Lauren Jackson has made a living out of standing tall to win games and the superstar Canberra Capital certainly earned her money in a breathtaking WNBL match last night.
In the most exciting game of the season, Jackson bombed an open three-point shot with 14 seconds left in overtime to give the Capitals a three-point victory over the Sydney Uni Flames at the AIS Arena.
Nat Hurst then hit two crucial free throws with two seconds remaining to secure the 81-78 win.
It kept Canberra alive in the race for a top two spot and the right to host a home final.
It was also the defending champion’s sixth victory in a row and, according to Jackson, the Capitals aren’t even close to reaching their potential.
“[Sydney Uni] played as well as they could without Suzy [Batkovic-Brown] going off,” Jackson said as she signed autographs for hundreds of fans.
“We’ve got a lot of getting better to do and I don’t think we played near as well as what we can.
“I didn’t even think about [not taking the winning shot], when you’re open you take it and I just wanted to win.”
In a gripping final quarter, neither team could break clear and the score was level at 68-68 with 90 seconds remaining.
Deanna Smith and Nat Porter then hit clutch free throws to give Sydney Uni a three-point lead.
A comedy of errors followed as Sydney coach Karen Dalton called a timeout but the referees did not hear the buzzer and play continued.
But Suzy Batkovic-Brown’s layup rimmed out and the match went into overtime.
Bibby – who was playing her 250th WNBL match – continued to hit crucial shots before Sydney’s Mikaela Dombkins nailed a three-pointer to give her team the lead.
Down by two, the stage was set for a grand finish and Jackson didn’t disappoint.
She scrambled to gather a loose ball and with best friend Batkovic-Brown tangled on the ground, Jackson put up a shot which never looked like missing.
“Oh shit, that’s the truth because I was on the ground and that’s what I thought when I saw her with the ball,” Batkovic-Brown said.
“Loz is going to take that shot the majority of the time being the best in the world and why wouldn’t you?
“I would too and if they didn’t get the ball to her I would be like, “what are you guys doing?”
Getting Jackson the ball wasn’t a planned move, but Canberra coach Carrie Graf let out a sigh of relief when the 28-year-old got her shot away.
“Star players do that,” Graf said.
“For other players [making that shot] is a fluke, for Lauren Jackson it ain’t.
“That was a gritty win, it was a final, it doesn’t get better than that and we learned a lot about our own game from that.”
Earlier, Batkovic-Brown had to wait until the start of the second quarter to register her first points and the Flames stole the lead just before half-time despite their Opals centre being held to four points.
The heated rivalry between the teams set the tone for an explosive clash and tempers flared when Mikaela Dombkins was given a technical foul for swearing.
It handed Jackson four free-shots and she made the Flames pay by nailing all attempts and when Nat Hurst hit a clutch field goal the score was locked at 38-38 at half-time.
Hurst started to find her range and when Jess Bibby nailed three consecutive field goals to bring up 3003 WNBL points, the Capitals started to gain the upper-hand.
But the Capitals attempts to blow Sydney out of the match failed and the Flames got the margin back to two points at the final change.
Smith led all scorers with 30 points and Flames coach Karen Dalton believed her team still had room for improvement.
“It could have gone either way but we missed our opportunities and they took their’s,” Dalton said.
“We went to the players that were hot and defensively we were solid.
“I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t finish off when we had the chance, I wouldn’t say that was a poor game for us, we just have to make sure we move into finals well.”
AT A GLANCE
CANBERRA TRANSACT CAPITALS 81 (Lauren Jackson 25, Jess Bibby 14, Nat Hurst 12) bt ACUVUE SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 78 (Deanna Smith 30, Eva Afeaki 15, Suzy Batkovic-Brown 10) Crowd: 2430
CANBERRA TRANSACT CAPITALS 81 (L Jackson 25, J Bibby 14, N Hurst 12) bt
ACUVUE SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 78 (D Smith 30, E Afeaki 15, S Batkovic-Brown 10)
At AIS Arena, Canberra
By Chris Dutton for the Canberra Times
Photo courtesy of Eric Li for www.canberrapictorial.com.au