The West Adelaide Bearcats are one win away from booking a finals spot after comfortably handling the South Adelaide Panthers 35-116.
Although not quite as destructive as their 85-point win in round 8, the Bearcats clearly overwhelmed a winless Panthers side, forcing them into a staggering 59 turnovers.
Bearcats Coach Tim Brenton says the game was a good opportunity to set some team goals while also playing some of his squad’s younger players.
“We always knew we were going to run our younger kids for 25% of the game,” Coach Brenton says.
“We met our defensive goal…that was reached really nicely. Our finishing at the start let us down a little bit, we could have put a lot more points on the board, but I was really happy.”
For the fourth week in a row, Ieva Nagy (19 pts, 4 rebs, 3 stls) top-scored for her team. Five other Bearcats reached double figures including Sky Langenbrinck (17 pts, 6 asts, 11 stls), Alexis Eckles (15 pts, 6 rebs, 4 blks), Michaela Lappin (15 pts, 9 rebs, 4 stls) and Ashlea Vordermaier (13 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts).
South Adelaide’s Captain Haley Bunce (18 pts, 9 rebs, 3 stls) scored over half her team’s points. Phoebe Wittwer-Smith (4 pts, 6 rebs, 1 ast) and Elizabeth Petrie (4 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast) the only other Panthers to post notable stat lines.
With their tenth win of the season locked up, West Adelaide will return home to play for a finals spot against the 9-7 Southern Tigers in a do-or-die clash. The Bearcats have reason to be confident after the Tigers dropped their second game in a row after a tight loss at home to Forestville.
Needless to say, the Bearcats could ill-afford the embarrassment of a slip up against the Panthers.
The winless side kept things relatively close in the opening quarter.
Wittwer-Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and put back a missed shot to give South the game’s first points. Petrie then drained a pull up jumper inside the arc giving the Panthers some offensive momentum and a 4-2 lead.
But West Adelaide began to flex their muscle on defence as their full court press started giving South nightmares in transition.
The Panthers would be forced into a total of 14 turnovers in the first quarter, and a brutal block on the perimeter by Alexis Eckles provided an apt representation of West Adelaide’s dominance: the score 11-24 at the first break.
Despite a brave effort in the first 10 minutes, the game started to follow a familiar script for South as the Bearcats began scoring at will.
Michaela Lappin put up 9 points in her best quarter of the game which included an impressive three-point play off a no-look inbounds pass from Jasmin Fejo.
The second quarter also featured a run of 17 unanswered West Adelaide points; remarkably only their second-best scoring streak for the game.
Eckles put the finishing touches on a dominant first half with another punishing block, sending the Bearcats into halftime with a 20-55 lead.
West Adelaide recorded their best statistical quarter of defence after halftime, keeping South to just five points in the third quarter, in addition to forcing another 15 turnovers.
Coach Brenton says the lopsided nature of the game can be attributed to his side’s intensity as well as South’s issues.
“Their program is not as strong as it was once, so they need to go through games like that to help them, and we were relentless which was good.”
Jessica Crispe would become the third Panther to suffer a punishing block from Eckles who was having a field day on defence.
The other highlight play from the third quarter was Tahlia Fejo’s crossover to blow past two South defenders and dish off a stylish assist to Ashlea Vordermaier.
Despite the enormous lead, Coach Brenton was still voicing his frustrations to his team about their occasional lack of communication on defence.
“Doesn’t matter what sport it is, the most successful teams talk to each other,” says Coach Brenton.
“I just think we still have pockets of moments where we don’t talk, and our defence breaks down because of it.
“That’s why I’m trying to be a little bit firmer that you can’t stop talking to each other, doesn’t matter the score.”
Although they held a 25-82 lead heading into the last quarter, the Bearcats were by no means finished.
South were shut out for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter while the Bearcats ran up the score with another 18 unanswered points; Vordermaier’s jumpshot to end the previous quarter meant West Adelaide had actually scored 20 points without reply—their best run of the game.
With the entirety of West Adelaide’s bench on the court to finish the game, Bearcats fans got a glimpse of a bright future.
Keeley Pearce (8 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast) and Alex Pearce (4 pts, 6 rebs, 2 stls) made the most of their time on the court together, while Chelsey Warnest (2 asts, 2 stls) made an impression in only her fourth appearance of the season.
Alexis Eckles finished the game with perhaps her best block of the night, chasing down Chelsea Green in transition to reject her at the rim.
The final quarter was in fact West Adelaide’s highest scoring, with the away side putting up 34 points in an impressive display of team depth and fitness.
Coach Brenton remains very confident heading into the defining game of his season.
“Southern is a game we know we can win,” says Coach Brenton.
“We really play well against them and I think the connection and depth that we have and the way we’ve been playing…we’re very confident.”
The last time the two sides met in round 9, Southern came out on top 68-62 in a demoralising loss for West Adelaide riddled with crucial free throw misses.
The Bearcats get their shot at revenge on Saturday.