The Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames returned to the practice court last Thursday after a short mid-season break to prepare for a tough road double in Canberra.
The Flames went to the mid-season break with a solid 9-4 record and face a daunting January, which includes the challenging ACT and Queensland doubles.
With four of the team’s six games in January on the road, the Flames face a difficult journey as they look to return to post-season play after narrowly missing the play-offs last year.
Standing in their way on Friday is traditional rival Canberra, who went to the mid-season break with some solid form, including a crucial win against Bulleen.
That win has kept the final hopes well and truly alive for the perennial power and sets up yet another classic encounter with the team from up the Hume Highway.
These two teams have engaged in some classic battles over the years, including the first match in early December where the Flames held firm despite a furious finish by the Capitals to claim a crucial road victory.
With so much at stake and the parochial Capitals fans sure to be out in force, the scene is set for what looms as one of the games of the 2011/2012 WNBL season.
In that last encounter, versatile Sydney Uni forward Lauren King proved the difference, finishing with 24 points and connecting with some crucial plays down the stretch.
King’s ability to play multiple positions and decision making will again be crucial against the vaunted Canberra defence.
The clash of form point guards Alicia Poto and Nicole Hunt will be a highlight, as will the much-anticipated match-up of Opals squad members Belinda Snell and Carly Wilson.
Up front, young Flames centre Ellyce Ironmonger continues to provide solid minutes and her clash with Caps star Marianna Tolo will be another important one.
In the power forward spot, Amy Denson will face off with Canberra rookie Brigitte Ardossi, who has enjoyed a rich vein of form in recent games and is playing more of a role for her team at the offensive end.
These two teams are known for their defence and no doubt both coaches will be stressing the importance of getting it done at the defensive end of the floor and on the glass.
Flames coach Karen Dalton said her team had trained well in the last week and was looking forward to the challenge of taking on a traditional rival.
“The players have come back refreshed from their short break and have been working very hard on the practice floor,” Dalton said.
“Every game in the second half of the season is crucial and it all starts on Friday against a very good Canberra team.”
Following the big clash on Friday, the Flames face the much-improved AIS team on Saturday in another challenging encounter for the visitors.
Flames fans can follow all the action from both games on the new-look WNBL LiveStats.