sparks took their coach’s words on board and looked focussed in their warm up. They got out to a great start, shooting 65% from the floor in the opening quarter and took a 22-15 lead into the first break. Although the Sparks led at every break, the Sabres stuck around for the entirety of the match.

Composure on offence and lock down team defence were absolute key for the Sparks, as they outscored the Sabres in all but one quarter. The Sparks were effective offensively, limiting their turnovers to 13 and shooting 43 percent from the field. They looked impressive when they pushed the tempo and made the extra pass, leading to multiple uncontested shots.

Shanae Greaves was outstanding inside for the Sparks, finishing with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Emily Matthews was efficient offensively, scoring 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting and Kim Hodge added 9 points and 7 rebounds. Each of the Sparks contributed great minutes, sharing around the rest of the scoring and effectively limiting the scoring productivity of key Sandringham players.

In the Sparks second match of Round 16, they came up against the Melbourne Tigers. The Tigers had a considerable height advantage across all positions on the floor which the Sparks would not fully exploit until the last quarter.

Maddie O’Hehir got the ball rolling for the Sparks with two impressive three point plays in the first couple of minutes. Kim Hodge joined in, scoring 8 of her 12 points in the first quarter to give the Sparks a 26-19 lead heading into the first break. In parts of the second and third quarters, the Tigers front court combination of Tomlinson and Penaluna (both 6 foot 4) required the Sparks to find different ways to score as they were blocking whatever they could get their hands on. The Sparks countered this by running the floor and moving the ball on offence to find outside shooters. Sarah Graham and Susannah Walmsley started knocking down open shots and the Sparks ground out a 27 point fourth quarter to run away 23 point victors.

The Sparks were once again efficient offensively, shooting 40 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. They also put together another great defensive performance picking up 11 steals and limiting the Tigers to 54 points, their lowest total of the season.

Greaves was again dominant on the glass, pulling down 17 rebounds regardless of a substantial height disadvantage inside. Graham was again showed off her sharp shooting scoring 26 points and grabbing 5 steals. Walmsley was effective offensively, scoring 14 points off 5-7 shooting, while Hodge topped off a great weekend pulling down 7 board to add to her 12 points.

Head coach, Karen Dalton was extremely pleased with the efforts of her team, who were without Australian Gem’s squad member Lara McSpadden and Sydney Uni Flames point guard Tahlia Tupaea.

“This weekend provided another great learning experience for our young group. It was really good to see us compete against more experienced and physical opponents and come away with another two road wins. The team continues to improve each week and I’m really proud of the girls for securing a home semi-final in a couple of weeks,” Dalton said.

Sparks captain, Shanae Greaves was also really happy with her team’s performances this weekend. “We played some exciting basketball on the weekend, finally getting back the momentum we had before the long weekend break,” she said.

“Following the game plan and taking our defensive intensity up a gear were both key factors in our two wins. I’m stoked we’ve been able to secure ourselves a place in finals in our inaugural season. I’m very proud of our young group!” Greaves added.

The Sparks will play their last home game of the regular season this weekend against the Hobart Chargers. Tip-off is at 6pm on Saturday 29th July at Bryden’s Stadium.

Their home semi-final will be played on Friday 11th August at 7pm, with their opponent yet to be named.