They may be without their best player for the clash but the Penrith Panthers women’s basketball team are hoping to cause an upset this weekend as the Waratah Championship League playoffs get underway.
Australian representative Tahlia Tupaea will be missing from Penrith’s qualifying final against Sutherland this Saturday evening, due to being in Russia for the Women’s Basketball World Championships.
But despite the talented youngster’s absence, Penrith coach Curtis Sardi is confident his side, which finished the regular season in sixth spot, can get the job done against the third-placed Sharks.
“We’ve played Sutherland twice this season and beat them on both occasions, mind you Tahlia was part of the line-up both times we played them, which helps, but I think Sutherland are a good match-up for us even without her,” he said.
“If we win this weekend and advance to the next round, Tahlia will be available to play as she flies back from Russia early next week.”
Sardi, who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach midway through the season, will be relying on the experience of former Australian Olympic basketballer Alicia Poto.
37-year-old Poto is Penrith’s standout performer every week and is leading the league in a number of statistics including total assists and three pointers made.
“It’ll be nice if she drops 30 on Saturday,” Sardi joked.
“But in all seriousness, I think everyone needs to pick up the pieces as a team and spread the workload out. If we can play the defensive end, we’ll be OK.
“Sutherland are a tough match-up and have some really good ‘bigs’ as well as girls who can shoot from the perimeter, so it’s going to be tough either way.”
Penrith have been decimated with injuries all season, especially in recent weeks, but are expected to welcome back most of their injured bunch for the crucial clash this Saturday.
If the Panthers do manage to overcome the Sharks, they’ll advance to the semi-finals to battle the awaiting Norths Bears.
Tip-off between the Panthers and Sharks is at 5pm this Saturday at Sutherland Basketball Stadium.
– Nathan Taylor