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WNBL: Missing stars leave doors ajar

THE twin absences of starters Jenna O'Hea and Mercedes Russell was too much for WNBL leader Southside against Sydney, but champion Canberra still held out Bendigo despite being down Kelsey Griffin.

Remarkably, all three players suffered ankle injuries in last week's "grand final preview" in Canberra, their absences impacting heavily on their respective teams.

Griffin's injury is the worst, her high grade ankle sprain likely to keep her sidelined for six weeks.

In her absence, Keely Froling was reinserted into the starting quintet and produced a career-game for the Capitals, scoring a round-high 30 points at 61 percent, with 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals as they saw off Bendigo 76-66.

Olivia Epoupa, possibly the smallest player in the WNBL, had a match-high 12 rebounds to go with her match-high five assists as Canberra showed all the fighting qualities of a defending champion.

IT was a tough weekend for the Spirit, losing to Sydney Uni 81-88 to start the round in Bendigo, where Jessica Kuster and Alice Kunek both led the Flames with 20 points.

Lauren Scherf hauled in 12 rebounds and Colleen Planeta added 14 points as Sydney finished by running over Bendigo with a 24-15 final quarter.

Carly Ernst had 20 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals to lead the Spirit, Kelly Wilson and Abbey Wehrung (below) also working hard to try salvage the win.

PERTH led the Fire by as many as 11 in Townsville before needing a 23-15 last quarter to pull off a key five-point road win.

Abby Bishop led the home team with an 18-point, 16-rebound double, and Bridget Carleton's 17 points came on 7-of-10 shooting.

WNBA import Ariel Atkins paced the Lynx to victory, with her 16 points including 4-of-7 threes, Katie-Rae Ebzery's 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

The home loss effectively snuffed the Fire's chances of a late surge toward the top four, leaving their season looking very black and white.

PERTH, meanwhile is back in the Final Four hunt, as is Sydney, both teams with key road wins and Adelaide beaten by Melbourne.

Alice Kunek backed up her 20-point game against Bendigo with 27 points on 11-of-19 shooting, plus 11 boards, leading Sydney to its timely win over Southside at Dandenong.

Down O'Hea and Russell with ankle injuries meant starts for Aimie Clydesdale and Louella Tomlinson but the Flyers were under siege from the get-go, never ahead, down 16-24 after one and having to graft the rest of the way.

Sara Blicavs had 23 points as Southside fought its way back into the contest, before she hit the wall. Leilani Mitchell, with 18 points and eight assists also played her part in keeping the Flyers within reach.

But with Colleen Planeta scoring 20 points and Alex Wilson with 12 and nine assists, Sydney had too much in the tank and secured the upset.

IN Melbourne, it largely was a dour, defensive struggle between last season's semi final combatants, the Boomers taking a 2-0 series lead over Adelaide 66-57.

Lindsay Allen's 22 points and Ezi Magbegor's 16-point, 10-rebound, three-assist night was huge.

Melbourne held Adelaide's usually efficient, running, free-flowing offence to a meagre 25-point first half but did not significantly capitalise, ahead by just 10 at the interval.

The Lightning trailed by double-figures throughout much of the final quarter and by as many as 15, its offence hampered by foul woes for Lauren Nicholson, Nicole Seekamp and Kathryn Westbeld.

Melbourne leading 42-29 midway through the third quarter on Sophie Cunningham's 3-point make, had to withstand a 9-2 Adelaide rally which drew it to 38-44 on Steph Talbot's basket.

Allen then iced a 3-pointer which put an end to the fightback, despite Brianna Turner again finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and Talbot with 15 and 10.


SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 88 (Kuster, Kunek 20, Planeta 14, Tupaea 11; Scherg 12 rebs; Wilson 5 assts) d BENDIGO SPIRIT 81 (Ernst 20, Wilson 19, Wehrung 15, Grays 11; Ernst 7 rebs; Ernst 5 assts) at The Spirit Level, Bendigo Stadium.
UNI of CANBERRA CAP[ITALS 76 (Froling 30, Nurse 16, Tolo 13; Epoupa 12 rebs; Epoupa 5 assts) d BENDIGO SPIRIT 66 (Skinner 15, Wehrung 13; Ernst 11 rebs; Lavey 3 assts) at Study Hall, National Convention Centre.
PERTH LYNX 82 (Atkins 16, Ebzery 15, Whittle 12, Payne, Schwagmeyer-Belger 11; Payne, Ebzery 6 rebs; Mansfield 6 assts) d JCU TOWNSVILLE FIRE 77 (Bishop 18, Carleton 17, Garbin 14, Madgen 12, Vanloo 11; Bishop 16 rebs; Vanloo 7 assts) at The Fire Station, Townsville Stadium.
SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 86 (Kunek 27, Planeta 20, Wilson 12, Tupaea, Kuster 11; Kunek 11 rebs; Wilson 9 assts) d SOUTHSIDE FLYERS 79 (Blicavs 23, Mitchell 18, Cole 13; Blicavs 9 rebs; Mitchell 8 assts) at The Hangar, Dandenong Stadium.
DEAKIN MELBOURNE BOOMERS 66 (Allen 22, Magbegor 16; Magbegor 10 rebs; Magbegor, Cunningham, Allen 3 assts) d ADELAIDE LIGHTNING 57 (Turner 19, Talbot 15; Turner 11 rebs; Seekamp 5 assts) at The Boomerang, State Basketball Centre.

Dec 22

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