After a narrow loss to the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence ended a six-game winning streak, the GMHBA Ballarat Miners look to return to their winning ways this Saturday as they head to Albury-Wodonga to take on the Bandits.
The fact that the Bandits have been struggling with the ability to stay consistent may bode well for the Miners who, despite last weekend’s loss, really seemed to have hit their stride and have seen steady contribution from the starters week in and week out. One issue for Ballarat, however, may be the tenacity of Bandits import Jamar Briscoe. Since Briscoe’s arrival in Albury, he has taken the league by surprise with his ability to score regardless of usually being the smallest one on the court. Briscoe is shooting the ball at 42% to produce 23 points a game, while distributing the ball for an assist three times a game, and maintains his position as the team’s only consistent player. With the next highest-scorer being captain Nick Payne at 13.4 points a game, the Bandits are going to need their leaders to step up if they want to make it a competitive match-up.
In contrast, the Miners have picked it up from their seemingly slow start to the season, and have taken the league by storm, being the first team to defeat the Mount Gambier Pioneers and then continuing on to defeat the defending champion Dandenong Rangers in the same weekend. While this can be attributed to the heroic efforts of both Roy Booker and Ken Horton, averaging 59 points per game between the two of them (Booker with seven assists per game, and Horton with 12.4 rebounds a game), there has been an even contribution across the board amongst the starting five. Local youngster Anthony Fisher has really stepped up and made a point to be a positive impact in each game. His ability to control the offensive tempo for the Miners, as well as score and grab key rebounds (averaging 14.7 points and six rebounds a game) has been crucial in their success. Similarly, the addition of another local, Nathan Sobey, has been advantageous for the Miners. In just four games for Ballarat, Sobey has worked his way into the starting five, and has dropped in for 11 points, four rebounds per game so far – not to mention the excitement that comes from his ability to emphatically dunk the ball.
The first meeting for the Miners and the Bandits was an exciting one, going into overtime and the Miners winning it by three off of two clutch free-throws from Booker. Booker and Horton were best on court for the match, together scoring 71 of the team’s 91 points, Horton also grabbing an outstanding 17 rebounds. The Miners, however, found it difficult to stop the trio of Briscoe, Alex Opacic, and Mohamed Ntumba. Briscoe dropped in for 32 points, shooting 50% from behind the arc (5/10), while Opacic scored 29, including the three to send it into overtime, and Ntumba was dominant in the paint with 20 points on 60% shooting.
As offense in previous weeks has not been an issue for the Miners, an intense focus on defense will be key in helping them get over the line. Continuing the collective effort not only in scoring, but also on the boards will also be a vital aspect to attaining a Miners win.
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