The championship defence of the UC Capitals in the 2020 Chemist Warehouse WNBL is now in full swing with the title holders delivering their most impressive performance to date to beat the Jayco Southside Flyers 95-72 in Cairns on Monday.
Despite Sara Blicavs catching fire with 17 first-half points and Liz Cambage shaking off foul trouble for 20 points in the second, the Capitals were in control of proceedings most of the way as they continue in their quest for a first championship three-peat.
It was the first meeting between the two teams since last year’s Grand Final and while that was decided with two thrillers going the way of the Capitals, the margin at Cairns Pop-up Arena meant it was a real statement result.
While the Capitals started strongly, the game turned in their favour for good once Cambage was called for her third foul with 3:40 left in the second quarter.
Unhappy with the offensive foul called against her in favour of Marianna Tolo, Cambage then picked up her fourth with a tech foul, leaving the floor and allowing the Capitals to close the first half with a 10-0 run.
The lead grew to 17 before Cambage returned in the third quarter and while she did put up 20 points the rest of the way, the gap never closed, and the reigning champs won by 23.
Tolo had a huge say in the win for the Capitals with 19 points and seven rebounds while Maddison Rocci was impressive with her aggressiveness as a point guard putting up 17 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
It was at the defensive end where Rocci felt the Capitals really set the tone to improve to 5-1.
“We knew they were going to come out firing to get that redemption from last year, but we stuck to our defence,” Rocci said.
“We pride ourselves on that every year to come out the way we did defensive was why we probably won the game.”
With all the exuberance of an 18-year-old, Jade Melbourne impressed again with 14 points and six assists while Keely Froling added 12 points, Tahlia Tupaea 12 points and four assists, and Kelsey Griffin 10 points and nine rebounds.
Sara Blicavs went 6/7 for 17 of her 21 points in the first half for Southside to go with seven rebounds while Cambage did produce 26 points, six rebounds and three blocks despite her four fouls before half-time.
But the Flyers just didn’t get enough help as they slip to 4-2 on the season.
“It’s just a learning experience,” Blicavs said.
“Canberra’s the reigning champs, they’re a great team, they are smart and coached well so we have to learn from that and work on ourselves.”
Tolo got some early wins inside against Cambage to help the Capitals to the game’s first six points but Sara Blicavs kept the Flyers in touch with 11 points in the opening term.
The Flyers then gathered momentum for the first time as Cambage and Blicavs combined for an 8-0 run. But then came the offensive and technical foul calls against Cambage, the Capitals scored the last 10 points of the half to lead 44-32 and they had all the momentum.
The Capitals were up 17 midway through the third period after a triple from Rocci. That forced Flyers coach Cheryl Chambers to bring back Cambage. She had an immediate impact with her team’s next 12 points, but the gap didn’t close, and the Capitals cruised to the 23-point win.
Both teams face the Perth Lynx next in Cairns with the Flyers up first on Wednesday and the Capitals on Thursday.
Chris Pike is a freelance contributor to WNBL.com.au
UC Capitals – 95 (Tolo 19, Rocci 17, Melbourne 14)
Jayco Southside Flyers – 72 (Cambage 26, Sara Blicavs 21, Jarry 7)