The JCU Townsville Fire put the exclamation mark on a series sweep against their former coach to escape Adelaide tonight with a 74-68 victory.
With Chris Lucas opting to return to his home state after guiding the Fire to back-to-back championships, the third and final instalment of their first series was the toughest to date, with the Lightning missing a three-point shot with 32 seconds to play to snatch the lead.
Natasha Cloud proved cool in a crises, however, as she knocked down a pair of free throws with 19.3 seconds to play before Suzy Batkovic (24 points and nine rebounds) iced the contest with a game-winning steal to improve the Fire’s record to 8-7 going into the Christmas break.
Down on personnel – and seemingly energy – the Fire were sloppy for most of the first half, allowing the Lightning to shoot at 57% from the field.
Trailing by six at the first change, they were able to trim the lead to four at half-time but Lightning imports Colleen Planetta (20 points and 13 rebounds) and Sam Logic (17 points, eight rebounds and six assists) were proving telling.
“Today was always going to be one of those danger games where you are expecting to win and your focus may not be quite as sharp,” Fire assistant Mark Wrobel said.
“Credit to Adelaide who stuck to their game plan and made us pay poorly for our mistakes.
“Some elements of our game including our defensive transition at times really let us down and we are going to need to improve on this if we want to push for a title.
“It has been a hard first half of the season and now the girls will get an opportunity to go home and recharge their batteries before we start our play-off push.”
Two early fouls on Batkovic was not the remedy the Fire were looking for, with championship forward Darcee Garbin sidelined for a successive week and former Opals point guard Kelly Wilson also absent.
Kayla Standish seemed to relish playing against her early side as she led the way with seven first quarter points before fouling out midway through the final term with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Having had the hot hand in the corresponding fixture a fortnight ago, Mia Murray never really got going but still finished with a double-double with 14 and 10.
A 10-0 run to start the third term looked set to be the trigger that ignited the Fire, but to the Lightning’s credit, they refused to go away.
With the two teams trading baskets, the Lightning Jordan Hunter had the opportunity to break the Lightning’s winless start to the season with a shot from the permitter but she couldn’t get it to drop.
Cloud and Batkovic then ensured the result in the ensuing plays.
The Fire will return to their home floor on New Year’s Eve with a full contingent when they host the Melbourne Boomers.
Click here to see full box scores from tonight’s game.