After trailing at the break, the Brydens Sydney Uni Flames staged a heroic comeback to clinch victory over the Jayco Dandenong Rangers, 70-65.
It wasn’t pretty at times but like champion sides do the Flames maintained their composure and found a way to win, confirming their status as reigning WNBL champions.
The showdown between last season’s top two teams was a robust struggle that had the large Flames home crowd in full voice from start to finish, with the scene primed by the unfurling of the 2016/17 Championship Banner by Captain Belinda Snell and Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness Executive Director Rob Smithies just before tip-off.
Snell was a standout for the Flames putting on a big drive or nail-biting two-pointer just when it looked like the Rangers might be gaining ascendancy. Snell amassed 14 points and 7 rebounds, with all of the Flames starting five ending in double digits. Asia Taylor achieved the double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) as the Flames highest scorer.
In an unusual stat, there were only five scorers from each team. For the rangers Kayla Pedersen was the game’s lead scorer with 19 points. Next highest for Dandenong was Stephanie Blicavs with 15 points.
The opponents marking was aggressive and intense throughout, with a ding dong battle between point-guards Katie Ebzery and Laia Palau being the feature event. Palau never relented as she incurred four personal fouls trying to shut down Ebzery’s options as chief playmaker.
Indeed it was the Rangers intensity that saw them charge out of the blocks to an early lead in the first quarter, however, over-zealous marking gifted a series of free-throws to the Flames that kept them in touch. The Rangers continued to captalise on their superior shot making though which kept them in front. Some uncharacteristic poor shooting from the Flames was not helping the cause.
As the third quarter commenced and Rangers 41-31 on top, the Flames showed their intent blasting to within three points in the first minute of play. Pedersen for the Rangers continued on her hot streak with some sweet scoring frustrating the Flames as they threw everything they could.
The third also saw one of the Flames best, Asia Taylor, take a heavy tumble to the boards in a grapple with an opposing player. While having to leave the court, fortunately Taylor returned to the fray half-way through the decisive fourth quarter and deliver a clutch three-pointer at 65 a piece with 37 seconds on the clock.
Both coaches called time-outs in the last minute as the tension in Brydens Stadium was palpable. The Rangers missed a field goal in response to Taylor’s pressure and some last second free throws to Ebzery saw the Flames home in what is developing as an enthralling rivalry between two talented and proud sides.
For the spectator the game offered everything, with pulsating action and the result in the balance till the buzzer. To also mark the new season, the Flames naming rights sponsor Brydens Lawyers introduced their new team mascot “Flicka”, who is destined to be a crowd favourite.
The Flames next face the Townsville Fire in Townsville next Thursday night, October 19. Not to be outdone, the Rangers next opponents are also Townsville on October 21.
Tickets to the Flames next home game against Melbourne Boomers on Friday 27 October at 7.00pm available here.