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Flames have one hand on the trophyTweet
SYDNEY’s strategy last night – and for claiming its first WNBL championship since 2001 – is simple: if in doubt, give the ball to Leilani.
After all, she's not the best point guard in the country for nothing.
After blowing out an exceptional Game 1 of the best-of-three Grand Final 91-82, the Flames can now head into Dandenong Stadium on Friday footloose and pressure-free, with all the heat back on the Rangers.
And if Sydney wraps it in two, All Star Five point guard Leilani Mitchell most likely will add a Rachael Sporn Medal to her trophy cabinet, along with a championship.
Mitchell finished with 15 points, six assists and three steals to put the finishing touches on a terrific opening win after Sydney took some of Dandenong’s best shots.
Sara Blicavs had 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting to go with her eight boards, Stephanie Cumming had six assists with her 16 points and Natalie Novosel again showed her big game bona fides with 14 points at 54 per cent for the Rangers.
Ahead 69-68 with a period to play, Sydney could not shake Dandenong, scores tied 74-74 inside the final five minutes.
But that was Mitchell time. A jumpshot, a 3-pointer and a final steal and layup for the nine-point win which did not reflect the closeness of the contest.
Alex Wilson again also stood up with 22 points and Jennifer Hamson was a huge presence with 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds.
Asia Taylor nailed a couple of big jumpshots in crunch time and Tahlia Tupaea, despite foul woes, and Lauren Nicholson off the bench, made invaluable contributions.
“You always want great games but do they have to be that close?” Sydney coach Cheryl Chambers said.
“The first half we forget to play defence but they found that in the second fortunately. I’m just so pleased we go to Dandenong with that win.”
It makes all the difference to the mindset and now has Larissa Anderson’s young team facing a “backs-to-the-wall” scenario with zero margin for error.
The Rangers shot at 48 per cent – fairly good for a grand final. Sydney shot at 59 per cent. It was one hell of a grand spectacle, even if it now threatens to end prematurely.
LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT: Flames stars Jennifer Hamson and Leilani Mitchell
WNBL GRAND FINAL
Game 1: SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 91 (Wilson 22, Hamson, Taylor, Mitchell 15; Hamson 8 rebs; Mitchell 6 assts) d DANDENONG RANGERS 82 (Blicavs 25, Cumming 16, Novosel 14; Blicavs 8 rebs; Todhunter, Cumming 6 assts) at Brydens Stadium
Sydney leads Best-of-Three Series 1-0