By Lachy France
Despite missing import centre Jennifer Hamson, Brydens Sydney Uni Flames came home with a wet sail after a back-and-forth tussle to defeat Melbourne Boomers 87-75. Asia Taylor top scored with 20 points and also collected 7 assists and 7 rebounds, whilst Carly Boag earned a double-double in a rare start, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Melbourne opened the scoring through Chante Black as the Boomers’ import worked her way to the basket from close range. Carly Boag hit back immediately for the Flames with a nice jumper from the free-throw line off a pass from Asia Taylor, who started the game excellently at both ends. Boag then made full use of a rare starting berth by adding another basket to score the first four points for the home side.
The Flames defended excellently as a unit in the opening stages, denying the Boomers looks with traps and deflected passes. The Boomers were able to do the same, though, and Alice Kunek capitalised on a Flames turnover to hit a three and put the Boomers up 7-4 after three minutes. Alex Wilson ensured that lead was short-lived though, hitting a three of her own from the wing to tie things up almost immediately.
More scoring from Carly Boag pushed the Flames out to a 13-7 lead, and when Alex Wilson was fouled driving to the baseline, Boomers coach Guy Molloy was forced to call a timeout, after which Brittany Smart came into the game for the visitors.
Despite a few jitters out of the timeout, the Flames were still the first to score after the stoppage, with Shanae Greaves receiving a no-look pass from Leilani Mitchell and hitting a short-range jumper for her first points against her former team. Baskets from Bec Cole and Chante Black quickly cut the Flames’ lead to 4 points, and it wasn’t long before Asia Taylor was back on the floor for the Flames after coming out after the timeout.
The Flames’ backcourt took control in the back-end of the quarter, as Leilani Mitchell and Lauren Nicholson knocked down shots to give the Flames a 23-13 through the first quarter. Carly Boag notched 8 of the Flames’ points, whilst Alice Kunek led the Boomers with 5 points.
Mitchell’s scoring continued to open the second quarter, with a friendly roll seeing a three pointer drop in for the Flames’ point guard. The Boomers hit back with five points of their own, but not two minutes into the second quarter, Carly Boag then hit double figures with a midrange jumper from the baseline as the Flames’ offence, for the most part, continued to flow. Despite this, the Boomers were able to keep pace and hold the margin at 10. However, Boomers’ coach Guy Molloy still saw fit to take a timeout in an effort to spark a run from his team.
It worked in the short-term, too. Kelly Bowen nailed a three-pointer from the wing on the Boomers’ first possession to trim the margin to 30-23. A Tegan Cunningham lay-up then cut the margin to 6, but Belinda Snell scored her first points of the night to go with six assists to push the Flames’ lead back out to 8 as the Boomers strived to cover the loss of Maddie Garrick, who left the game with a shoulder injury in the second quarter.
Cassidy McLean came on surprisingly early in the game, midway through the second quarter, but the move immediately paid dividends. Cutting from the corner, the Under 17 World Champion dropped in a delicious floater to score her first career points, sending the Flames’ bench into raptures.
The Boomers refused to go away, though. Nine straight points cut the Flames’ lead to 40-38 with two minutes left in the half and coach Cheryl Chambers was forced to call a timeout. Leilani Mitchell and Tegan Cunningham would trade baskets late in the half, and the half would end with the Flames leading 42-40. Carly Boag and Kelly Bowen led the scoring for their respective teams, with both players scoring 12 points in the first half.
The third quarter started with the Flames defence forcing a stop and Leilani Mitchell taking full advantage, banking a jumper in after some excellent passing with Carly Boag. Mitchell then fed Asia Taylor in the low post for another basket as the Flames scored the first four points of the half before Brittany Smart responded with a trey as the Boomers were able to keep things tight early in the half.
The Flames’ speed in transition was paying dividends throughout the contest, and Belinda Snell kept the points coming with a three pointer from the wing. Not to be outdone, Smart nailed another trey of her own as the two traded baskets before Asia Taylor went coast-to-coast to restore the Flames’ double-digit lead, before Kelly Bowen cut that margin by 3, and soon after a timeout was called with the Flames up 58-51 and 4:29 to play in the third term.
The Boomers tightened up their defence, with a turnover and a block resulting from the Flames’ first two possessions after the timeout. But with the Boomers only able to add one basket before Leilani Mitchell split a pair of free throws, the home side remained two scores up at 59-53. Carly Boag then earned a pair of her own after being fouled attempting a reverse lay-up with one second remaining on the shot clock, and the Flames’ leading scorer to that point connected on both to take her personal tally to 14.
Olivia Thompson hit a tough contested basket from close range, guarded by Belinda Snell, but Snell went one better herself, hitting a three-pointer on the very next possession to push her points total for the night to 15 through three quarters. A late foul saw Thompson go to the line to connect on a pair of free throws, and the quarter ended with the Flames up 64-57 and in the box seat with ten minutes to play.
The Flames came out firing in the fourth, scoring the first four points courtesy of free throws from Asia Taylor and a Shanae Greaves floater. Taylor then made it six with a sublime move and finish in the paint as the Boomers were forced to call a timeout with 7:35 to play and the Flames up 70-57.
The timeout mattered little to the home side, though. Brittany Smart missed a tough contested lay-up and Alex Wilson punished the visitors with a three-pointer from a wide-open look. A basket from Alice Kunek stopped the run at 73-59 with 6 minutes to play, but the very same player was whistled for an illegal screen on the Boomers’ next possession.
As the teams traded baskets, it became more and more difficult for the Boomers to mount a comeback, but Kelly Bowen and Tegan Cunningham found the bottom of the basket, and Cheryl Chambers quickly called a timeout with the score reading 76-65 and the Flames’ coach in no mood to allow a Boomers’ run to develop.
The visitors kept coming, though. A pair of quick baskets combined with Alice Kunek’s free throws trimmed the margin to 76-68 going into the final four minutes. Alex Wilson gave the Flames a bit of breathing room with a beautiful step back three, before Asia Taylor’s steal and lay-up pushed the margin to 13 with 2:49 to play and the home side firmly in the driving seat.
Asia Taylor came down hard on a play with 2:32 to play in the game, but managed to walk off the court as Brittany Smart lined up for a pair of free throws, splitting the pair. Some excellent passing on the ensuing possession found Carly Boag open in the low post and the second-year player was able to move to 16 points for the night to go with 9 rebounds.
Things got feisty on the boards late on as players sprawled to the floor on a few rebounding contests late in the game with a couple of fouls called in the process. However, these contests led to free throws for the Boomers and suddenly the visitors had moved within 10 with under 2 minutes to play.
Monique Conti was able to hit a pair of free throws for Melbourne late on, but the Flames ran out 87-75 winners. Asia Taylor top scored for the Flames with 20 points, and also collected 7 rebounds, whilst Carly Boag finished with a 16 point, 10 rebound double-double. Kelly Bowen lit it up for the Boomers, finishing with 17 points, whilst Olivia Thompson, Alice Kunek, and Tegan Cunningham also scored double-figures.
Flames fans were also treated to no less than three WNBL debuts, as Susi Walmsley, Lara McSpadden, and Lauren Sparks were given the opportunity to get on court as time wound down.