Capitals win back-to-back WNBL Championships
The University of Canberra Capitals are back-to-back WNBL Champions after overcoming the Southside Flyers in two consecutive games for a series sweep.
It was only fitting that the Capitals won their ninth championship in front of their frenzied home fans in Canberra, capping what has been a riveting grand final series in a showcase for Australian women’s basketball.
After trailing by 16 points in the second term, the Capitals unleashed a devastating 21-9 third quarter to take a 1 point lead into the final break in the deciding game 2. And just like two heavyweight boxers heading into the 12th round, the Flyers and Capitals threw blow after blow, make big shot after big play.
Southside came out of the blocks flying, and were led superbly by Mercedes Russell and an explosive Bec Cole who took control of the game. Cole piled on 19 first half points to put the Flyers in control t half time and have the home side on the back foot. Yet for as brilliant as the minor premiers were in the first half, the Capitals somehow managed to keep the margin to just 10 points.
The third period had it all. First it was the Capitals who lifted their defensive intensity behind the outstanding play of Olivia Epoupa who went up a gear or two to help narrow the gap to just 1. The sides would then trade big shot after big shot, with Epoupa, Leilani Mitchell, Tolo and Russell all stepping up for their sides. At the last break, Canberra has stolen a 2 point lead and the stage was set for an epic final term that had everyone on the edge of their seats.
Much to the delight of the home fans, the Capitals managed to open up a 7 point lead, their largest of the game. Yet the Flyers were not done yet, with Sara Blicavs, Cole and Russell all coming to the fore. When Mitchell hit a huge jump shot with just over 2 minutes to play, the Flyers had edged their noses back in front by 1.
When it matters most, clutch players step up to make the big plays, and that is just what league MVP Kia Nurse did.
Epoupa made her way into the paint inside the final 30 seconds and the defense collapsed, leaving Kia Nurse all alone beyond the arc at the top of the key. When the ball swished through the bottom of the net, the fans erupted as one. The Capitals would then thwart the Flyers final charge before icing the game at the free throw line to win 71-68.
The title was theirs.
Epoupa was a deserving grand final MVP. She poured in 16 points in the series clinching win alongside 7 rebounds, 11 assists and 3 steals. It backed up her outstanding performance in game 1 in which she amassed 14 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. She was everywhere all game, and especially in the second half in leading the Capitals charge.
Tolo was brilliant too, with the veteran centre capping off an outstanding series of her own with a team-best 19 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Nurse would add 18 points and 6 rebounds to round out another successful campaign for the Capitals.
For the Flyers, four of the big five scored in double figures, led by Cole’s game-high 23 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The league’s Defensive Player of the Year once again delivered a double-double, with Russell compiling 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Both games could have gone either way, with the Flyers impressive in defeat. Yet they will rue what could have been given how close each game actually was. 8 of 15 free throw shooting by the Flyers may well haunt them during the off-season.
The grand final series provided a fitting finale to the 40th WNBL season, setting the standard for what promises to be an even bigger 2021. But for now we celebrate the Capitals, 2020 WNBL champions!