By Lachy France
Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have missed a chance to go equal top of the WNBL ladder, but remain in equal second following a tough 76-73 loss to the University of Canberra Capitals at Brydens Stadium. Alex Wilson led the Flames’ scoring with 16 points, whilst Carly Boag was electric off the bench with 15 points and 8 rebounds in just 20 minutes of action. Kate Gaze top scored for the Capitals with 18 points, whilst Marianna Tolo and Abbey Wehrung poured in 12 points apiece.
The Capitals won the opening tip-off but it was the Flames who were able to put the ball in the basket first. Asia Taylor’s contested finish rimmed out but Jennifer Hamson was fouled on the putback and hit a pair of free throws to settle the home side early. Marianna Tolo quickly hit back from close range as the visitors went to their bigs early. Former Flame Mikaela Ruef was next to score for the Caps, knocking down a shot from midrange to give the visitors their first lead at 4-2.
A baseline drive led to a reverse lay-up from Alex Wilson to tie things up, but her namesake Carly Wilson immediately responded with a three pointer as the teams traded baskets in the opening stages. However, an Abbey Wehrung three pointer off a Jazmon Gwathmey assist extended the Capitals lead out to 10-4 at the midpoint of the quarter. A Mikaela Ruef basket then pushed the margin to 12-4 and forced Cheryl Chambers to call a timeout.
Gwathmey knocked down the first basket out of the timeout, but a pair of Flames three pointers quickly narrowed the margin to 4 as the home side’s offence began to click. However, the Capitals kept rolling at the offensive end, keeping the Flames at arm’s length and by the end of the first term the visitors led 29-15, shooting 70% from the field in comparison the Flames’ mediocre 31% clip.
The second quarter started in more accurate fashion for the Flames as Alex Wilson knocked down a three on the first possession. Asia Taylor then finished from close range to bring the margin back within single figures, but Mikaela Ruef continued to enjoy knocking down shots in the very arena in which she came to prominence in the WNBL.
Asia Taylor earned an and-one from Ruef and subsequently converted, but Marianna Tolo did exactly the same down the other end on the very next possession as the Capitals’ hot shooting continued into the second term. But a couple of defensive breakdowns allowed the Flames some easy baskets and Caps coach Paul Goriss quickly called a timeout despite his side holding a 34-27 lead with 6 minutes to play in the half.
A Carly Wilson three pointer opened proceedings out of the timeout, but a Jennifer Hamson block prevented Marianna Tolo from extending the lead any further than that. A pull-up jumper from Leilani Mitchell bought the Flames a bit of momentum, and Alex Wilson then hit one of her own as the home side mounted a charge late in the second term, forcing a Capitals timeout. Wilson then pulled off a spectacular coast to coast break after picking off a Caps pass, drawing the foul and converting the and-one to bring the Flames within 3 at 37-34.
That would be as close as the Flames would come, but it was a spectacular play that kept the game at that three point margin. Asia Taylor pulled up for three to beat the buzzer, banking it home to leave the scoreboard reading 42-39 in favour of the visitors at halftime. The Flames’ shooting improved markedly in the second term, taking their overall rate for the game to to 43%, whilst the Capitals slipped to a more human 53%.
The visitors’ hot shooting continued into the second half as Carly Wilson knocked down a three to open the third quarter. Lauren Mansfield then inflicted more damage with a jumper from the free throw line as the Capitals opened the second half the far better of the two teams. Tahlia Tupaea stopped the early run with a three-pointer, but Abbey Wehrung’s floater kept the Capitals seven ahead.
Leilani Mitchell pulled the Flames back within three with a pair of lay-ups, including one that came courtesy of a sublime Asia Taylor steal, before Mikaela Ruef earned a trip to the line. The former Flame split a pair to put the visitors up 50-46.
The Flames regularly came within a basket of the lead during the the third term, but the Capitals were always able to edge back out, remaining four points ahead with two minutes remaining in the third period before Sarah Graham knocked down a three from the wing to bring the score to 55-54 in the visitors’ favour. Leilani Mitchell then drew a foul late in the shot clock and sank a pair of free throws to give the Flames their first lead since early in the first quarter at 56-55. However, Kate Gaze ensured the Capitals would take a 58-56 lead into the final term courtesy of a three pointer in the dying seconds.
Asia Taylor tied things back up from close range with the Flames’ first possession of the final term, but Abbey Wehrung continued an excellent game, responding with a deep two to take her personal tally to 12 points.
Carly Boag shoots the long ball surprisingly well for a power forward, and knocked down her first of the night, only for Lauren Mansfield to hit one of her own and keep the Capitals two points clear with less than 8 minutes to play before Marianna Tolo cleaned up Gwathmey’s missed fast break lay-up to push the score to 65-61.
As the teams traded baskets, the scoreline remained tight but always in the visitors’ favour, and with 5 minutes to play, Cheryl Chambers called a timeout following a wide open Kate Gaze three pointer that saw the Caps take a 70-65 lead into the final stages of the match.
The Flames went to a smaller lineup out of the timeout, with Boag and Taylor the two interior players for the home side. However, it was backcourt mainstay Alex Wilson doing the job in the paint first up, hitting a tough basket from close range. Soon after, a blocking call in the open court saw Lauren Mansfield commit her fifth and final foul with 3:27 to play, leaving the Capitals without their starting point guard in crunch time.
Alex Wilson continued her outstanding shooting from midrange, keeping the Flames within two, but Tolo’s free throw shooting was exemplary down the stretch. Combined with Kate Gaze’s outside shooting which saw her hit all six of her three-point attempts for the game, the Capitals kept their lead at 5 points into the final two minutes.
Tahlia Tupaea hit a tough floater late in the shot clock to keep the Flames in it at 76-73 with 27 seconds to play, but that would be the final scoring action of the game. The Flames had a chance to win it late on but couldn’t hit a game-tying basket as the Capitals escaped with the three point win despite the Flames’ fightback from 14 points down after a quarter.
The Flames will travel to Adelaide and Bendigo for a vital road double, where two wins would go a long way to cementing the team’s finals spot, whilst the winner of the game against Bendigo will clinch the season series regardless of margin.
Sydney Uni Flames 73 (Wilson 16p; Boag 15p, 8r; Taylor 12p, 6r, 5a; Mitchell 11p, 8r)
UC Capitals 76 (Gaze 18p; Tolo 12p, 8r, 4a; Wehrung 12p, 4r, 3a)