By Lachy France
Following a trip to the west that saw the team take everyone by surprise with two comfortable victories, Brydens Sydney Uni Flames return to their home court to take on the local rival UC Capitals on Sunday afternoon. The Flames sit in third position on the WNBL ladder and a win would do wonders for the team’s chances to move to the top position in the coming weeks.
The Adelaide-Perth road double is definitely the toughest in the league in terms of travel for any of the eastern-based teams, but despite a roster that resembles a list of hospital patients more than a basketball team, the Flames cruised to a pair of wins. The Flames easily accounted for the Adelaide Lightning, 89-72, with Coach Cheryl Chambers able to limit the starters’ minutes to prepare the side for the game against Perth. That rest clearly did the starters a world of good, as the Flames bolted out of the blocks for a 31-20 first quarter lead, setting themselves up for a comprehensive 93-69 win to round out the weekend.
The Capitals, on the other hand, have not played since before Christmas but will come into this game fresh off a Friday night game in Townsville which will certainly be a fiery encounter as both teams seek to keep in touch with the top 4. The Canberra side certainly boast plenty of scoring potential, with Marianna Tolo, Lauren Mansfield, and Mikaela Ruef all featuring in the top 16 in the league for points per game. Former Flames player Ruef also leads the league in rebounds with 11.5 per game, whilst Tolo sits in third with 8.9 per game, meaning that the Flames’ inside players will have to be at the top of their game at both ends of the floor to slow down the Caps.
Fortunately, the Flames’ bigs have been in outstanding form all season. Asia Taylor is averaging close to a double with 17.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, whilst Jennifer Hamson isn’t far behind with 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Add in Carly Boag, who has been picking up almost 5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game so far, and the Flames certainly have the frontcourt personnel to nullify the Capitals’ usually strong output on the glass.
Although the battle on the glass will no doubt be enthralling, wins are hard to come by if you can’t put the ball in the basket, and this is one area in which the Flames have the wood over the Capitals this season. The home side have shot 44% from the field so far this season in comparison to the Capitals’ 40% rate, and the advantage grows from beyond the arc. The Flames have hit their three pointers at a solid 39% for the season, whilst the Capitals have connected on just 27% of their own three pointers. Certainly, the Capitals do prefer to take the ball inside, but have still attempted over 15 three pointers per game, in comparison to the Flames’ 23.2 attempts from deep per contest.
If the Flames can do a solid job of keeping the Capitals off the offensive glass and maintain their shooting form of the season to this point, the home side can be fully expected to pick up the W in their first contest of 2017.