Flames shoot the lights out in first season win over Bendigo

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Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have finally picked up their first win of the season, and did so in dominant fashion, shooting 52% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on the way to an 85-64 win over the Bendigo Spirit.

Brittany Smart was in sublime form, hitting 8 of 10 from the field on the way to 22 points, whilst Belinda Snell, Sarah Graham, and Tahlia Tupaea finished in double figures, with Shanae Greaves providing solid support at both ends.

The free throw line provided a steady stream of points in the early stages of the contest, with both sides getting to the line early before Barbara Turner buried the game’s first three for the Spirit. Brittany Smart responded in kind for the Flames shortly after, and when Tahlia Tupaea added one of her own from the wing, the Flames had jumped out to a 12-5 lead, which became 14-5 before Spirit coach Simon Pritchard called an early timeout.

The stoppage mattered little in the short-term as Smart buried another three from the top of the arc as the Flames shot the lights out in the opening minutes of the contest. A pretty pick and roll from Tahlia Tupaea and Amanda Johnson found the American forward open near the basket to extend the margin to 23-11 heading into the final two minutes of the quarter, but the Spirit finished the quarter on an 8-1 run to trim the Flames’ lead to 24-19 after one quarter of play.

Tahlia Tupaea increased the cushion by a solitary point at the line to open the second quarter, but that was just the start of an 8-0 run to open the term as the Flames held the Spirit scoreless for three minutes to open the second quarter. A scintillating pass from Louella Tomlinson found Abbey Wehrung in close quarters to cut the lead by two points, but the Flames retained a double-digit lead heading into the final five minutes of the first half.

A timeout with four minutes to play in the half with the Flames up 38-29 left the game nicely poised heading into the final stanza of the term. More sensational passing, this time from the Flames, found Lara McSpadden with an opportunity to drop one in from close range, and as the quarter wound to its conclusion, the Flames maintained a decent cushion, with some much-improved rebounding helping reduce Bendigo’s second-chance opportunities after being dominated in that facet early on in the contest. A 17-point lead with a minute to play became 20 after Smart’s late three, and that’s where it would stay as Wehrung’s last-second lay-up hit the underside of the basket, giving the home side a 51-31 halftime lead.

A stop and a Sarah Graham three in the first 45 seconds of the second half extended the lead even further for the Flames, and with the Spirit committing a number of turnovers in the early stages, the lead hovered around the 20-point mark for several minutes as both sides found it hard to get much going on offence until Belinda Snell buried a three right on the four-minute mark to take the score to 57-33. Wehrung quickly countered with one of her own, but the Flames refused to relent and when Graham pump faked to beat an onrushing defender before burying a three, the lead had jumped to 63-36 and the Spirit were forced into a timeout.

The visitors managed to slow the Flames out of the timeout, but their own offensive struggles continued until Louella Tomlinson finished a tough look around the basket. But with the Flames managing to keep the scoreboard ticking over, the margin remained healthy and the prospect of an elusive win crept ever closer to reality as the final term commenced with the Flames up 67-41.

Graham opened the final term with an NBA-range three, and although it could be argued that Bendigo enjoyed the better opening to the final term, it wasn’t enough to cut into the margin in any significant manner, especially after the Flames responded courtesy of Vanessa Panousis, whose banked three followed by an assist for a transition lay-up for Smart pushed the lead beyond 30. A mini-run from the Spirit led to a timeout for the Flames to recapture a bit of composure, but with five minutes to play the game was as good as over with the home side leading 80-53.

Alex Delaney came on in the final three minutes to create a bit of Flames history, making her debut for the same team her mother Gail Henderson starred for during the team’s glory days of the 1990s, hitting a late three to round out the Flames’ scoring. Maddy Norris also checked in late on for the home side as the Sutherland product’s fledgling WNBL career continues to develop. The Spirit would score the last couple of baskets of the contest, but it would be the Flames who picked up their first win of the season, rolling to an 85-64 victory to send the ever-loyal fans into raptures as the buzzer sounded.

Brittany Smart led the way for the Flames with 22 points, and also added 7 assists, whilst Tahlia Tupaea added 16 points and 6 assists. Sarah Graham and Belinda Snell also finished in double figures, with Snell and Shanae Greaves leading the Flames with 7 rebounds apiece. Rebecca Tobin top-scored for the Spirit with 20 points, whilst Nadeen Payne added 15.

The Flames will now have a short turnaround before facing the Adelaide Lightning this coming Wednesday night at Brydens Stadium, with tip-off scheduled for 7:00pm.

Sydney Uni Flames 85 (Smart 22p 7a, 5r; Tupaea 16p, 6a, 3r; Graham 14p)
Bendigo Spirit 64 (Tobin 20p, 3r; Payne 15p; McLean 6p, 2r, 2a)