Flames bow out following loss in Game 2 thriller

January 6, 2018 | Sydney Flames news

Brydens Sydney Uni Flames’ title defence has come to an end, following a 68-65 defeat to JCU Townsville Fire in what was a barnburner of a must-win semi-final Game 2. Asia Taylor and Jennifer Hamson each finished with double-doubles for the Flames, as did Suzy Batkovic for the Fire, whilst Sydney Wiese and Cayla Francis also hit double figures in points for the victorious Townsville side.

A couple of early free throws to Jennifer Hamson and a basket in transition for Alex Wilson gave the Flames an early 4-0 lead, but it was the home side’s defence that kept the Fire in check for the first three minutes until Cayla George regathered her own blocked shot for a putback. With the Flames’ offence also failing to hit shots, the score remained low and close as the quarter progressed to its midpoint before Mia Murray and Carly Boag traded threes to leave the Flames up 9-6 after five minutes of play.

Sydney Wiese converted an and-one to tie things up, but Asia Taylor came straight back down the floor for one of her own as the teams matched each other throughout the opening term. Late in the term, Taylor was able to earn and convert another and-one as the Flames were able to put together a 21-16 lead by the end of the quarter despite some less-than-impressive defence around the basket at times.

Early offensive struggles hampered the Flames in the second quarter, with the Fire reducing the lead to 23-22 before Taylor found her way to the basket to finish from close range before finishing in transition to push the home side’s advantage back out to 27-22. However, it seemed as quickly as the Flames pushed the lead out beyond a single possession, the Fire would inevitably pull it back, and eventually the Flames called a timeout just shy of the midway point of the term, leading 32-29.

Late in the second quarter, we saw something we haven’t seen all season – Tahlia Tupaea on the court for the Flames. Despite the crowd lifting as the WNBA draftee came on, it was the Fire who went on a 7-0 run, taking a 36-34 lead heading into the final two minutes of the half before a Townsville timeout.

Kelly Wilson extended the lead to four with a pair of free throws, but Belinda Snell knocked down a three with two Fire players’ hands in her face to keep the Flames right on the visitors’ heels. However, the final score of the half came courtesy of a smart Sydney Wiese three that gave the Fire a 41-37 halftime lead.

It was certainly a low-scoring start to the second half, with neither team finding the bottom of the basket until Taylor’s steal and lay-up on the break with over two minutes played. A smart move by Suzy Batkovic quickly negated that basket, but Taylor followed up with a trip to the line, nailing both free throws. Townsville would maintain their lead through the mid-point of the term though, holding a 48-43 advantage after another three from Wiese countered a pair of Hamson free throws.

Whilst in the second quarter it was the Fire negating any Flames attempt to break clear, in the third quarter it was the Flames doing the same, and eventually a three from Wilson tied the game at 50-50 with just over three minutes to play in the term, forcing a Fire timeout.

Tupaea came back into the game just shy of the two minute mark and immediately drew a foul on her way to the basket, but could only convert one of two from the line. Nonetheless, that one point restored the Flames’ advantage, if only by the smallest possible margin. It would be the Fire that finished the quarter stronger though, taking a 56-53 lead into the final term following baskets to Darcee Garbin and Cayla George.

The final quarter commenced with a nice give-and-go between George and Laurin Mincy which ended with the American dropping in the lay-up to put the Fires up 58-53. From that point, neither team scored for almost two minutes until Hamson secured a rebound, leading to a putback and an and-one opportunity, which she promptly converted. Unfortunately for the Flames, Darcee Garbin earned an and-one of her own, but the Fire forward was unable to add the extras.

The Fire edged ahead by six, leading to a Flames timeout with five minutes to play. Out of the timeout, the Flames held the Fire scoreless for well over a minute, but unfortunately couldn’t find a basket of their own to trim the margin until Tupaea knocked down a mid-range jumper with right on three minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to 64-60.

Neither team put another point on the board for a full 90 seconds, but when a basket came, it was a big one. Alex Wilson knocked down a contested corner three after some handy transition offence from the Flames, and the Flames were suddenly within a point of the visitors with 1:28 remaining. Mia Murray had the chance to hit back with one of her own, but her shot was off target, and when Jennifer Hamson knocked down a mid-range jumper, the Flames had the lead.

It didn’t last long, though. A turnover from Wilson allowed the Fire a fast break attempt which was finished off by Sydney Wiese, leaving the Flames down one, but with possession with 30 seconds to play. Wilson’s shot rimmed out, and the broken play allowed the Fire to get the ball down court before the Flames could foul to stop the clock, with George finishing for a 68-65 lead and 7.2 seconds remaining.

Ebzery was fouled with four seconds to play but the call was made that it was before the act of shooting, leaving the Flames with one chance from another inbounds play. Snell got her shot off over a lockdown Fire defence, but as the siren rang out, the ball sailed over the basket, leaving the Fire to run out 68-65 winners and take their spot in the grand final against Melbourne next week.

Brydens Sydney Uni Flames 65 (Taylor 18p, 11r; Hamson 15p, 15r; Wilson 8p, 5a)
JCU Townsville Fire 68 (Batkovic 14p, 10r; Wiese 14p, George 13p, 8r)