Flames have final say over ladder leaders

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A back-and-forth contest which ended in overtime has seen Brydens Sydney Uni Flames come up trumps against the Bendigo Spirit, securing a 93-86 victory over the ladder leaders.

Three Flames came up with double-doubles, with Leilani Mitchell finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds, whilst import pairing Asia Taylor and Jennifer Hamson both collected double figures in points and rebounds. For the Spirit, Kelsey Griffin finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, whilst Canadian import Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe tallied 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Jennifer Hamson opened the scoring in her first game back from injury with a delicate hook over Gabe Richards, but Richards quickly returned the favour with a basket from close range. Bendigo then took their first lead of the game through Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe’s midrange jumper, before the Canadian extended the lead to 6-2 from close to the basket.

Kelsey Griffin and Leilani Mitchell traded threes as the scoring continued to flow early in the quarter, with the Spirit up 11-7 through three minutes. From there, the points dried up slightly until Asia Taylor went coast-to-coast to finish, but couldn’t convert the one which would have put the Flames within a point. Taylor then almost repeated the dose, but instead kicked to Belinda Snell who drained the three for the Flames’ first lead of the game. Hamson then extended the margin with an excellent putback off Leilani Mitchell’s missed three pointer.

Reprising her role off the bench with Hamson back in the lineup, Carly Boag quickly injected herself into the game with a defensive rebound that allowed the Flames to get into transition and see Belinda Snell hit another three pointer as the Flames’ shooters began to heat up. The Spirit weren’t far behind though, as Blake Dietrick knocked down a couple of baskets early into her first foray into the game to put the Spirit within 3. The Princeton product then got to the foul line and connected on a pair of free throws to trim the margin to 23-22.

A highly entertaining first quarter ended with the Spirit taking a 24-23 lead on Raincock-Ekunwe’s transition lay-up as both sides shot just shy of 50% for the opening period.

Dietrick continued her excellent start to the night by opening the scoring for the second term after collecting Asia Taylor’s errant pass. Taylor quickly made amends, drawing a foul in transition and hitting a pair of free throws before baskets from Hamson and Mitchell restored the Flames’ advantage. However, the teams would trade the lead mostly through trips to the line early in the second term.

Blake Dietrick continued to have an impact in the second quarter, taking her personal tally to 9 with a transition lay-up that trimmed the Flames’ lead to 41-40 with just over 3 minutes to play in the term. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe drew a foul on Carly Boag whilst driving to the hoop, and connected on one of two to tie the game. Enter Alex Wilson, who knocked down a three-pointer to restore the Flames’ advantage. Soon after, it was Sarah Graham knocking down one of her own to put the Flames up 49-43 with a minute to play in the quarter.

The Spirit forced their way to the line three times in the final minute and were able to trim the lead to 51-49 by the end of the quarter. Kelsey Griffin and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe both hit double figures for the visitors, whilst for the Flames, Belinda Snell and Asia Taylor led the way with 11 and 10 points respectively.

The second half started with Gabe Richards tying the game up with a jumper from the free throw line, but Jennifer Hamson was able to draw a foul and split a pair of free throws as the game remained incredibly tight. However, the scoring was not nearly as free-flowing in the early stages of the second half as it was in the first, until Alex Wilson buried a deep two just after 2 minutes of play. 

Kelsey Griffin continued to trouble the Flames inside, with 11 of her first 16 points coming from the free throw line. Conversely, the Flames had only attempted 11 free throws for the game by midway through the third quarter, converting 8. Despite the slight foul trouble, the Flames managed to maintain a slight cushion deep into the third term until a Bendigo run was capped off by Heather Oliver, who gave the Spirit their first lead of the quarter and forced Flames coach Cheryl Chambers to call a timeout with just over a minute remaining in the term. The final minute saw the Flames score the last points of the term through Jennifer Hamson’s free throws and take a 70-69 point lead into the final quarter.

Blake Dietrick continued her excellent night by opening the scoring for the final quarter and returning the advantage to the visitors. Jennifer Hamson then countered with a basket of her own, but it was 2 more minutes before either team scored as the offence on both sides became a little erratic.

Finally, a basket came and it was Belinda Snell knocking down a crucial three-pointer for the Flames. Soon after, Leilani Mitchell hit one of her own following an offensive rebound from Lauren Nicholson and the margin was back out to five with six minutes to play.

Griffin continued to play a superb hand for the visitors, though, moving to 20 points with a tough shot under the basket and then knocking down a mid-range jumper to bring Bendigo within a point, but former Flame Ashleigh Karaitiana couldn’t quite put the Spirit ahead from beyond the arc.

As the game moved into the final three minutes, the score read 80-79 in favour of the Flames. But a full minute of possession from the Spirit which included tipped balls and offensive rebounds finally saw the visitors drop in a go-ahead basket with 2 minutes to play.

A huge offensive rebound from Asia Taylor off a missed Leilani Mitchell three led to the putback for the Flames import before a steal from Jennifer Hamson allowed Taylor to find Mitchell on the break and suddenly the home side led 84-81 with 41 seconds to play.

The Spirit called a timeout to set up a play, and Kelsey Griffin hit a clutch three-pointer early in the shot clock to tie the game and all but assure the Spirit would have the final shot. The Flames then called their own timeout, but were unable to get a shot away. Belinda Snell fouled Kelsey Griffin to see the Spirit inbounding the ball with 1.9 seconds to hit the winning shot. Blake Dietrick got a contested shot away but the ball hit the corner of the rim and bounced away to see the game head to overtime.

The Flames started overtime with a turnover, but a huge block from Jennifer Hamson ensured the Spirit wouldn’t capitalise in the short-term. Instead, Lauren Nicholson knocked down a crucial corner three for her first basket of the night. Jennifer Hamson then found acres of space in the paint and finished the easiest of lay-ups to take the score to 89-84 with three minutes to play, but Raincock-Ekunwe finished a tough shot of her own to trim the margin to three. Kelsey Griffin then drew her ninth foul of the night to shoot two free throws, but surprisingly missed both to deny the Spirit a chance to move within a point.

Asia Taylor completed an acrobatic lay-up, before Hamson came up with her second block of the overtime period. Heather Oliver’s three-pointer from the ensuing inbounds play was off target and it remained a 91-86 Flames lead with 30.4 seconds to play. With Bendigo still needing to foul twice to send the Flames to the line, Lauren Nicholson hit the final basket of the game with just 7 seconds remaining to secure a 93-86 victory for the home side.


Sydney Uni Flames 93 (Mitchell 18p, 11a; Hamson 17p, 11r; Taylor 16p, 10r; Snell 16p)

Bendigo Spirit 86 (Griffin 27p, 10r; Raincock-Ekunwe 22p, 12r; Richards 14p)