By Lachy France,
Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have ended the regular season on a high, defeating the Adelaide Lightning 98-83 to see the team continue their winning streak heading into their semi-final series against the Townsville Fire. The Flames were led by 17 points and 6 assists from Leilani Mitchell, with six players finishing in double figures. Colleen Planeta led the way for the Lightning with 21 points and 12 rebounds, whilst stalwart Laura Hodges finished with 19 points.
Jennifer Hamson won the opening tip, but an ill-advised pass led to a turnover which allowed Adelaide the opportunity to open the scoring. But with the visitors’ opening possession as productive as the Flames’, Jennifer Hamson opened the scoring from close to the basket on the home side’s second trip down the floor. Asia Taylor quickly doubled the lead after ripping the ball out of Jess Good’s hands under the basket and finishing, before the teams traded threes to see the score sit at 7-3 after a frantic first two minutes.
The Lightning cut the lead to two, but as the Flames settled, they pushed the lead to 6 as their dominance near the basket began to pay dividends. Jennifer Hamson and Asia Taylor were responsible for 8 of the home side’s first 11 points as the Flames took a 4 point lead into the first media timeout.
Hamson extended her range slightly on her first shot out of the timeout, and was rewarded with an and-one opportunity after her midrange shot fell despite a foul from Laura Hodges. Hodges hit back with a deep two from the corner, but the home side maintained their advantage throughout the first quarter. Belinda Snell nailed a corner three with just under 3 minutes remaining in the quarter to make the scoreline 24-13, and Chris Lucas had seen enough. The Lightning coach called a timeout, but it mattered little as Sarah Graham knocked down a shot from the elbow to extend the margin to 13. The Lightning did manage to cut into the margin slightly as the quarter wound down though, with Anneli Maley’s last second reverse lay-up cutting the Flames lead to 26-17 after one term.
Maley opened the second term in exactly the same fashion as she did the first to extend the Lightning’s run to 6 points. Alex Wilson soon snapped that with a three pointer, but neither team could really put an extended string of points together early in the second. The margin hovered just shy of the double figure mark, but only until Leilani Mitchell’s Eurostep left the Adelaide defence guarding thin air as the Opals point guard connected on the lay-up. Tahlia Tupaea followed up with a three pointer as the Lightning defence sagged off her and suddenly the score was 38-25. The young star then allowed her defender to blow by her on the next possession and hit the sweet deep step back two for her 10th point of the first half.
With the Flames shooting over 60% from the field for the first half, a lead at halftime was always to be expected against a Lightning side hovering around the 40% mark from the field, and that’s what the home side gave their fans. The home side capitalised on a few defensive breakdowns from the Lightning to find open space on the perimeter, and hit 6 of 10 three point attempts on their way to a 47-34 halftime lead. Tahlia Tupaea led the home side with 10 points, with Colleen Planeta leading the way for Adelaide with 11 points.
Laura Hodges opened the second half scoring with a midrange jumper to cut the Flames lead to 11, and the teams traded baskets in the opening stages of the third quarter with the Flames unable to extend their margin but by the same token, also preventing Adelaide from closing the gap.
Opals stalwart Hodges continued to excel for the visitors, moving to 12 points midway through the third quarter and soon enough the Lightning were back within 8 and Flames coach Cheryl Chambers called a timeout midway through the term with the home side’s lead cut to 58-50 as that signature Flames’ intensity wavered slightly. It quickly returned following the timeout though, with Jennifer Hamson’s basket followed up by some outstanding defence which forced a shot clock violation.
Leilani Mitchell spectacularly tipped in her own rebound to push the lead back to 12, and Sarah Graham tacked on three more from the corner as the home side found their rhythm. Mitchell beat her defender with a sweet behind the back move and dished to Carly Boag for the midrange jumper before earning a rest which allowed Susi Walmsley onto the court. The Newcastle product was a monster on defence in the final minute of the quarter, getting a hand to the ball twice in one possession and then helping force a travel after Anneli Maley grabbed an offensive rebound. Alex Wilson hit a three from the resulting possession and the Flames took a 74-54 lead into the final term.
Laura Hodges earned and converted a three point play to open the fourth quarter, and Jess Good then hit a pair of three pointers as Adelaide trimmed the margin to 13 with just over 7 minutes to go. With the Flames resting most of their starters at this point, the margin dropped to single figures at 78-69 with just under 6 minutes remaining.
However, as the Flames reintroduced their starters, the flow of the game quickly returned to the status quo. The home side pushed the margin back out to 14, and with 3 minutes to play, Christina Boag was brought on for her WNBL debut. Just a minute later, Lara McSpadden received the ball just outside the key and knocked down the sweet midrange shot for her first WNBL points as the Flames put the game to bed. Sarah Graham reached 10 points with a banker off the glass to become the sixth Flames player in double figures for the contest late on, and the Flames ran out 98-83 winners to finish the regular season with an 18-6 record.
Sydney Uni Flames 98 (Mitchell 17p, 6a; Taylor 15p, 7r; Wilson 15p)
Adelaide Lightning 83 (Planeta 21p, 12r; Hodges 19p, 4r; Good 15p, 5r)