Brydens Sydney Uni Flames gave the crowd more than their money’s worth in their second game of the weekend, sneaking home 69-68 in a thriller against the defending WNBL champion Townsville Fire to finish a perfect 2-0 for the round.

The Flames were led by American forward Asia Taylor, who finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, whilst Leilani Mitchell had another 20 point game. Mia Murray was the leading scorer for Townsville with 16 points, whilst Suzy Batkovic finished with a double-double and Kelly Wilson dished out 7 assists for the visitors.

The scoring was slow in the first couple of minutes as both teams wasted possession in the early stages. Some early jitters affected both teams, possibly caused by the tough travel schedule after both teams’ games in Victoria the previous evening, with a couple of travels resulting in turnovers at both ends of the floor. The visitors would settle first, and despite some early offensive fouls disrupting the offensive rhythm, would take a 15-11 lead into the game’s first timeout with just over 5 minutes played as both teams sought to adjust to the style of refereeing.

Following the timeout, Carly Boag cut the Fire’s lead to 2 before Suzy Batkovic extended the lead back to four and then out to eight points as the reigning MVP went on her own scoring run. But the Flames would have the last laugh of the first quarter. Lauren Nicholson hit a three-pointer with a minute remaining before Sarah Graham banked home a buzzer-beater from just shy of half-court to see the first quarter end with the Fire leading 24-19, although it looked far worse for the Flames at certain points late in the first quarter.

Leilani Mitchell opened the second quarter scoring with a midrange jumper, whilst Suzy Batkovic continued to have an impact for Townsville, moving to 10 points early in the quarter after drawing a foul on Jennifer Hamson and hitting a pair of free throws. Mitchell wasn’t far behind though, keeping the Flames in touch with a pair of baskets of her own. Despite retaining a five point lead, Townsville again took the first timeout of the half, not wanting to let the home side get into any sort of rhythm.

After a couple of defensive stops, it looked as if the Fire had done just that. But Leilani Mitchell would not be denied, again hitting from midrange before draining a pair of free throws to take her own tally to double figures midway through the second term. The teams would trade baskets but an Amy Kame jumper took the Townsville lead out to 8 and forced Flames coach Cheryl Chambers into a timeout with a little over a minute left in the half.

The timeout only served to help the Fire though, with the visitors scoring the next five points. But a buzzer-beater would come to the rescue for the Flames again, with Leilani Mitchell reducing the margin to 48-38 with a three-pointer from the wing off an inbounds pass from Alex Wilson. Mitchell would lead all scorers through the first half with 13, but the Fire had three players in double figures with Batkovic, Murray, and Garbin doing the bulk of the scoring for the visitors.

The Flames started the second half positively, with Leilani Mitchell and Jennifer Hamson hitting shots and forcing Fire coach Claudia Brassard to call an early timeout as the Flames threatened to go on an extended run.

Out of the timeout, the Flames were initially unable to convert, but a steal from Asia Taylor followed by a beautiful Eurostep forced Suzy Batkovic to commit the foul and the American drained both free throws to see the Flames cut the margin to 48-44. The teams traded defensive stops before Leilani Mitchell was finally able to get a steal and capitalise as the Flames scored the first 8 points of the quarter before Micaela Cocks stopped the rot with a jumper of her own for Townsville.

Things then threatened to boil over midway through the third term as Suzy Batkovic voiced her displeasure at a hands foul call on Darcee Garbin and earned a technical foul for her troubles. Asia Taylor hit all three free throws to trim the margin to a solitary point before Alex Wilson collected an offensive rebound to give the Flames a 51-50 lead midway through the third quarter.

Batkovic got to the rim on the Fire’s next offensive possession and drew the foul on Hamson, but surprisingly missed both free throws. Leilani Mitchell punished the Fire in the harshest way possible, hitting a three pointer from the wing to push the Flames out to a four point lead as the game became increasingly physical, especially in the rebounding contests. The physicality inevitably led to fouls, with Jennifer Hamson forced to sit for the last part of the third quarter with four fouls. The Fire hit back through Mia Murray late in the quarter to regain the lead, but a tremendous defensive performance from the Flames saw the visitors restricted to just eight points in the third quarter and the scored tied at 56-56 going into the final 10 minutes of play.

Taylor gave the Flames the lead early in the final term, receiving a clever Shanae Greaves pass and finishing close to the basket on the opening possession of the term. Kelly Wilson and Kayla Standish quickly put paid to that though, as both connected on lay-ups before Taylor again restored parity. Turnovers restricted the scoring at both ends for the next couple of minutes, before Carly Boag found herself wide open with the ball in her hands, sinking a three to give the Flames 63-60 lead which is how the score would remain for a full three minutes, before Belinda Snell collected a loose ball near the basket and finished to put the Flames up 65-60.

Townsville import Natasha Cloud hadn’t hit a shot all night – in fact, she’d only had one field goal attempt for the entire contest. But she came up big with a three pointer with 3 minutes to play to shrink the Flames’ lead to two points as Flames coach Cheryl Chambers opted for a timeout to prepare the team for the final stretch. It worked a treat, too, as Asia Taylor recovered her own blocked shot to finish close to the basket. Cloud then hit yet another three pointer to bring the margin back to 67-66 before Taylor repeated her own dose to push the Flames out to a three point lead yet again.

Some absolutely inspired passing from Townsville following a long offensive rebound saw Micaela Cocks open to hit a midrange jumper and the game headed to the final minute with the Flames up 69-68 and in possession. That possession did not pan out well, though. A three point attempt from Leilani Mitchell ended in an air-ball, but some incredible defence around the basket on the ensuing Townsville possession led to a held ball and a possession arrow favouring the home side with 31 seconds remaining. The Flames’ final offensive possession ended as badly as the previous one, with a block followed up by an air-ball from Asia Taylor. However, the Flames still retained the lead with 6 seconds to play.

Townsville managed to conjure something with the final play of the game, but Micaela Cocks’ last-second reverse layup caught the bottom of the rim and the resulting scrap for possession ended with the ball in Belinda Snell’s hands as the clock ran out to secure a thrilling 69-68 win for the Flames and improve the team’s record to 2-2 for the season when it could have so easily been 0-4 before the weekend started.

Sydney Uni Flames 69 (Mitchell 20p, 5r, 6s; Taylor 19p, 13r; Snell 9p, 7r, 7a)
Townsville Fire 68 (Murray 16p, 7r; Batkovic 12p, 10r; Cocks 11p, 4r; Garbin 10p, 8r)

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