Graham Croker
The two crucial games in the final round of the Women’s National Basketball League went according to script on Saturday, resulting in the ACUVUE Sydney University Flames nailing down second place in the competition ladder.
The Flames accounted for Perth Lynx 72-59 at the Sydney University Sports and Fitness Centre, while frontrunners Bulleen defeated Canberra Capitals 88-78 in Melbourne. The results allowed the Flames to leapfrog the Capitals into second spot and a major semi-final berth with Bulleen. The Flames are the only team to defeat Bulleen this season.
Canberra finished third and will play in the minor semi-final against the winner of the elimination final between fourth-placed Townsville and fifth-placed Bendigo.
Saturday’s win over Perth was achieved without prolific scorers Suzy Batkovic-Brown and Eva Afeaki, but Natalie Porter – back from a wrist injury – and Deanna Smith stepped up to dominate the scoring. Porter finished with a game-high 24 points, while Smith contributed a valuable 21.
“Natalie had a good game but it’s a week-by-week thing getting her confidence back offensively, it’s going to a little while longer to gel,” Flames coach Karen Dalton said.
Early mistakes from the Lynx allowed the Flames to take a 10-point lead into the first break. They extended that to 35-23 at half-time.
The game became more physical in the second half as Perth launched a comeback. They successfully shut down Flames’ centre Ellie Manou and limited Mikaela Dombkins to nine points with very physical defence.
The Lynx also lifted their offence to outscore the Flames 19-13 in the final quarter but it only narrowed the losing margin.
Sydney University’s rebounds suffered without Afeaki and Batkovic-Brown with Perth heading the statistics with 34-31. But Perth also headed the turnovers – 22 to 12 – and in the end it cost them dearly.
“We’ve definitely missed Eva, especially offensively,” coach Dalton said. “Our offence was all over the place. But to finish second on the ladder; I’m absolutely ecstatic.”
The Flames will play Bulleen in Melbourne on February 20.
ACUVUE Sydney University Flames 72 (Natalie Porter 24, Deanna Smith 21, Mikaela Dombkins 9) d Perth Lynx 59 (Kate Malpass 13, Rebecca Mercer 13, Samantha Norwood 12) at Sydney University Sports and Fitness Centre.