Chris Bunten has challenged his bench players to step up and take their chance following the surprise departure of Jorjah Smith.
The Newcastle Eagles guard announced her return home just 48 hours before today’s North East derby against Durham Palatinates.
But Bunten is ready to hand greater responsibility to Millie Oates and Mollie Arnold as he prepares for next month’s playoffs.
“I wish Jorjah all the best and we’ll miss her energy and impact off the bench,” said Newcastle’s playcaller.
“She came in this season and did a great job for us despite fighting a foot injury and having to adapt to a new way of playing.
“Of course we’ll miss that extra body against Durham but that means players like Millie and Mollie are in line to play a more pivotal role.
“Millie has played some key minutes for us in recent weeks and really taken her chance.
“I know Mollie has been frustrated at her own lack of court time but she’s trained really well this week and is doing everything she can to get involved.
“There’s an opportunity for a few players to step up between now and the playoffs.”
Victory this afternoon would seal a top eight finish for the Eagles — a feat that seemed unthinkable just three months ago.
Newcastle have won five of their last eight games to launch the WBBL’s least likely charge towards the post-season.
But of the club’s three defeats during that impressive run, last weekend’s hugely disappointing 75-70 loss to Durham was the toughest to take.
The Palatinates had only won once in the league prior to taking on Bunten’s side but huge double doubles from Claire Paxton and Kara Elderkin delivered a stunning result.
And if revenge isn’t the primary motivator ahead of this afternoon’s rematch then the Eagles are desperate to turn the tables on their noisy neighbours.
“Should Durham only be on two wins this season,” asked Bunten. “Probably.
“Should we have won at their place last weekend? Yes.
“Is it a given that we’ll win this weekend? Not at all.
“Lee Davie is a good coach and he prepared his team well for us eight days ago. I’m sure he’ll do the same again.
“In many respects there’s not too much to choose between the two teams. Both sides are built around a core of two talented import players who invariably influence every game they play.
“In Claire and Kara, Durham have the advantage when it comes to height. But in Ali [Gorrell] and Maddy [McVicar] we have the benefit of extra pace.
“We missed too many open looks and free throws last weekend and we can’t afford to do that again.
“Fair play to Durham — they capitalised on that. It’s up to us to put things right.”
Bunten fears Ruth Thornley might have played her final game this season with the veteran guard struggling to overcome a niggling injury.
And with Academy prospect Yemisi Mefful still coming to terms with the step up to WBBL basketball, both Oates and Arnold can expect to play significant minutes between now and the end of the regular season.
“We have three league games left and I’d like to think we can claim that playoff place this weekend,” added Bunten.
“Whatever happens we can’t finish higher than seventh and so I’ll be using the next fortnight to look at what I’ve got and how we can attack the playoffs with all guns blazing.”
This afternoon’s WBBL derby tips off at 1:30pm and can be watched live on our box office for just £2.99 – discounted to £1.99 for BBL season ticket holders when the login.