Dominant Capitals run rampant in second half against the Flames
The UC Capitals have ensured the second-versus-third race for a home semi-final will go into the final week of regular season following a dominant 82-66 win over the Sydney Uni Flames in the penultimate round of the WNBL season.
It means all eyes will be on both the Capitals’ game against the Adelaide Lightning and the Melbourne Boomers’ clash with the Perth Lynx to see who will receive an advantage in the Capitals-Boomers semi-final series.
Kia Nurse led the way for the Capitals with 25 points, 16 of which came in a second-half flurry, while Griffin continued her successful return from an ankle injury with 20 points off the bench.
It wasn’t 1-way traffic, at least initially: Marianna Tolo found herself in early foul trouble, with former Capital Lauren Scherf and Jessica Kuster taking full advantage, who alongside Griffin led all scorers at the first break with 6 points, as Katrina Hibbert’s side showed grit to lead by 3 at the first break.
The Flames, who were also looking to force their second boilover of the season against the reigning champions, could be forgiven for thinking it might be their day when Kuster made the first shot of the second, giving the Flames an unlikely 5 point lead, but a handful of turnovers brought the Capitals back into the contest.
Maddi Rocci particularly capitalised (pardon the pun), providing much-needed spark for the home side with 7 points for the quarter to lead all comers at half-time with 11 points, the Capitals going into the main break leading 40-34.
When play resumed in the third period, Brittany Smart (who shot 21 points for the game) trimmed the Capitals’ margin back to 3 points, before the Flames went scoreless for 4 minutes, with Lara McSpadden managing to break the scoring drought, but only after the Capitals began to take control of the match.
Turnovers were once again the theme for the Flames with 5 for the quarter, and a Griffin buzzer-beater before the final break made it clear the road to victory was an unlikely one for the Flames, who were now down by 12 points.
After shooting just over 23 per cent from downtown in the first 3 quarters, the Capitals found their mark in the last, with Nurse finding the hot hand with 3 triples for the quarter to bring her point tally to 25.
The defensive effort from the Capitals was once again led by Epoupa and Rocci, who tallied 9 steals between them, and in the space of a couple of possessions the Capitals’ lead had grown to a game-high 16 points, which was the margin when the final buzzer sounded.
Smart and Kuster (17 points) provided the bright spots for the Flames, who simply couldn’t compete with the defensive pressure placed on them by Paul Goriss’ side, who came way with another convincing home win after Wednesday’s victory against the Lynx.
Speaking after the game, Goriss said he was expecting a difficult match to claim home semi-final honours against the Lightning, which will also mark the end of the regular season for his team.
“Adelaide are tough, they’re in the top 4, and we’re making sure that we lock down a top 2 finish and a home semi-final: It’s going to be a huge game for us heading into the FIBA break to try and keep our momentum,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking generally about her side’s tough end-of-season run – today’s result the Flames’ fifth straight loss – coach Katrina Hibbert said her side have learnt plenty of lessons from the past few weeks.
“It might not be in the win-loss column but fundamentally it’s about us playing as a group and finishing the season with our heads held high,” she explained.
The Capitals will, as mentioned above, now look to seal a home semi-final series when they host the Adelaide Lightning at home next Saturday. They’ll face the Melbourne Boomers in the first week of finals regardless of which way the results go in the final round, but will secure home court advantage if they come away with a win after claiming their season series against Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Sydney will look to finish off the year strong with matches against the Bendigo Spirit and the ladder-leading Southside Flyers, the latter of whom may be tempted to rest players ahead of the FIBA International Window.
WNBL Round 15
UC Capitals 82 (25 Nurse, 20 Griffin, 15 Rocci)
Sydney Uni Flames 66 (21 Smart, 17 Kuster, 9 Graham)