The UC Capitals have won their third game in a row after beating the Perth Lynx 89-75 at the National Convention Centre on Wednesday night, keeping their hopes of a top 2 finish alive.
It caps a stunning turn around for the reigning champions: A fortnight ago the smiles had dried up in Canberra, with consecutive losses to Bendigo and Townsville leading many critics to question whether the UC Capitals were out of form at the wrong time of the year.
However, with the Capitals well and truly back in form after consecutive wins against fellow playoff contenders the Melbourne Boomers and Southfide Flyers, it was always going to be tough for coach Andy Stewart and his Perth side to contain Canberra and its star centre Marianna Tolo.
Tolo came into the game averaging 19.8 points and 11.2 rebounds, and the veteran made the undersized Lynx pay, totalling 22 points in the first three quarters, before cooling down when the game was well within the Capitals’ reach, just missing a double-double with 9 rebounds.
Additionally, while a tip-off got the game underway, it didn’t take long for reigning WNBL MVP Kelsey Griffin to make an impact upon her return to the side. Just 12 seconds after checking into the game, Griffin was on the scoresheet with a trademark lay-up.
That led to a stunning 17-5 run, before a late Ariel Atkins lay-up for the Lynx trimmed the margin back to 10 points in the Capitals’ favour at the first break.
Consecutive 3-pointers to Alison Schwagmeyer-Belger and Maddie Allen cut the margin even further as Marena Whittle and Schwagmeyer-Belger led the fightback for the Lynx off the bench.
Whittle totalled a team-high 13 points to half-time, all coming in an impressive second quarter, where she made 3 triples.
While scores were tied on 2 occasions in the second quarter, individual performances made it clear the Capitals had a higher level to go to: Kia Nurse dazzled the home crowd with 12 points after a scoreless first quarter, and Marianna Tolo showed impressive range to find her mark with 14 points to half-time.
Olivia Epoupa extended the Capitals’ lead to 6 at the main break after a late lay-up, and the Frenchwoman continued to impress after half time as the Capitals extended their lead into the double-digits.
However, it was Tolo that Andy Stewart’s side simply couldn’t contain, as she added another 8 points in the third quarter. Griffin also showed that she’ll be a force come the semi-finals, getting through her 21 minutes unscathed to finish with 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Overall, Stewart’s side simply had no answers for the reigning champions as the game wore on: The Capitals shot 52 per cent from the field for the game, and frighteningly, this was despite failing to find their range from beyond the three-point arc.
With the margin extending to 19 points late in the final quarter, Goriss went to his bench, this the Capitals’ third game of 4 in a 10-day stretch, the hosts eventually running out 14-point winners.
Marena Whittle continued to be the bright spark on a tough night for the Lynx, scoring 18 points in just 18 minutes, while co-captain Katie Ebzery also added 16 points.
With the UC Capitals still a chance at clinching a home semi-final, Goriss said it was crucial for the defending champions to win their next two games.
“To be able to play at home for the first semi-final and depending on which way results go in the other semi-final you could secure a home grand final, so [it’s] super important we try and lock away a top 2 spot,” Goriss said.
Meanwhile, for the Lynx, Stewart lamented his side’s inability to capitalise on their defensive efforts when the game was still in the balance.
“Our offense was working, and our defence was working, but we just couldn’t put the ball in the hole. We estimate that we missed 10 or 11 wide open shots in that second half that would’ve applied real pressure, part of that is [a] credit to Canberra: They make you real uncomfortable,” Stewart said.
“But, it’s frustrating to watch offenses work and miss wide open shots on a consistent basis.”
The Capitals will now have three days of rest before returning to the Convention Centre on Sunday afternoon, with their eyes firmly set on keeping their dream of a home-court semi-final series alive.
The Lynx now move onto Bendigo – another away trip – where they will look to claim their season series against the Spirit, with each side having won at home in their previous encounters.
WNBL Round 15
UC Capitals 89 (22 Tolo, 20 Nurse, 17 Rocci)
Perth Lynx 75 (17 Whittle, 16 Ebzery, 13 Atkins)