Courageous Flames fall short against Spirit
A courageous Sydney Flames outfit has fallen by 10 points (85-75) to league-leaders Bendigo on Wednesday night at Red Energy Arena.
Despite falling down by double digits and having many factors go against them, the Flames pushed the undefeated Spirit all the way to the final siren.
In their sixth road game from seven fixtures in WNBL23, the Flames, who went for a taller starting five of Hannah Sjerven, Keely Froling, Kiera Rowe, Jocelyn Willoughby and Shyla Heal, led 10-8 after four minutes of play. The tight first quarter continued, as both sides traded baskets – capped by a late jumper by Shyla Heal, to make it 23-all at the end of one.
In the second, the scoring stepped up a notch with both sides scoring on each of their three possessions down the court. Unfortunately, the Hoops Capital side couldn’t maintain their form on the offensive end, as five quick points by Bendigo’s Kelsey Gardner put the hosts up 34-29. Thankfully for the visitors, Willoughby and Froling dug deep and combined to score Sydney’s first 11 points to keep it close. Allowing second-chance points and easy penetration into the key saw the hosts extend their lead to double digits late in the term before coach Shane Heal was ejected for a second technical, handing assistant Shelley Gorman the reins – with Sydney trialling 48-39 at half-time.
— Sydney Flames (@TheSydneyFlames) December 14, 2022
Needing a fast start, the Flames scored 14 of the first 19, to equal the ledger at 53-all, thanks to eight quick points by Australian Opal Heal. Driving lay-ups by Willoughby and Tiana Mangakahia helped give the harbour city side the lead but it was short-lived, as a late triple by Alicia Froling put the undefeated competition front-runners a 63-59 lead at three-quarter-time.
That lead grew to eight before Willoughby stopped the skid with another triple, which was followed by strong play by Mangakahia – helping the Flames, who are the youngest team in the competition, make it a four-point game. Determined defence by the Flames, mixed in with a classy step-back jumper by Heal, brought Sydney back to 72-70 with 2.56 to play. That proved to be as close as the Flames got, as key execution by Kennedy Kereama’s side down the stretch, powered them to their seventh straight win to open the season 85-75.
Where the match was decided
The biggest determining factor on Wednesday was the rebound count (44-32), highlighted by the hosts pulling down 19 offensive boards to just six by the visitors – leading to a 17-5 second-chance point tally.
Bendigo also won the free-throw percentage (81-68), assists (19-12) and steals (11-8) categories, while the Flames outshot their rivals from the field (50 per cent to 37).
The foul count was 23-14 in favour of Bendigo.
Player of the game
WNBA star with the New York Liberty Jocelyn Willoughby filled up the box score on Wednesday, tallying 22 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steals.
The University of Virginia alum was well supported by Heal (18), Froling (17) and Mangakahia (10) in the defeat.
Heal’s side will now return to Sydney to play their first-ever game at their new home arena, Quaycentre.
They will be pitted against reigning champions Melbourne Boomers from 6.30pm AEDT Friday – with tickets available here.