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Image: Geoff Tripp Photography

Brydens Sydney Uni Flames have gone down to the visiting UC Capitals in the WNBL season opener, falling to a 97-78 defeat in their first game of the 2018/19 campaign after a 64-point first half blitzkrieg from the visitors saw the halftime margin sit at 25 points.

Things didn’t go quite as planned in the opening minutes for the home side as Kelsey Griffin earned an and-one on the very first possession of the game. Whilst the Opals forward couldn’t convert the opportunity, slick ball movement and outstanding defence allowed the Caps to get on a 10-0 run to start the game, forcing Flames coach Cheryl Chambers into the first timeout of the game just two minutes in.

The timeout paid dividends as Tahlia Tupaea buried a three on the first play after the stoppage, but the Caps remained tough to stop at the other end, pushing off Flames misses to extend their lead. But a couple of clever substitutions allowed the Flames to match their opponents’ pace, and with the three-ball working well, momentum started to shift. A 13-point deficit was cut to three, but a flourish to end the quarter put the Capitals up 32-21 through the first quarter, with 15 of the Flames’ points coming from beyond the arc.

That outstanding perimeter shooting from the first quarter deserted the Flames in the early stages of the second, but fortunately Alex Bunton was able to make up for that with some solid offensive work in the paint. However, the visitors scored six points in the first two minutes to force an early Flames timeout for the second time in as many quarters as they fell behind by 13.

Bunton continued to provide good energy, whilst Brittany Smart drove to the basket a couple of times for points on each occasion, but with Kia Nurse exhibiting the kind of scoring that made her a star for Canada at the recent World Cup, the margin hovered between 15 and 20 points deep into the second quarter as the Flames’ defence found themselves unable to close out on a number of perimeter shots. An astounding half of offence from the visitors was then rounded out with two threes from a slightly less likely source as Capitals’ forward Kaili McLaren buried two threes to end the first half and leave the score reading 64-39.

The scoring slowed slightly in the opening stages of the second half, with defence ratcheting up, particularly from the home side. But the Capitals couldn’t stop Bunton from scoring the first seven Flames points of the second half as the Opals centre went to work in the paint time and again. But although the Flames were solid, and their defence much-improved, they couldn’t make a dent the massive deficit that had built up in the first half, but Capitals’ coach Paul Goriss still saw fit to call a timeout with his team up 76-54 as they repeatedly allowed Bunton opportunities close to the basket. A three from Smart cut the deficit to 78-58 heading into the final minute of the quarter, but the Capitals would score the final points of the third term to take an 80-58 lead into the final ten minutes.

The Flames came out slightly off the pace in the fourth quarter, and the Capitals took full advantage to score the first six points of the term and also keep the Flames from adding to their total for three minutes before Chambers put a stop to the charge with a timeout. Alex Wilson managed to cut backdoor to pick up a pass and earn a trip to the free throw line for the home side’s first points of the final term, but by this point the margin had ballooned back out to 28, which became 30 after a pair from Kia Nurse at the stripe.

Some increased assertiveness from Tahlia Tupaea late in the game led to some momentum for the Flames as the recent Opals call-up sparked some life into the home side despite the large deficit. A pretty tip-in from Smart gave the crowd something to cheer about, whilst the insertion of Lara McSpadden and debutant Maddie O’Hehir late in the game sparked excitement from the Flames’ bench and around Brydens Stadium, with O’Hehir’s late free throw sending the bench into raptures before McSpadden blocked a shot from 2016 Under 17 World Championship teammate Abby Cubillo.

However, the visitors would emerge with the victory, setting up the 97-78 victory with an astounding first half performance. Kia Nurse led the Capitals with 26 points, whilst Lauren Scherf added 22, with Kelly Wilson tallying 11 assists alongside 9 points. Four players finished in double figures for the Flames, with Alex Bunton leading the way with 27 points and 7 rebounds. Brittany Smart tallied 16 and Tahlia Tupaea added 12, whilst Alex Wilson added 10.

Next up, join the Flames in Celebrating 15 years at Sydney Uni! 

You’re invited to the Flames Birthday Bash on Sunday 21st of October at Brydens Stadium. There will be free cake for every fan! Tickets HERE.

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