It was always set to be a thriller on Saturday night as our Sydney Uni Flames took on the Dandenong Rangers. Both teams were desperate for a win with only three rounds to go in the regular season. The Flames are looking to push for a playoff spot, whilst the Rangers are attempting to secure a top two spot on the ladder and gain home court advantage for the playoffs. The Flames were at home, as Brydens Stadium was near capacity in celebration of the WNBL’s Association Round.
The Flames got off to a strong start through their high energy and effort, with the game having a finals-like atmosphere from the opening tip. Our girls looked thoroughly up for the challenge, as a big three from Joslyn Tinkle cemented a six point lead halfway through the first quarter. A big steal following a Dandenong timeout, resulted in another two points being added by Tahlia Tupaea.
The pressure was being placed squarely on the visiting Rangers, as the Flames applied some impressive full court defense. However, Cumming and Blicavs combined to keep the scoreboard ticking for the visitors to rein it back and give Dandenong the lead for the first time with two and a half minutes left in the first quarter. Katie Ebzery was then able to make an aggressive drive to the basket in the dying seconds of the quarter to tie the game at 21 at the first break.
The Flames carried the momentum from the end of the first quarter into the second, and managed to get on top of the visitors. They were able to do this with their defensive pressure and well executed plays through hard screening and cutting to get shooters open. After feeling each other out in the first quarter both teams’ shooting accuracy improved in the second, providing the fans with an exciting high caliber game.
Alex Wilson went for a hard drive after a Dandenong turnover resulting in her taking a bad fall with two minutes to go in the half. Strong defense from the Flames and too many turnovers from Dandenong dictated the Rangers’ poor performance in the second quarter and resulted in the Flames being up 9 at the half.
Young gun Tahlia Tupaea opened the scoring for the Flames at the start of the third following a tough couple minutes of play, after which it was clear that the games intensity had lifted to another level to start the second half. The captains (Ebzery and Cumming) were in everything, both leading their teams in scoring and minutes played.
Front court defensive pressure that had earlier troubled the Rangers, hurt the flames in the third as Dandenong were able to expose our girls with accurate long cross court passes, resulting in easy lay ups for the away side. This allowed Dandenong to claw their way back to 53 a piece with 3 minutes remaining in the third.
The Flames were then consequently unprepared for the same full court pressure to be applied to them, with Dandenong forcing an eight second violation leading to a timely basket for the Rangers. Sarah Blicavs followed this up with a wheel and deal final play in the dying seconds of the quarter, resulting in her sinking a two point jumper from the foul line and giving the visitors a 59-63 lead going into the last quarter.
Coach Seebohm spoke to his team at the break before the fourth quarter, telling the girls they must execute their plays and take responsibility on defence in the last quarter if they are going to win the game. Dandenong’s Sara Blicavs had other ideas. On the back of three Flames turnovers, the young forward went on a scoring spree to start the fourth, extending Dandenong’s lead to eight points.
Dandenong had well and truly stolen momentum from the Flames at this point, with the hope of a fight back seeming nearly impossible. However, a big three from Tahlia Tupaea reignited the team and crowd and after Ebzery then made a hard move to the basket adding another two points and cutting the Rangers’ lead to just four; there was still a chance for the Flames.
Stephanie Cumming answered with a tough lay up for Dandenong, which Sydney’s import Joslyn Tinkle followed with a huge three, making it a three point lead and just a one possession game late in the fourth. Unfortunately Dandenong and Cumming were just too good on the day, as the talented guard answered the bell once again with a basket, taking Dandenong’s lead to five and sealing the result for the visitors.
Despite a valiant effort from the Flames, Dandenong came out on top, winning the game 73-77. Sydney will be disappointed with their high number of inopportune turnovers when the pressure intensified, leading to a lack of offensive execution, which could be seen in the teams’ difference in shooting percentage (Dandenong 46%, compared to Sydney’s 38%). Dandenong also used their height advantage effectively to win the game, beating the Flames by a big 43-26 margin in the rebound count. The injury and absence of import and starting centre Carolyn Swords no doubt played a major part in the hefty difference on the boards.
Katie Ebzery (C) – 18pts, 8-16fgs, 4rebs
Tahlia Tupaea – 16pts, 6-16fgs, 4asts
Joslyn Tinkle – 15pts, 5-11fgs, 7rebs
Stephanie Cumming (C) – 19pts, 8-15fgs, 6rebs, 2asts
Sara Blicavs – 18pts, 6-11fgs, 8rebs, 3asts
Lauren Scherf – 17pts, 6-11fgs, 7rebs, 3asts
The Flames’ next home game will be Saturday, February 13th vs Perth Lynx at 7pm. Get down to Brydens Stadium to see two of the better teams in the WNBL face off in what should be another night of quality basketball.