QBL Semi-Final Game Previews
Mackay Meteors (2) v Rockhampton Rockets (8)
Last time they met: Round 6 – Mackay Meteors 114 (Walker 32) def Rockhampton Rockets 96 (Fowler 22)
Mackay were able to survive their home quarter-final against the Logan Thunder, winning 93-83. The Meteors jumped to an early 29-point lead at the first quarter break, before the Thunder started the long fight back. Logan managed to work their way back to within three points throughout the third quarter, but this was as close as they got. Shaun Bruce again starred with 27 points, 7 rebounds and 10 assists, and he was closely followed by Chris Cedar (25 points) and Cam Tragardh (22 points). Cedar and Tragardh’s increased offensive output was largely due to the absence of Lucas Walker, who was the team’s second highest scorer behind Bruce in the Regular Season.
Rockhampton were the story of the quarter-finals, being the only underdog to win on the road in both the Men and the Women’s fixtures. The Rockets were able to hold onto a narrow 4-point victory over the Brisbane Capitals at NAB Stadium. Rocky jumped the Caps early and led by as much as 19 with 6:56 to go in the second quarter. A massive Jacob Davis three-pointer followed by a Dusty Rychart lay-up tied the game inside the last 2:30, before Chris Fowler and James Mitchell knocked down clutch three-pointers of their own to end the Caps season. Fowler scored a game-high 30, with Rashad Hassan putting in 23 of his own, along with 14 rebounds.
The Rockets have completely turned their season around and being the underdog in every match they play from here on out does not worry them. Mackay are now the team to beat and will be expected to use their strong home court advantage to use and cement a home Grand Final berth. Considering the absence of Walker, Mackay may be vulnerable on the glass and may struggle to score the ball with the consistency they have all season. Rashad Hassan will be expected to dominate the boards and the paint, but behind Bruce, Mackay should escape with a narrow victory.
Prediction: Mackay by 5
Townsville Heat (3) v Cairns Marlins (4)
Last time they met: Round 6 – Townsville Heat 86 (Baker 25) def Cairns Marlins 72 (Heuir 19)
Townsville advanced to the QBL semi-finals with a narrow 92-89 victory over South West Metro. Despite holding a 21-point lead with 9:01 remaining in the final quarter, the Pirates tied the game with 2:39 left on the clock. A huge Peter Crawford three-pointer put the Heat back into the lead inside the last two minutes and Townsville were able to hold on. Josh Wilcher was unstoppable with 27 points and 7 assists, whilst Baker and Crawford combined for 32 points from 11-35 shooting.
Cairns were able to turn around their end of season form and win convincingly over USC to advance to the semi-finals. Scores were tied at the major break, but the Marlins came out firing in the third quarter and quickly put a gap between them and the Rip. Cairns led by 11 going into the last and eventually ran away 17-point victors. Damon Heuir and Stevie Weigh both scored 23, whilst Kuany Kuany flirted with a triple-double adding 10 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. The Marlins were able to keep USC to 34% shooting from the field and they will need to bring the same defensive approach into Townsville if they are going to get the W Saturday night.
Cairns will enter Saturday Night’s semi-final full of confidence after a dominant display against USC, whereas Townsville will consider themselves lucky after nearly blowing a 21-point lead. It’s hard to believe that Cairns could have turned their poor form around in one game, but if 2016 is anything to go by, they have proved that they can get hot at the right time of year. Townsville will need improvement in the efficiency they get out of Crawford and Baker, but we expect them to be right on the money in such an important game. With Fisher now coming off the bench, the Marlins have extraordinary depth and that may just get them over the line on the road.
Prediction: Cairns by 3
Brisbane Spartans (1) vs Gladstone Port City Power (4)
Last time they met: Round 6 – Brisbane Spartans 95 (Karaitiana 21) def Gladstone Port City Power 57 (Richardson Smith 24)
The Brisbane Spartans remain undefeated heading into the semi-finals and they easily took care of the South West Metro Pirates last weekend winning their quarter-final matchup 77-45. It was a relatively modest total that the Spartans put up considering they have been averaging close to 90 points per game, but their defence was outstanding limiting the Pirates to 25% shooting from the field. The Spartans led by just 2 points at the end of the first quarter but limited the Pirates to just 17 points in the second half. The Spartans didn’t even let the Pirates get to the free throw line, an amazing stat considering they committed 12 fouls on the night. Ashleigh Karaitiana top scored for the Spartans with 20 points, Kalani Purcell had 13 rebounds and Natalie Taylor led the team with Purcell in assists on 4.
Gladstone have been sensational in the back end of the season winning their last 6 games including last weekend’s home quarter-final against Townsville 78-74. Tabatha Richardson Smith was again the standout performer with 29 points although she had her struggles shooting beyond the arc registering just 3 for 14 from downtown. Cassie Rochel was again strong defensively gaining 14 boards and 2 blocks, whilst Alicia Carline had a strong game off the bench scoring 13 and 7 rebounds in the win.
All eyes will be on Tabatha Richardson Smith to see if she can lead Gladstone to an upset and a spot in the Grand Final, but the depth behind the Spartans roster is too hard to ignore. Defensively, the Spartans have been the best team all season giving up an average of just 63 points per game. If the Spartans can limit TRS to 30 points and under they should have enough in the tank to move through to hosting the Grand Finals in a week’s time.
Prediction: Spartans by 10
Logan Thunder (2) vs Mackay Meteorettes (3)
Last time they met: Round 8 – Logan Thunder 88 (Smith 21) def Mackay Meteorettes 69 (Willey 26)
This matchup between Logan and Mackay will be a highly anticipated clash with both teams in good form and having won their respective quarter-finals at home. Logan easily took care of the Brisbane Capitals on Sunday registering an 87-56 victory thanks to another high scoring game from Kate Gaze who finished with 33 points. Sarah Ambrose and Ula Motuga were the leaders in rebounds with 11 each and Mikhaela Donnelly had 7 assists. Logan were sensational as a team with a total of 25 assists to the Capitals 13. The Thunder’s bench was also impressive especially Jackie Luna-Castro who had 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in limited minutes.
Mackay have been a dark horse in the back end of the season, happy to sit back and watch the pressure fall on the top two teams – the Spartans and Thunder. Their week off in Round 15 had them fresh and ready to go last Saturday against Ipswich but despite this the Meteorettes found themselves down early before clicking into gear to set up a narrow 4-point win at home. Mackay had five players who scored double digits with Chevennah Paalvast top scoring on 18 Jacqui Zelenka impressing off the bench with 14. Nadeen Payne grabbed 13 rebounds Jillian Haughton had 6 assists.
This is a real toss of the coin with both teams on the verge of a position in the Grand Finals. Logic would say that Logan at home are very hard to beat and considering Mackay will have to make the trip down it could hurt their legs going into the final quarter. That said, Mackay have played well on the road this year and have players with big game experience. Don’t be surprised if this game can’t be decided in regular time.
Prediction: Logan by 4