The Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames face one of their most significant games in recent memory when they host traditional rivals Canberra in the Australia Day Classic at SUSAC tomorrow night.
Currently sitting outside the top five with a 10-8 record, the Flames need to return to the winner’s circle after dropping two games on the Townsville/Logan road swing last weekend.
With the race for the 2011/2012 post season intensifying, the Flames need to win to continue their push towards a return to the play-offs and must start their run with a win in this one.
Standing in their way are traditional rivals Canberra, who are now out of the play-off picture after dominating the finals landscape for a decade.
In what is set to be a huge day of basketball, the Flames will be looking to capture the spirit of Australia Day and feed from the expected large home crowd to claim the series against the Capitals and remain entrenched in the play-off race.
Sydney Uni was somewhat unlucky to not pull out a thriller at Logan on Sunday and despite the loss, will take some confidence from what was a tough battle on the second leg of the road double.
Led by Belinda Snell and Amy Denson, the Flames showed great resilience after a disappointing loss in Townsville to play the in-form Thunder to a standstill, losing by a single basket.
Snell was back to her brilliant best, finishing with a game high 27 and providing plenty of sting to the Flames offence with her all around game and ability to involve team-mates.
Denson battled hard against the imposing Thunder front line and will need to be at her best again tomorrow against the versatile Canberra front-line rotation of Tolo, Ardossi and Cosier.
In their last clash in Canberra earlier this month, the Flames struggled to contain Tolo and Ardossi and the clash in the paint will be absolutely crucial to the result of this one.
Young Flames centre Ellyce Ironmonger continues to improve with each outing and will have her work cut-out against Opals centre Tolo.
Former Flame Michelle Cosier has been in a rich patch of form since returning from injury and will be a key player for the Sydney defence to contain.
Flames coach Karen Dalton said her team was positive going into perhaps the most pivotal game of the year for the home team.
“Things are obviously very tight in the race for the finals and the players have been very positive and working hard to ensure we play well in front of what will be a big home crowd,” Dalton said.
“There were some good signs on Sunday, but we need to turn that into a win tomorrow against a team that we always engage in terrific battles with.”
The Flames/Capitals rivalry is one of the WNBL’s longest running and most intense, with the two proud clubs engaging in some grand battles over the years, including numerous play-off and grand final match-ups.
History will count for little tomorrow, with the Flames desperate to stay in the play-off hunt with a win and the Capitals keen to finish their season on a high note.
Tip-off for the big Australia Day Classic is 6pm, with the Flames Academy taking on the NSW Metro Under 18’s at 3.20pm and the Dubbo Rams playing Norths in a special under 14 girls game at 2pm.