Graham Croker

While the ACUVUE Sydney University Flames’ gutsy away win over ladder leaders Bulleen Boomers moved them to joint fourth on the competition ladder on Sunday, it came at a huge cost.
The Flames ended the Boomers eight-match winning streak with a 79-65 result at The Veneto Club in Melbourne, but lost skipper Nat Porter to injury in the second term.
Porter fractured her wrist when she fell heavily on a drive after a mid-air collision with Bulleen’s Elyse Penaluna and Liz Cambage. She immediately clutched at her wrist and was taken to hospital where the break was confirmed.
The Flames also lost their leading scorer Suzy Batkovic-Brown, who was fouled out in the fourth term with just 14 minutes of court-time.
But cometh the hour, cometh Eva Afeaki and Deanna Smith. Afeaki produced 20 points to go with seven rebounds, while Smith posted 16 points to help the Flames to a third straight win. Cambage (19 points and 11 rebounds), headed the host’s scoring.
Flames coach Karen Dalton was proud of the side’s ability to overcome the loss of their two senior players.
“Our handling of adversity was unbelievable,” Dalton said. “We were under-sized, particularly in the second half, so it was tremendous effort from the girls.”
After a slow start to the season, with a new starting line-up, the Flames now have a 5-3 record and have levelled with Canberra on the ladder.
“We’d had two big wins in the past two games and this week we were testing ourselves to see how much we’d improved,” Dalton said.
“We’re just really happy to get the win, that’s exactly what we wanted to do and we did it under adversity, so that’s even better.”
Having suffered their first defeat of the season, Boomers co-captain Sharin Milner was disappointed with her team’s persistence.
“They just wanted it more tonight, which for us is disappointing,” Milner said. “The start didn’t help, and we as a starting group have to take accountability for that.
“Something that we pride ourselves on is our persistence and I just don’t think it was at the level that we expect it to be.”
Milner was praiseworthy of the Flames’ effort in overcoming the loss of their captain. “They’re an experienced group,” she said. “They handled adversity really well when Nat (Porter) went down and Suzy (Batkovic-Brown) was in foul trouble.
“They were able to stay focused and maybe our focus waned a bit throughout the game. (Afeaki’s) a tough match-up, as is Deanna Smith, and they are both legitimate Opals squad members.”
The Flames opened with an intensity that surprised the host team and their supporters. They disrupted the Boomers offence with some aggressive marking and established a 36-31 lead at the main break.
Bulleen suffered an injury scare in the third term, when Jenna O’Hea fell awkwardly and injured an ankle. During her absence, the Flames met every challenge and established a six-point break at the end of the third term.
And as Milner said after the eventual 14-point loss: “To their credit, not just the start, but for the four quarters, they were focused and intent and just wanted the ball.”
The Flames return to their home court at the Sydney University Sports and Fitness Centre this Friday night, when they host sixth-placed Adelaide Lightning, with a 7pm tip-off at ACUVUE Sports Hall.

Sydney University Flames 79 (Eva Afeaki 20, Deanne Smith 16, Suzy Batkovic-Brown 13) d Bulleen Boomers 65 (Elizabeth Cambage 19 Hanna Zavecz 12 Elyse Penaluna 11) at The Veneto Club, Melbourne.