A valiant effort from the Sydney Uni Sparks saw the home side give themselves every chance to spring the upset, but the Dandenong Rangers used a second half run to take an 81-71 win at Brydens Stadium on Friday night. Recent WNBA draftee Tahlia Tupaea was outstanding for the Sparks, leading all scorers with 28 points, whilst also tallying 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Sarah Graham and Shanae Greaves also reached double figures with 14 apiece, whilst Kimberley Hodge was best amongst the younger players with 8 points and 6 rebounds.
The Sparks came out firing and hung with Dandenong through much of the first quarter, with Tupaea sparking the home side’s offence early in the piece to score 10 of the home side’s first 13 points. With the teams tied at 13-13 with 4 minutes to play in the opening term, the visitors went on a 9-1 run to end the quarter, with a pair of three pointers from Aimie Clydesdale and a surprising trey from Lauren Scherf pushing the Rangers to a 22-14 lead after 10 minutes of play.
The second quarter, however, belonged to the Sparks. Sarah Graham splashed in four baskets from beyond the arc to rack up points at lightning pace. On the back of Graham’s excellent second quarter effort, the Sparks quickly cut into the Rangers’ lead and were able to take a 41-40 halftime lead as the team’s WNBL players accounted for all 27 of the team’s points in the quarter.
Unfortunately, the Rangers hit back with a dominant quarter of their own in the third. The Sparks committed four turnovers to zero in the quarter, stymieing the team’s ability to score points and giving the visitors plenty of chances to first take and then extend the lead. With the Rangers’ own WNBL players firing on all cylinders, the margin extended to 63-53 with one quarter to play on the back of a 23-12 third quarter for the visitors.
A Kimberley Hodge and-one was a glowing start to the quarter for the Sparks, but a seven point deficit would be the closest that the home side would come to victory. Tahlia Tupaea continued to play an outstanding knock, scoring almost at will at times. However, the Rangers’ ball movement was exemplary at times, and they even got away with a bizarre basket when Lauren Scherf got a fingertip to an overcooked pass, which somehow found its way to the bottom of the basket.
The Rangers kept the Sparks at arms’ length, and whilst a buzzer-beating three pointer from Tahlia Tupaea saw the final score read 81-71, the game was perhaps finished as a true contest at 77-66 with two minutes to play.
Valiant yet fruitless efforts appeared to be the theme of the night as the Albury-Wodonga Lady Bandits took a lead into halftime against the Geelong Supercats, but were unable to hold on as excessive turnovers hindered the home side’s chances in a 71-59 loss. Three players finished in double figures for the Bandits. Import Toccara Ross top scored with 16 points and also pulled down 8 rebounds, whilst Adijat Adams and Under 18 nationals gold medallist Steph Gorman finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds apiece. Melanie Kirby also hauled in 10 boards to go with her 4 points.
The home side allowed Geelong to get out to an early lead, and with Sara Blicavs and Chantel Horvat firing, the visitors quickly established a 21-11 margin. Fortunately, an 8-4 end to the first quarter kept Albury-Wodonga in touch at 25-19. That momentum carried over into the second quarter as another late run to end the half culminated in a Steph Gorman three-pointer with 10 seconds to play in the term that saw Albury-Wodonga take an unexpected 38-36 lead into the second half.
The third quarter saw the sides in a back-and-forth tussle. Horvat and Blicavs continued to lead for Geelong, but the Bandits were able to find points from a variety of sources. Geelong were able to extinguish Albury-Wodonga’s lead, but the teams went into the final quarter tied at 49-49. The final quarter saw an player from Albury take over, but unfortunately for the Bandits, that player was Geelong’s Alex Duck. Returning to haunt her hometown team, Duck scored 8 points in the final term as Geelong ran away with the game in the final term. A 12-2 run secured the win for the visitors as 35 excellent minutes for Albury-Wodonga unfortunately could not extend into 40 minutes.
Next week sees Albury-Wodonga host Hobart at the Lauren Jackson Sports Centre on Saturday night at 6:00pm, whilst the Sparks will enjoy a bit of a reunion as Launceston come to town on Friday night at 7:00pm. Sydney Uni Flames guard Lauren Nicholson is spending the SEABL season with the Tornadoes and will be looking to create a storm on her usual home court.