Fire thump Flyers, finish top entering WNBL finals
Red-hot Townsville Fire have blasted their way to outright WNBL title favouritism after entering the finals riding a 12-game winning streak, capped by a last-round demolition job on the Southern Flyers.
A top-of-the-table blockbuster at the State Basketball Centre on Saturday night was expected to be a tight affair but proved a lopsided blowout as the Fire flattened the Flyers 83-61.
Townsville were deadly accurate - shooting 63 per cent to Southside's 32 per cent - ultra-efficient and got the job done by committee, with no player taking more than nine shots.
The win crowned a dominant round 16 Victorian road double for the Fire, who on Wednesday trounced Bendigo Spirit 89-64 at Red Energy Arena to secure top spot and home-court advantage throughout the play-offs.
"It's awesome," Townsville coach Shannon Seebohm said.
"You could tell from the very start of the pre-season that we had something quite special."
Superstar import Tianna Hawkins (19 points) spearheaded another even display from the Fire, who seem to have weapons from all angles, Shyla Heal a welcome late-season addition and Lauren Nicholson still to potentially slot back in when her foot is healed.
Reigning league MVP Anneli Maley (14 points) top-scored for the Spirit but shot only 23 per cent, while luckless guard Abbey Wehrung injured her shoulder in a collision with Hawkins.
Bendigo (11-10) began their campaign with a 7-0 streak before finishing it with six straight losses - several of them one-sided - to freefall out of finals contention.
The Flyers (17-4, first place) will be warm favourites when they host Perth Lynx (13-8, fourth) at the Townsville Entertainment Centre for Game 1 of their best-of-three semi-final series on Thursday.
The Lynx also wrapped up their regular season campaign with a pair of road victories, predictably defeating second-bottom Adelaide Lightning 97-93 and wooden spooners Canberra Capitals 107-94.
On Thursday at Adelaide Arena, Perth led 94-72 midway through the fourth stanza before the Lightning produced a late 17-0 burst to almost pinch a miracle.
Two nights later at the National Convention Centre, Lynx's 16-point second-quarter advantage was trimmed to a single point early in the fourth, largely behind the brilliance of Canberra's teen sensation Shaneice Swain (33 points), before Perth lifted again late.
The Melbourne Boomers concluded the regular season by annihilating the Sydney Flames 100-60 at Parkville on Sunday.
To keep their bid for back-to-back pennants alive, the Boomers (15-6) will need to reverse a run of outs against bogey side Southside (also 15-6) in their upcoming best-of-three semi-final series starting Wednesday at the State Basketball Centre.
The Flyers claimed all three Melbourne derbies by double-digit margins this season and, even with captain Lauren Jackson out injured, will fancy their chances of advancing to the grand final at Melbourne's expense.