By Lachy France,
Brydens Sydney Uni Flames may have finished three wins clear atop the WNBL ladder, but finals bring a whole new challenge. With the finals format changing to a best-of-three semi final series with no second chance for the top two teams, the Flames will have to win two games against the defending champion Townsville Fire if they are to reach the grand final. The teams have played out some incredibly close games this season, with a six point win to the Flames in Brydens Stadium being the largest margin in their four contests to date.
The Flames have been known for their well-rounded offence which has seen the bulk of the scoring shared between the entire starting five all season, and this quality was on show in spades in the team’s win over the Adelaide Lightning in the final game of the regular season. Leilani Mitchell, Jennifer Hamson, Alex Wilson, Asia Taylor, Belinda Snell, and Sarah Graham all delivered double-figure scoring efforts in the 98-83 win which sees the Flames take an eight-game winning streak into the finals.
With so many potent scoring weapons on the court, any one of the Flames can step up and take the game by the scruff of the neck. Asia Taylor is just one of those players, and the American certainly has experience playing in those must-win games where the stakes are high and the pressure is on. The forward was an integral part of Louisville’s NCAA Elite Eight team in 2014, and Flames fans have already seen time and again just how well Taylor can step up when required. The team rode Taylor’s 28 point, 15 rebound performance to a win over the Melbourne Boomers just two weeks ago, and whilst relying on a single player is never a good thing, surely nobody would turn down another performance of that ilk from the American.
Whilst Taylor is certainly one of the stars of the league, the Fire have one of Australian basketball’s most decorated players in the form of stalwart Suzy Batkovic. There is little to say about the four-time WNBL MVP that hasn’t already been said, and the Opals legend continues to deliver for the Fire. Batkovic is one of just two players in the league to average over 20 points per game, and also averages a double-double. With Batkovic sitting in second in the league for both points and rebounds, and a more than adequate frontcourt partner in the form of Kayla Standish, the Fire are certainly a danger in the paint and this battle could be what decides the first game of this finals series.
With the Fire on the charge towards a three-peat that looked highly unlikely at Christmas and the Flames looking to secure their first WNBL title since 2001, both sides will be giving this game a red hot crack as they look to get their post-season campaign off to the best possible start.
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