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Capitals setting the benchmark with the Flames yet to ignite
After round 2 of the 2018/19 WNBL season, the University of Canberra Capitals have set the early benchmark with a 3-0 record, while the Sydney Uni Flames are you to ignite after the Melbourne Boomers came from behind to ensure they remained as the only team without a victory.
The Capitals became the first team to register three wins with their new-look roster looking ominous in the early stages of the season. With Kelsey Griffin injury free and returning to MVP-like form, head coach Paul Goriss has assembled a side that has the potential to only get better.
Griffin was brilliant in their come-from-behind win against a very good Adelaide Lightning team. The forward delivered a sublime 21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assist performance, an outing that backed up her massive 23 point and 14 rebound double-double masterclass in leading the Capitals to a 7 point win against pre-season favourite the Melbourne Boomers. Griffin has far been playing a lone hand across their first three games, with the Capitals receiving great output from everyone in their core rotation.
After making her season debut in the win against the Lightning, Mitchell spoke glowingly of her team-mates efforts to step up down the stretch when it mattered most.
"We did a good job of answering the call today," Mitchell said.
"We have a pretty veteran group, and out on the court, and especially at half-time Gorrie [Goriss] challenged our post players to really get a presence inside because in the first half we didn’t have that.
"In the second half Kelsey was absolutely amazing, Loz came in and played great and they had no answer for them. That’s really what took us over the edge.
"We just wanted to continue to move the ball and make the defence shift a bit because we were getting a bit stagnant. We weren’t really making them play defence and we weren’t taking advantage of the mismatches so in the second half our defence turned it on."
With Leilani Mitchell logging more than 28 minutes in her return from injury, she joined an already talented line-up featuring WNBA star Kia Nurse, and 2018 SEABL First Team recipients Kelly Wilson and Lauren Scherf in outstanding form. Young guard Maddison Rocci has also been a revelation across the first three games, and with Keely Froling coming off the bench, and the potential for the long-anticipated debut of Kristy Wallace at some stage this season, Goriss has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
Their next challenge will be a return bout with the Boomers, who bounced back from their loss on Friday to account for the win-less Sydney Uni Flames.
Boasting four Opals who earned silver from the 2018 FIBA World Cup, the Boomers had been widely tipped to be able to go one better than last season's runner-up to champions Townsville. However under head coach Guy Molloy, who was given a 2 year extension during the off-season, the Boomers have not yet looked like a team that can make the playoffs let alone contend for a championship. Yet after dropping their opening two games to Bendigo and then the Capitals, perhaps they turned the corner in their victory against the Flames.
Celebrating their 15th birthday as the Flames, the Sydney Uni took a lead into half time - much as they did in their loss to Dandenong on Friday. Unfortunately for the Flames, the outcome was ultimately the same, with the Boomers running away in the final quarter to clock up a 12 point road win and their first win of the season.
While it was Rebecca Cole (21 points) and Betnijah Laney (17 points, 12 rebounds & 6 assist) who powered the Rangers to victory on Friday, the Boomers were driven home via Lindsay Allen (23 points & 6 assists), Jenna O'Hea (19 points, 5-6 3PT) and Cayla George's 9 points, 9 rebounds and 10 assists. The Boomers avoided 0-3 start with the win, while relegating the Flames to the unwanted record.
Like a number of teams this season, the Flames have re-tooled in 2018/19. Adding Alex Bunton was a key signing, and the Opals pivot has been paying dividends across the first three games, emerging as a possible MVP candidate with 20.7 points and 11 rebounds per game - both figures that rank second in the league. While Tahlia Tupaea and Brittany Smart and Alex Wilson have all been solid, Belinda Snell went down with a first half lower leg injury against the Rangers, and the quartet has been unable to all fire at once to date.
New Flames import Amanda Johnson has yet to show she can translate her 2018 QBL MVP form for Ipswich to the WNBL and may be running out of time to prove she belongs.
The forward went scoreless in their season-opening loss to the Capitals, before adding just 4 points, 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers against the Rangers in just 16 minutes. While Johnson would pull down 9 rebounds against the Boomers, she still managed just 5 points, and is now averaging just 3 points while shooting a paltry 21% from the field with 4 rebounds per game. Those are not the kind of numbers that any head coach in the league, not least Cheryl Chambers, would be expecting from one of their imports.
Next up for the Flames is reigning premier Townsville, coming off a shock road loss to the Perth Lynx (who drained a remarkable 15 three-pointers). Unless the Flames can find some consistent contributions in support of their star centre Bunton, they could be staring at a long season ahead.
For now, it is the University of Canberra who are sitting pretty at the top of the table alongside a 2-0 Bendigo who boast impressive wins against Melbourne and Dandenong, largely thanks to Marena Whittle. Dandenong are the only other team besides the Capitals and Spirit to boast two wins after round 2.