IN the end, it was very much a tale of two halves.
The Bendigo Spirit capped a WNBL road double yesterday with a hard-fought 80-71 win over a plucky Canberra Capitals at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre.
Paced by recruit Kelsey Griffin’s game-high 20 points, the Spirit took their record to an impressive 8-1 to keep top spot on the WNBL ladder, a half-game ahead of the Dandenong Rangers.
Bendigo over-ran Canberra in the second half, turning a five-point half-time deficit into a nine-point win on the back of gritty defence and superior offensive execution.
Despite the absence of superstar Lauren Jackson (hamstring) and coach Carrie Graf (bereavement), the Caps shot a sizzling 67 per cent from the field in the first half to have Spirit coach Bernie Harrower looking for adjustments.
“It all starts with our defence, I was a bit disappointed we’d given up 44 points in the first half,” Harrower said.
“We had to dig deep and come up with the effort stuff. We did a good job of that in the second half.
“Credit to Canberra, they shot the lights out in the first half and we had some breakdowns in our gameplan that we didn’t execute — we fixed that up at half-time.”
In addition to Griffin’s offensive display, the Spirit was well served by inside presence Gabe Richards (14 points, eight boards) and the backcourt duo of four-time Olympian Kristi Harrower (11 points, eight assists, six rebounds) and Kelly Wilson (13 points).
For Canberra, young pivot Sam Norwood led the way with 16 points and nine rebounds while former Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits star Jess Bibby added 14 points.
In a free-flowing start in front of almost 900 fans, both teams came out smoothly, with crisp ball movement a glowing highlight.
But a quick burst from Nicole Hunt allowed the putative hosts to claim a handy 25-20 lead at the first interval.
The Caps continued to outwork their fancied opponents early in the second period, with Bibby taking the Caps to a 31-22 advantage.
But Bendigo steadily worked its way back, Canberra again holding a five-point margin, 44-39, into the long break.
The Spirit came out hard in the third after some defensive change-ups and closed the gap in quick time.
It ramped up its defensive pressure throughout the period, forcing Canberra into hurried shots and denying the open looks the Caps had enjoyed earlier.
Consecutive corner triples to Bibby steadied the ship but it was Bendigo with a 62-60 lead and the momentum heading into the final 10 minutes.
Bendigo was relentless in the final quarter — a Wilson triple taking the Spirit to a 69-62 lead with six minutes to play.
A big sequence from Griffin — a monster block at the defensive end and layup at the other — showed just how crucial an addition the former wnba player will be.
Canberra closed to within four points late in the game but Bendigo’s superior execution, notably from Christie Harrower and Griffin, ensured the Spirit hit the road home with a priceless pair of road wins.
Bernie Harrower said he was especially pleased his team had bounced back from last weekend’s shock loss to the Capitals.
“We’re 6-0 on the road this year and if you want to finish top-two, you have to win at least 75 per cent of road games,” he said.
“I was concerned about this trip — after such a good start, the last thing I wanted was to be 6-3 after this weekend.
“But credit to the girls.
“We dug deep in both games and we were able to come out on top.”