Flames crush Spirit in Snell’s 300th

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The Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have marked captain Belinda Snell’s 300th WNBL game in the best possible way, knocking off the Bendigo Bank Spirit, 90-57, courtesy of a dominant second-half performance in which the home side restricted their opponents to just 18 points.

Alex Wilson led all scorers with 21 points, whilst Snell marked her milestone appearance with 10 assists. Jennifer Hamson was dominant on the glass to finish with 10 rebounds alongside 17 points for yet another double-double in what is becoming an outstanding season for the American.

The Flames opened the game by scoring of the first eight points, with a pair of Alex Wilson threes following a lay-up from Asia Taylor. However, the Spirit also showcased their talents from beyond the arc early, with former Flame Ash Karaitiana and import Rachel Banham delivering the visitors an 11-10 lead. The Flames quickly hit back though, with 15 of their first 20 points coming through some outstanding three point shooting, moving to a 20-13 lead in the process as their interior defence kept the Spirit at bay.

However, interior defence doesn’t stop perimeter shooting, and Banham knocked one down from the corner to bring Bendigo within four at 20-16 inside two minutes to play in the first quarter, but a beautiful pick and roll saw Wilson find Jennifer Hamson for the open lay-up. Bendigo import Betnijah Laney knocked down a basket for the final scoring play of the quarter shortly after to see the Flames lead 22-18 through ten minutes of play.

Banham continued to light it up, opening the second quarter scoring with another three to trim the margin to a single point before Gabe Richards handed Bendigo the lead with a deep two. The teams traded baskets in the opening stages of the quarter, and, consequentially, the lead before Flames coach Cheryl Chambers called a timeout with just over two minutes played in the term and her side down 27-26.

The Flames came out on the attack following the timeout, with Carly Boag drawing a foul on a putback attempt and converting a pair of free throws to restore the home side’s advantage. Hamson then managed to finish a put-back of her own on the very next possession as the Flames crashed the offensive glass with more aggression after the timeout. Despite this, Bendigo continued to use the three-ball to their advantage, with Karaitiana knocking down her team’s sixth basket from deep midway through the second quarter.

Laney drew a foul on Carly Boag and converted an and-one, but was called for an illegal screen on Bendigo’s next offensive possession, just as the Spirit were primed to cut the lead to a single possession. The visitors were able to go on a run shortly after, but the Flames maintained a lead into the final stages of the half, with Bendigo calling a timeout down 43-39 with just over a minute remaining. Both teams had decent looks in the final minute, but neither team could finish one and the half ended with the score still at 43-39 in the Flames’ favour.

Asia Taylor opened the second half scoring with a tough finish from just inside the free throw line, but Rachel Banham did what Rachel Banham does best on Bendigo’s next possession, knocking down her fourth three-pointer of the contest to immediately halve the home side’s lead. A couple of quick baskets to the Flames quickly dented any Bendigo momentum, and shortly after, Bendigo coach Simon Pritchard called a timeout as the home side threatened to run away with things early in the second half.

However, the timeout failed to ignite Bendigo’s offence as the Flames extended their lead in the immediate aftermath. A Jennifer Hamson shot hung on the lip for a length of time usually reserved for a golf ball before dropping in, and another basket from the former BYU star soon after extended the margin to 11.

The next points were a while coming, but Belinda Snell finally picked up the first basket of her 300th game to push the home side to a 56-43 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Bendigo finally snapped a five minute scoring drought courtesy of Maddison Wild, but with Wilson continuing her outstanding three point shooting form, the Flames maintained a comfortable margin throughout the third quarter, and an Asia Taylor buzzer-beater from midrange only served to extend that lead to 15 points as the scoreboard read 62-47 in the home side’s favour with a quarter to play.

Bendigo needed to score early if they were to reel in the deficit, but instead it was Katie-Rae Ebzery who opened the final quarter scoring, and not before 90 seconds had elapsed. Soon after, Taylor earned an and-one with a tough finish in traffic, and promptly converted to push the margin out to 20. Laney responded with a lay-up, but the Flames had all the momentum and a seemingly insurmountable lead at that point.

Wilson moved past 20 points with an and-one of her own, and Sarah Graham buried her first three of the day as the margin continued to blow out for the home side. With four minutes to play, Belinda Snell came off to rapturous applause as Cassidy McLean and Lara McSpadden got their first run of the game with the score reading 78-51.

Immediately, McLean poked the ball away from Ashleigh Spencer with a tidy bit of defensive work. Soon after, McSpadden earned a trip to the line and converted both free throws to the delight of the crowd. A three from Snell then almost blew the roof off Brydens Stadium, as the home fans delighted in the performance of their captain.

With the Flames well and truly in control, Snell let the clock run out on the final possession as the home side completed a 90-57 win. Alex Wilson top scored for the Flames with 21 points, whilst Jennifer Hamson completed a double-double of 10 points and 17 rebounds, whilst Belinda Snell dished out 10 assists alongside 5 points. Imports Betnijah Laney and Rachel Banham shared scoring honours for the Spirit with 13 points apiece, whilst former Flame Ash Karaitiana added 11 points.

Brydens Sydney Uni Flames 90 (Wilson 21p, 3a; Hamson 17p, 10r; Taylor 13p, 8r, 5a; Boag 11p)

Bendigo Spirit 57 (Laney 13p, 4r, 3a; Banham 13p, 4r; Karaitiana 11p)