STAR centre Gabe Richards is shaping up as the trump card of the Bendigo Braves as they begin their finals campaign against Launceston tomorrow night.
The Braves women last weekend completed a perfect run through their home and away campaign with wins over Frankston and Nunawading to become just the second team to go 20-0 in SEABL history.
But as the Braves head into their matchup with Launceston and league MVP Lauren Nicholson in Bendigo tomorrow night, they will use their significant playoff experience to their advantage.
Gabe Richards, Kelly Wilson, Andrea Wilson have all played in WNBL titles, while several members of the Braves team are holdovers from last year’s team that lost to Geelong in the SEABL final.
One negative for the Braves is the absence of Ash Karaitiana, overseas with the New Zealand national team, but coach Megan Moody said she will return before the side’s second final.
That game could be next weekend if they suffer a maiden loss for the year, or in a fortnight with a win, but it will be played in Bendigo regardless of the result.
Moody says she hasn’t yet decided whether Bianca Dufelmeier or Andrea Wilson will step into the vacant starting role left by Karaitiana.
“We went with (Andrea Wilson) last weekend, but I haven’t decided which way we’ll go with that yet,” she said.
“They’ve both been great for us, and matchups will come into it.”
The contest looms as something of an all-star shootout, with Kelly Wilson to go head to head with Australian Opals guard Lauren Mansfield, Nadeen Payne to likely guard league MVP Lauren Nicholson and Tornadoes sharpshooter Alex Wilson matched up on Braves perimeter ace Kara Tessari.
“In terms of the quality, I think it will be fantastic. If you’re a young player and you’re watching, or even just a basketball fan, and you see some of those matchups I think it’s about as good as it gets,” Moody said.
Bendigo’s trump card may be Gabe Richards, who looms as an interior presence that Launceston will have trouble matching. Last time the two sides met Richards had a season-high 36 points on an astonishing 12-of-15 from the field despite playing less than 25 minutes of game time.
“I’d say that they would have watched a lot of film on Gabe, and that we’ll see double, maybe triple-teams on her this weekend,” she said.
“I hope they don’t, because anytime Gabe gets the ball that’s good for us, but at the same time we have to be ready to play off those double-teams because she is such a good passer from the post.”
The Tornadoes come in having won their last three games and four of their past five, and while Bendigo’s streak far exceeds that there is little doubt that they are the competition’s form teams.
“I think it will be, if you look at the last time we played, another high-scoring game. You never really know with playoffs because it can turn into anything, everything is possible really in that environment, but both teams can score in buckets,” Moody said.
“Hopefully that makes it a good game to watch and we can get a big crowd, because we’ll need all the help we can get.”
The Braves take on Launceston at Bendigo Stadium from the adjusted start time of 7pm on Saturday night.