Kittyhawks' attitude remains positive for semifinal

BASKETBALL

Defending champions Illawarra face a do-or-die semi-final against Penrith this weekend at the Snakepit.

Despite finishing the regular season with Saturday's 63-45 road loss to Bankstown, the Kittyhawks claimed fourth spot with a 13-5 record.

Illawarra captain Lauren Sparks believes the beating from the Bruins won't affect her side's confidence.

"We're coming off a loss but everyone's still going in thinking we can definitely still win," she said.

Illawarra were only down by five at half-time but couldn't keep up with the red-hot Bruins in the final two quarters.

"Bankstown were on fire, especially in the second half. Everything they put up they made," Sparks said.

"We changed up our defence, we had hands on their shooters, but they couldn't miss. We were the opposite. We couldn't buy a basket."

Illawarra beat Penrith 71-57 and 74-69 in two regular season meetings, though key players Katherine and Liisa Ups and Georgia Ohrdorf have since left to take up scholarships with American college teams.

"We've definitely made adjustments since they left, but we're bringing in a lot of younger girls and we're lacking a bit of experience at the moment," Sparks said.

"It isn't ideal going into the playoffs, but our training sessions have been really tough and competitive. We might not have as much depth as we previously did, but we're still going in with a very positive attitude towards the semi-final."

The Panthers finished fifth with a 9-9 record and boast three of the competition's best players in Alicia Poto, Rohanee Cox and Tahlia Tupaea.

Cox led the league in rebounding (12.6 per game), was third in scoring (23.8), second in three-point accuracy (39.2 per cent) and equal-fourth in steals (2.4).

Tupaea had the league's best free-throw percentage (87.8) and was fourth in both scoring (18.3) and three-point accuracy (34.3). Veteran guard Poto was third in assists (5.1) and equal-fourth in steals (2.4).

Sparks said the Panthers are a more experienced team than Illawarra.

But she said the Kittyhawks can keep their heads high, whatever happens this weekend.

"It's tough going into a season being the team everyone wants to beat, but credit to the girls. Losing three of our starters during the season was tough, but other people have stepped up into those roles. We've been lucky the girls have been able to do that with confidence and with good attitude," she said.

The Illawarra Hawks lost their final game to Bankstown 93-78 and finished equal-last in the Waratah men's competition.

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