By Lachy France
Following a pair of tight losses to start the season, things don’t get any easier for Brydens Sydney Uni Flames this week as the team welcomes the reigning WNBL champion Townsville Fire to Brydens Stadium.
The Fire have started the season in electrifying form, demolishing the Perth Lynx by 22 points in a grand final rematch in their opener before taking apart Adelaide last week in an 85-56 hammering.
While the Fire have been taking teams apart at will in the early stages, the Flames have been involved in two nail-biters on their home court to open their campaign. The margin between the home side and the Perth Lynx rarely moved above the 5 point mark throughout the season opener in a game that came down to the final shot but saw the visitors escape with a 93-90 win. That was followed by another tight game last weekend against the UC Capitals, where a Marianna Tolo masterclass led the visitors to an 89-80 victory despite a well-rounded scoring performance from the Flames. All five Flames starters reached double figures, led by 20 points from Leilani Mitchell.
The Flames have had little trouble scoring points this season, but with the Fire equally adept at putting the ball in the basket, the Flames’ defence will have to step up if they are to cause the upset against a more-fancied Townsville side.
Led by inside pairing Suzy Batkovic (18.5ppg) and Kayla Standish (14.5ppg), the Fire are clearly more reliant on getting the ball into the paint than they are on their backcourt for scoring, although the likes of ex-Flame Kelly Wilson and Micaela Cocks can certainly light it up from beyond the arc if required.
The Flames, on the other hand, have proven their ability to score from anywhere on the court. Point guard Leilani Mitchell leads the team with 17.5 points per game, but is closely followed by imports Asia Taylor (17ppg) and Jennifer Hamson (15ppg). This shared scoring load makes the Flames dangerous across the court and could well prove to be the catalyst if the Flames are to secure the win.
With a game in Bendigo on Friday night preceding the home fixture against Townsville, this weekend will be pivotal for the Flames to kick-start their season and put themselves among the early frontrunners.
Although the league has been littered with what had looked to be upsets to start the season, in such a tight league it already looks to be the case that very few matches can easily be predicted.
This game against Townsville may just be the chance the Flames need to take that final step and pick up the win.
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