By Lachy France
Despite losing starting guard Lauren Nicholson to injury early, a second-half defensive masterclass combined with some excellent rebounding has helped hand Brydens Sydney Uni Flames an 82-67 win over the ladder leading Dandenong Rangers. With the teams going in tied 45-45 at the half, the Flames restricted their opponents to 9 points in the third quarter on their way to a 15 point win. Asia Taylor led the scoring for the home side with 18 points, whilst Jennifer Hamson added 10 points and 12 rebounds. Leilani Mitchell also collected a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, whilst Steph Cumming and Aimie Clydesdale led the Rangers with 15 points apiece.
Some excellent inside-out play between Jennifer Hamson and Alex Wilson saw the latter open the scoring for the Flames with a 3, but Sara Blicavs responded in kind with a three pointer of her own. A second three pointer from Wilson negated Ally Malott’s long two as the teams traded baskets early on with remarkable accuracy.
With both teams playing solid enough defence, the looks were regularly tough or contested but both sides had their sights calibrated in the opening stages with the scoreline reading 14-14 through five minutes of action as a media timeout proved to be the only thing that could stop the high-paced play.
Jennifer Hamson found a good position in the low block and managed to reel in a Sarah Graham pass for the first basket out of the timeout to give the Flames a 16-14 lead. An Aimie Clydesdale and-one following a tough finish gave the Rangers back the lead, and the teams would trade the advantage for a good two or three minutes leading into the final stages of the quarter, but it would be Flames young gun Cassidy McLean who ensured the Flames held the lead with a corner three to end the quarter which put the Flames up 26-25 after ten minutes of play. Both teams shot at or above 50% for the quarter, with the Flames 67% three point shooting proving the difference after one term.
Natalie Novosel opened the scoring for the second term with a midrange jumper that gave the visitors the lead, and although the scoring dried up for a minute or two thereafter, Ally Malott was then able to put the Rangers three ahead from close range. However, this was a half where holding a lead for an extended period never looked likely and soon enough Carly Boag drained a three to tie the game at 31-31. Cassidy McLean then dropped in her second basket of the game to return the advantage to the home side and force a timeout from Rangers coach Larissa Anderson.
The timeout worked in the short term as Aimie Clydesdale nailed a three from the corner before Lauren Scherf made it five quick points for the Rangers. The Flames quickly hit back through Alex Wilson and Shanae Greaves as the game teetered on a knife’s edge throughout the first half.
Susi Walmsley was afforded some rare court time early in the game, providing a spark at both ends as Flames coach Cheryl Chambers threw something a bit different at the Rangers. Whilst unable to hit her first shot, a sweet move along the baseline got the Novocastrian some space and eventually led to a putback basket from Carly Boag. But a three point basket from Steph Cumming gave the Rangers a 43-41 lead with three minutes remaining in the half and forced Chambers into a timeout.
Some astounding athletic plays from Carly Boag and Alex Wilson returned the Flames to the lead, but the dangerous Steph Cumming immediately tied the game again. The home side then got lucky as Sara Blicavs couldn’t connect on a wide-open three after a Flames defensive breakdown, and the first half ended 45-45 following an enthralling 20 minutes of basketball.
Picking up the offensive rebound on McLean’s missed three-pointer, Jennifer Hamson ensured the Flames were first to have the advantage in the second half with a putback off the glass. Asia Taylor then drew a foul going up and was rewarded with two free throws, which she promptly knocked down. Ally Malott then connected on a mid-range basket before Hamson drew a shooting foul of her own and hit both of her free throws as the scoring continued to flow for the Flames, albeit from the charity stripe.
Eventually though all good things must come to an end, and with both teams’ radars misfiring the scoreboard remained stuck on 52-49 in the Flames favour until the 4:35 mark in the 3rd quarter when Carly Boag drained a three pointer from the corner, bringing about a media timeout.
Boag had the Flames’ next points as well, showing off her athleticism to grab the offensive rebound on a missed Hamson free throw before tipping in Leilani Mitchell’s missed three pointer to give the Flames an 8 point cushion.
The Rangers hit just 2 of their first 15 shots in the third quarter, but Aimie Clydesdale knocked down a three pointer with the 16th to keep the Rangers in touching distance. Shanae Greaves and Lauren Scherf then traded baskets to hold the margin at 59-54 going into the final ten seconds of the quarter, and some excellent Flames defence ensured the Rangers would not be able to manage a score on the last play of the quarter.
It came over a minute and a half into the quarter, but Cassidy McLean grabbed the first basket of the final quarter, chasing her own three point shot and laying the ball in to extend the margin to 7, but the only other point in the first three minutes of the final term came courtesy of a Jennifer Hamson free throw as neither team was able to find the bottom of the basket.
Natalie Novosel found her way to the line with just over 6 minutes to play, and guided home a pair of free throws as the Rangers refused to go away. Aimie Clydesdale then got to the basket and her lay-up trimmed the margin to four. Enter Sarah Graham, who knocked down a three pointer before Carly Boag snatched a pass away on the baseline right on the 5 minute mark right as the Rangers looked like scoring again.
Novosel knocked down another pair of free throws, but Graham was one better yet again with her second trey in quick succession. Novosel did her best to turn it into a game of H-O-R-S-E with Graham, knocking down her own trey before baskets from Asia Taylor and Leilani Mitchell pushed the margin to 10 with 3 minutes to play, forcing a timeout from Larissa Anderson.
With the Rangers unable to score in the first minute after the timeout, and Asia Taylor finishing athletically around the basket on two occasions, the scoreline read 77-63 with 90 seconds to play and the Flames looking set for victory. Steph Cumming knocked down a three with a minute to play to trim the margin to 11, but the Flames were excellent in running the clock down late on. The home side managed to force the Rangers to foul Asia Taylor, who knocked down the free throws to ice the game for the Flames at 79-66. Taylor added another late basket as the Flames ran out 82-67 to give the side a positive ending to the first half of the season moving into the Christmas break. That break will be short though, as the Flames face the Adelaide-Perth road double between Christmas and New Year.
Sydney Uni Flames 82 (Taylor 18p, 5r; Carly Boag 12p, 6r; Hamson 10p, 12r; Mitchell 10p, 10a)
Dandenong Rangers 67 (Clydesdale 15p, 4a; Cumming 15p, 3a; Novosel 14p, 5r; Blicavs 7p, 12r)