Southern Design Sydney Uni Flames kept their supporters on the edge of their seats on the way to securing a Women’s National basketball League finals berth with a 79-67 result of West Coast Waves at the Sydney University Sports and Aquatic Centre on Friday night.
Hosting the second-last placed Waves, Sydney Uni were expected to waltz through to an elimination finals berth, but the Perth franchise had different ideas.
The visitors raced to a 22-14 quarter-time lead, held on to be level at the main break, stayed strong during a third term arm-wrestle only to wilt under the Flames final term onslaught.
The win saw the Flames finish fifth on the WNBL ladder after 22 rounds, earning an elimination final against Townsville Fire at Townsville RSL Stadium on Wednesday night (February 22).
Adelaide collected the minor premiership with an 18-4 season, with Bulleen (15-7), Dandenong (14-8), Townsville (13-9) and Sydney Uni (13-9) making up the top five.
Adelaide will take on Bulleen in the major semi-final at Adelaide Stadium on Saturday afternoon (February 25), and Dandenong will meet the winner of the Townsville v Sydney Uni clash in the minor semi-final at Dandenong Basketball Stadium on Sunday afternoon (February 26).
The Flames were forced down to the wire on Friday night, with West Coast stunning the hosts in establishing a 24-14 quarter-time lead, thanks to fine shooting from Rohanee Cox and Nikita-Lee Martin.
Sydney Uni responded in the second period however, piling on 28 points for the term against West Coast’s 20. Despite the momentum starting to turn in favour of the Flames, the third period was a low-scoring affair. Neither side could get going offensively, the scores staying level heading into what promised to be a tough final term.
With the prospect of elimination staring them in the face, the Flames upped the ante in the last quarter, with Lauren King and Amy Denson impressive as the hosts posted 22 points to the Wave’s 12 for the term.
Belinda Snell top-scored for the Flames with 19 points and eight rebounds, while King added 15 points for the contest.
Cox capped off a stellar return to the WNBL, finishing with 20 points and seven rebounds for the visitors, while Martin and Jasmine Hooper both finished with 13 points each.
Meanwhile, Sydney Uni Flames’ Belinda Snell and Alicia Poto have been named in a 24-women training squad for selection in the Australian Opals team to contest the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Headlined by Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor, as well as seasoned campaigners in Suzy Batkovic, Kristi Harrower and Snell, and rising stars Liz Cambage, Jenna O’Hea and Abby Bishop, the 2012 squad features a mix of talent, athleticism, experience and youth.
Head coach Carrie Graf said that although a core group of star players are likely to make up much of the London Olympic team, there are a number of spots available to members of the squad who can offer something unique to a team looking for success. It was this that aided selectors in bringing the talent pool down to the current group of 24.
“We can’t select 30 and we have to get down to the nitty gritty,” said Graf. “There are a core group of players who are going to clearly be in that Olympic team and then there are going to be a few spots open for players to battle it out and for us to see what is going to be the best fit for the team,” she said.
“There are some young athletes that weren’t selected that we feel are a part of the future, who have had very good WNBL seasons. But we’re getting to the pointy end of things now and it’s about the 2012 campaign and who can force their way into the group and who can help us in the process.”
The Opals London Olympic Games preparation schedule begins with a selection camp in March and then moves into the official pre-Olympic training camp which tips off in May at the AIS.
The Opals have claimed silver at the past three Olympic Games as well as World Championship gold in 2006.