Flames face crucial clash in-form Dandenong

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The Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames face a crucial clash with an in-form Dandenong Rangers outfit as the race for the 2011/2012 WNBL play-offs continue at SUSAC on Friday.

Currently on the bubble of the play-offs, Friday’s clash with a resurgent Rangers is yet another must win encounter for the Flames as they look to return to post season play after narrowly missing out last year.

A resounding win over arch rivals Canberra last week kept Sydney Uni in the finals hunt, but there is no respite with perhaps the form team of the competition flying into town for Friday’s nationally televised game.

Dandenong recorded an important win over competition leaders Adelaide a fortnight ago and then consolidated with a win over the AIS on Sunday, moving them a spot in the top five.

Led by skipper and point guard Kathleen MacLeod and with veteran Ranger Allison Downie having a career year, Dandenong is deep, athletic and has plenty of scoring punch across the board.

MacLeod leads the WNBL in assists with just over seven per outing and her combination with former junior team running mate Jenna O’Hea provides the Rangers with a talented one-two punch.

Downie continues to provide spark and toughness for Coach Mark Wright, and her willingness to do the little things makes her a crucial cog in the Rangers machine.

For the Flames, last week’s win at home heralded a return to the ball movement and creativity that punctuated the team’s 7-0 start to the year, with Opals star Belinda Snell at her brilliant best.

Snell led the game in scoring and assists, with young Sydney Uni centre Ellyce Ironmonger benefitting from that creativity with a WNBL career high 18 points.

Ironmonger faces a stern challenge on Friday against former University of Michigan stand-out and Rangers import Krista Phillips, who anchors the Dandenong front-line.

Flames coach Karen Dalton said the team knew it had to build on the forward steps from the Australia Day clash.

“There were a lot of positives for our group last week, but it will mean little if we don’t come out on Friday and play with intensity and purpose,” she said.

“Obviously every game is so crucial and Dandenong comes in with some very good form and, like us, are desperate to win.”

“The Rangers are well-coached, have a lot of different scoring options and play hard, so the challenge for us is to match that intensity for 40 minutes,” she added.

Friday’s game tips-off at the Sydney Uni Sports & Aquatic Centre at 7.10pm and will be replayed in full on ABC-Television at 1pm on Saturday.

Tickets are available at the door, with the curtain raiser game between the Manly-Warringah and Bankstown Under 12 girls commencing at 5.15pm.