Bedlam descended on the AIS Arena as an ear-rattling crowd of 4,820 witnessed their hometown UC Capitals secure the club’s eighth WNBL title and first since the 2009/10 season with a 93-73 Game 3 victory over the Adelaide Lightning.
Stalwart Kelsey Griffin led the way with 29 points and 15 rebounds as all five Capitals starters finished in double figures. Colleen Planeta led five Lightning players in double figures with 15 points, but a 14 of 23 shooting night from beyond the arc proved the major difference as the Capitals bounced back from a controversial Game 2 defeat to bring the trophy back to Canberra for the first time in 9 years.
A Lauren Nicholson lay-up to open the contest did little to quiet the raucous home crowd, who cheered every positive moment with unfettered fervour, especially as star Lightning import Nia Coffey picked up her second foul just four minutes into the contest with the visitors leading 10-6. Soon after, an offensive foul on a driving Leilani Mitchell brought the wrath of the Capitals fans, with boos raining down from the stands. The Lightning took advantage as the lead crept out to 15-8 before Marianna Tolo beat the shot clock with a three that cut the margin to four.
Kayla Alexander and Tolo engaged in a ding-dong battle in the paint at Adelaide’s offensive end, with the American drawing the Opal star’s second foul to see both teams find a star frontcourt player in trouble. Kelsey Griffin had no need to get so close to the basket to impact the scoreboard though, quickly burying a pair of threes to give the home side a 19-18 lead. Those threes gave Maddison Rocci and Leilani Mitchell to do the same and put the Caps up 7, but the Lightning responded as an Aimie Clydesdale shot from deep to end the term saw the first quarter end with the Caps up 25-24.
The second quarter saw the home side extend their margin slightly in the early minutes as Nicole Seekamp made a belated return to the bench after injuring her ankle in the opening quarter, but a timeout from Lightning coach Chris Lucas put a slight dent in the Capitals’ momentum. Not long after, a Colleen Planeta putback tied the game at 35-35 before the American found a fast-charging Lauren Nicholson for a lay-up that forced the Capitals into a timeout of their own.
A back-and-forth battle throughout the remainder of the second quarter saw the Caps regain and maintain a slender advantage, even in the face of a couple of defensive plays from Adelaide that the home crowd’s response would tell you might have been fouls. But with Mitchell and Griffin, as well as Kelly Wilson, all in double figures and Tolo adding 9, the Caps held onto a 49-45 advantage as the teams headed to the locker rooms, with the Lightning led by Planeta’s 12 points and 5 rebounds as the American-Australian stepped up massively with Coffey in foul trouble and Seekamp still appearing to struggling with her ankle.
Griffin opened the second half scoring from close range before burying her third three-pointer of the evening to put the home side up nine and take her personal tally to a game-leading 17 points as momentum began to swing the home side’s way before Seekamp responded with a three of her own for Adelaide’s first points of the term. Adelaide hung with the hosts for a brief period, but when Kia Nurse knocked down a shot from the corner to put the Capitals up 61-50, Lucas’ hand was forced and a timeout was called. It completely failed to halt the Caps though, as Nurse and then Mitchell buried another pair of threes as the home side built a potentially game-winning lead.
But the Lightning had other ideas. One basket from the visitors became multiple scores and quickly they had cut the margin to 8 at 67-59. Then, a disputed flop warning on Maddison Rocci saw the Capitals bench earn a technical foul to send Steph Blicavs to the line and cut the lead to 7. Another technical foul soon after saw a repeat of the same situation, and as the crowd voiced their displeasure, one could sense that the momentum had shifted considerably in Adelaide’s favour. Kelly Wilson had other ideas though, hitting from deep before Leilani Mitchell earned an and-one one a brilliant close-range finish, duly finishing and also tacking on an extra free throw for a technical foul on the Lightning bench as the third quarter finished with the Capitals up 74-62.
Tolo sent the crowd into delirium with the opening basket of the fourth quarter as the home side maintained a safe double-digit lead in the early minutes. Despite playing with three fouls for a long period, Tolo maintained her composure as the game wound on, helping to stifle Adelaide’s interior offence on many occasions and maintain Canberra’s healthy lead.
Griffin regathered her own blocked shot to finish from close range to put the Capitals up by 14 with six minutes to play, and although Adelaide were able to respond, putting together a vital extended scoring run proved to be far more difficult as the Capitals maintained a 50% shooting clip deep into the fourth quarter.
Two consecutive baskets from Griffin saw the margin nudge 20 with 90 seconds to play as the result became more and more apparent. Griffin buried another shot from deep to take her personal tally to 29 points, 15 rebounds, and one celebratory leap as the Alaska-born Opal headed back down court. Fittingly, that would prove to be the final score of the game as the Capitals rounded out a 93-73 victory to extend their already record number of WNBL titles to eight as the “U-C-Caps” chant bellowed out from the 4820-strong crowd.
Kelsey Griffin was named Rachael Sporn Grand Final MVP following an utterly astounding three game series in which the Opal averaged 25 points and 16.6 rebounds, including a dominant 24-point, 23-rebound outing in Game 2 in Adelaide. Griffin also once again demonstrated her leadership qualities, stepping up at vital moments, particularly in the deciding game, in which she finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds, shooting 5 of 8 from deep in the process.
UC Capitals 93 (Griffin 29p, 15r, 4a; Mitchell 19p, 1r, 6a; Tolo 14p, 3r)
Adelaide Lightning 73 (Planeta 15p, 8r, 2a; Clydesdale 14p, 1r, 2a; Alexander 11p, 7r)