THE Lakeside Lightning decided to go with three genuine bigs this Women’s SBL and as it turned out so have the other three surviving teams, but coach Craig Mansfield will be spending more time plotting the downfall of Stacey Barr than anything against the Warwick Senators.
The Lightning are now gearing up to take part in their third successive semi-final series under Mansfield in the Women’s SBL and have backed up their championship triumph of 2018 by again finishing the 2019 regular season in top spot.
The Lightning then beat the Kalamunda Eastern Suns in two tough quarter-final match ups to now set up the semi-final battle with the Senators beginning this Saturday night at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
The biggest change in player personnel from last year for the Lightning has been the inclusion of two more genuine bigs in Ellyce Ironmonger and Hannah Stewart to join Ash Grant while parting ways with championship-winning starts Ali Schwagmeyer and Sydnee Fipps, along with centre Sam Roscoe.
And now the semi-final battle of bigs with the Lightning’s Ironmonger, Grant and Stewart opposed to Roscoe, Bianca Villegas and Tayla Hepburn is going to be fascinating, but not necessarily the biggest factor in the series according to Mansfield.
Without a Schwagmeyer or Sami Whitcomb in the Women’s SBL, it’s Stacey Barr who is the best pure scorer in the competition in terms of someone who is a natural shooter who can put up points in a hurry.
That was never more evident than last Friday night when she produced 42 points as the Senators closed out their quarter-final series against the Willetton Tigers.
Now a lot of the focus from Lakeside over the next two weeks will be surrounding trying to limit the influence of Barr, but that doesn’t mean Mansfield will be throwing out his entire defensive system – the changes will be subtle.
“We have a defensive system and we adhere to that system no matter what, but with someone as good as Stacey, we’ll bend what we do a little bit. We might play her a little bit tighter or hold a little bit longer off an on-ball or whatever,” Mansfield said.
“But we don’t completely go and change what we do. When I was younger as a coach and I see a lot of WABL coaches do it, I might have made extrinsic adjustments from zone to this or that.
“Whereas now, I’m a big believer in intrinsic adjustments whether it’s changing the match up or making a rotation from a certain spot on the floor earlier or going longer on a show. Whatever it needs to be, that’s what we’ll do.
“There’s no way you’ll turn up and look at us and be able to see us playing a completely different style. If you’re an outside you might not even be able to pick what we are doing differently.”
All four teams remaining in the Women’s having stacked up with three genuine bigs with the other series seeing Rockingham go in with Darcee Garbin, Maddie Allen and Christina Boag, and Perry Lakes with Nat Burton, Megan McKay and Sarah Donovan.
Mansfield feels that is more of a coincidence than anything and he just felt each team built their squads around the best players available, not so much a deliberate decision to try and go extra big.
As a result he’s not sure it’s a trend that will become commonplace across the league, but he certainly is looking forward to finding out how the next three weeks play out.
“You match up a little better defensively but in saying that you can only have one of them around the rim at any point in time, maximum of two,” Mansfield said.
“It gives people to guard someone that they can possibly handle in terms of dribble penetration and in transition, but I don’t know if there’s a lot behind that.
“Doccy always likes to have the bigs in her teams, Flames were just kind of built on the best players available and they happened to provide some height, and there’s us and Senators as well.
“My point is that I feel like a good team with one or two good bigs could still be playing in the semi finals, how that goes in a best of three if you have to play Game 3 against a team with three bigs would be interesting.
“But I prescribe to the idea that any offence and any defence, and any style of play works, it’s just a matter of how well you execute. Now that we are playing teams with bigs, we have to play in a way and execute in a way that gives us a chance to win. That’s just the way it’s worked out this year with player availability.”
While the Lightning did come into the playoffs on the back of a couple of losses to Perry Lakes and Rockingham, but as it turned out playing those two matches and then having to fight hard against the Suns in the quarter finals has been the best thing Mansfield feels could have happened.
Of course, he would have preferred to beat the Hawks and Flames, but testing themselves against quality opposition now over the last five matches they’ve played is something that Mansfield is confident has them just about reaching their peak now in terms of team cohesion.
“I don’t necessarily subscribe to you needing to lose but it was good to play decent competition at the end of the season for sure. We had a couple of little injury things and a problem with player availability which everyone is dealing with,” Mansfield said.
“But we had been training well for five or six weeks and I find that your form runs about a month behind your training so I was always confident that even though we weren’t playing well, by having those runs on the board that we would keep getting better as the finals went along.
“Then the more time Hannah, Ellyce and Ash could play together would keep helping and then it would be up to me to sort out who we play and how we play in certain situation. I feel like we are building nicely and Senators will be a big test for us.
“I had a look at what Stacey Barr did on Friday night and she was just dynamic from halfway through the second quarter onwards. We are going to have to be really good and even when you are really good, she’s a tough shot maker so we are really going to have to be switched on and not let games get away from us early in this next series.”
The other fascinating aspect of Lakeside’s semi-final series with Warwick will be the fact that the Lightning come up against their starting centre from their championship team of last year, Roscoe.
While there’s certainly no blood there on either side, Mansfield doesn’t want to give up bragging rights to her anytime soon.
“It’s fun really, there’s not much more to it. We loved having Sam at Lakeside and I’ve coached Sam on state teams and multiple platforms, and have always enjoyed having her around,” Mansfield said.
“I’m always really happy for her to have success, just maybe not so much in this series if it’s at our expense. Sam has moved on and we picked up Ellyce, and now I think Ellyce and Sam will have a good battle in the next round and so will Villegas, Hepburn, Grant and Stewart.
“It’s going to be a good series and if you look at the guard match ups too with GeAnna and Stacey, it’s going to be good basketball all-round. Hopefully I get bragging rights over Sam but we’ll wait and see how the series go.”