NEWCASTLE Hunters can secure a Waratah Basketball League women’s finals berth by beating Bankstown Bruins at Bankstown on Saturday.
The fourth-placed Hunters (9-5), who had a bye last weekend, will face a desperate Bankstown team who have won four straight to climb to fifth with a 7-6 record.
Newcastle leading scorer Jasmin Howe hopes the Hunters “take care of business” against Bankstown so they can breathe a little easier before they take on seventh-placed Central Coast Crusaders (4-9) at Terrigal next Saturday in their last regular-season game.
The top four teams qualify for finals weekend at Hills Basketball Stadium on August 18 and 19 and the Hunters, who sit behind Norths (11-2), Hornsby (10-4) and Sutherland (10-4), would extinguish Bankstown’s play-off hopes by beating them on Saturday.
Newcastle won 63-52 when they met at Broadmeadow on March 25 but the Bruins are perennial contenders who have won seven championships in the past 15 years, most recently in 2015, and Howe said they had the Hunters’ total respect.
“It’s a really important game for us so we need to take care of business,” Howe said.
“It would be great to get the win down there this weekend and wrap up a play-off spot before our last game of the regular season next week, but Bankstown will be tough.
“It was a tough game when we played them here earlier this year and they’ve won four in a row so they’re obviously playing with some confidence right now.”
Howe, who hails from South Australia and is in her first season in Newcastle after a US college stint at Northwest Missouri State University, is averaging 19.5 points a game and is third in the league in total points scored (273), made three-point shots (50) and three-point shooting percentage (42 per cent).
Hunters assistant coach Lesa Mason will call the shots because head coach Shannon Seebohm is in Belarus in charge of Australia’s Sapphires at the FIBA Under-17 World Championships.
Newcastle’s Isabel Palmer has been named co-captain of the Sapphires, who are the defending world champions after Seebohm led them to gold in Spain in 2016.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s men’s team will try to bounce back against Bankstown on Saturday after suffering their first loss in three months against Manly last week.
Despite finishing on a 31-9 run, the Hunters went down 79-77 to the Sea Eagles but remain in top spot with a 14-3 record. The Bruins (1-16) are last but Newcastle coach Darren Nichols is approaching them with caution.
“They’re a better team than their record suggests,” Hunters coach Darren Nichols said.
“They’ve been competitive in most of their games during the year and we haven’t won down there too often so we’ll need to play well, and we want to respond well after our loss last week.”
The Hunters beat Bankstown 82-67 in March, despite losing American import Austin Thornton to a foot injury.
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