Graham Croker

Having clawed their way to the lead with six minutes on the clock, and with a home crowd in full voice, the ACUVUE Sydney Uni Flames looked set to return to the WNBL winner’s list on Friday night
But the excitement only lasted 20 seconds before Canberra Capitals regained the advantage and held on to win the Round 8 match 89-82 at the Sydney University Sports and Aquatic Centre.
The Capitals lead the competition, having won nine from 10, including six on the trot, while the Flames sit 7th on the table, with three from nine.
And they have just five days to regroup before meeting the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra on Wednesday night (tip-off 7pm).
Flames coach Karen Dalton was disappointed with the result but pleased with her team’s determination.
“We had a couple of hiccups in the second quarter when our shot selection wasn’t great,” Dalton said. “Our shot selection is the problem at times and we’ll be working on that to get back to the winner’s list.”
Although they had been on a five-match streak, Capitals coach Carrie Graf was respectful of the visit to Flames headquarters.
“Sydney (Flames) are a perennial play-off team and we don’t expect teams to quit and they were really physical on the rebounding and that’s what killed us,” Graf said.
“I’ve always said this month was going to be tough so that’s one down and we have three huge games to go. This is just the start and it’s good to get the first one on the road and now we have to turn our focus to the other teams.”
Capitals guard Jess Bibby posted a season-high 30, including four three-pointers, to dominate the scoring on Sunday.
While Bibby was collecting nets, Flames captain Alicia Poto was being pressured by Nat Hurst. She still managed to shoot 10 for the half, but the Capitals had skipped away to a 47-38 lead at the main break.
But with Evan Afeaki leading the way, the Flames went on a 16-9 scoring run to level proceedings at 56-all before Abby Bishop and Bibby combined to get Canberra back on track and re-establish an eight-point lead.
The Flames hit back at the start of the final quarter and got within one when Poto sank a long-range three-pointer. They maintained the momentum and hit the front for the first time in the match with six minutes remaining.
But the Capitals regained the advantage 20 seconds later and had a tussle on their hands to the last minute when the Flames were just three points behind before Bibby shut the hosts out of the match.
“They had to change their defence to stop her,” Graf said. “Poto tried to face guard her but Bibby was huge for us tonight.”
It was an improved performance from the Flames but despite their best efforts the team slumped to their third defeat in a row.
Eva Afeaki bounced back to form to top the scoring with 27, while Poto, who fell victim to cramps in the last quarter, showed promising signs after returning from a calf injury two weeks ago.
“We’ve been without Pottsy and if we had her against Townsville (in the previous round) we would have won,” Dalton said. “Having her back in the team at point guard makes a huge difference for us.”

Canberra Capitals 89 (Jess Bibby 30, Abby Bishop 26, Kellie Abrams 12) d Sydney Uni Flames 82 (Eva Afeaki 27, Alicia Poto 20, Rhonda Price16).