The JCU Townsville Fire’s title defence is hanging by a thread after producing a lifeless display against the Sydney Uni Flames.
Marred by inconsistency during their 2016/17 campaign, the Fire entered the opening semi-final with a firm smash-and-grab game plan, but were left shell-shocked as the Flames secured a 111-69 victory.
The two-time reigning WNBL champions have less than a week to re-capture their best form ahead of game two at Townsville Stadium on Friday night which is now a do-or-die affair.
— JCU Townsville Fire (@TownsvilleFire) February 25, 2017
“There was a sign of it coming last week when we gave up 90 to Canberra,” head coach Claudia Brassard told the Townsville Bulletin.
“In the last two weeks we’ve given up 200 points, no one’s going to win a championship playing that kind of defence.
“That is the frustration. We spoke about it in the locker room, we play tougher defence against each other at training then we do against the other team.”
After a slow start, the Fire finally made some headway in front of a parochial Sydney crowd from the free-throw line.
Not surprisingly, captain Suzy Batkovic was the catalyst at the offensive end as she registered seven assists and four boards in the opening term en route to a team-high 18 and 10 for the game.
With star forwards Asia Taylor and Jennifer Hamson getting themselves into early foul trouble, the Fire hoped to expose the Flames in the low post but no one could envision what would happen next.
Forced into a smaller rotation, the Flames caught fire from beyond the arc as they made 6/13 in the opening half to go into the main change leading 52-37.
A 10-0 run to the hosts to start the third quarter effectively killed the contest, despite the efforts of Mia Murray (17 points and five rebounds) and Darcee Garbin (10 points and two rebounds).
The Flames powering into triple figures as they registered their biggest ever win over the Fire.
Game two of the semi-final series will be held at Townsville Stadium at 7pm on Friday night.
Click here to see full box scores from the opening semi-final.