It was a performance worthy of a championship bout and the Canberra Capitals stood up and claimed the 2009/10 WNBL title 75-70 in front of a sell-out crowd at The Cage in Melbourne on Saturday.
The defending champions also claimed the title as the most successful club in the history of the WNBL, winning their seventh championship.
The Caps fought back from an eight point deficit to steal the championship from the host team the Bulleen Boomers.
Point guard Natalie Hurst led the Caps all game but it was Marianna Tolo's blocks on Liz Cambage in the dying minutes that Canberra coach Carrie Graf said made the difference in the end.
“Tolo just made Cambage eat it four or five times in a row, that was huge,” Graf said.
“Lizzie’s going to be a star, I mean that kid can play… Tolo showed in the clutch why she was the shot-blocker of the season, she’s done it all year but to do it in the final against someone 6’8 it was monumental.
Carly Wilson’s shots down the stretch, we recruited her to be a perimeter scorer and a defender. I think she battled tough at the end on O’Hea and… it was count for count; they hit a big one, we hit a big one. I think Hurst won the battle of the point guard, Milner was tough but she wasn’t Hurst; Hurst made things happen, she controlled our tempo, I mean it was just a classy WNBL match.”
Graf also paid tribute to the team's ability to stay calm in the clutch moments.
“It was our poise; we’ve been in this situation many times," Graf said.
"We’ve got a huge amount of finals experience, big game experience. Unlike in the regular season game where we total lost our poise, lost our momentum, I think in this game we stayed on our goals to focus on the moment for 40 minutes. We didn’t get flustered… we maintained our composure.”
After an inspiring Preliminary Final performance Capitals point guard Natalie Hurst once again led the Caps to victory with 21 points, three assists and three rebounds. Canberra’s star signing Lauren Jackson had a quiet first quarter but nearly took over the game in the second half with 18 points and 13 rebounds to be named Grand Final MVP but dedicated the award to her teammates.
Graf also said there were a number of standout players on the day.
“Anyone who says it a Lauren Jackson show they’re out of their minds," Graf said.
"She knows that, our team knows that; she’s going to win us some games and she’s going to make your team better, she makes them better at practice, she makes them better on the court but you saw tonight she gritted it out… she got triple-teamed… and she stayed on it, came up with possessions, a couple of big shots when we needed it.
She draws so much attention but Wilson gets open for three, Hurst gets open for three… She said it herself, Lauren can’t win championships and gold medals alone it’s about the team with her and around her."
Bulleen guard Jenna O’Hea led all scorers with 26 points, and added five assists and seven rebounds, Liz Cambage added a 16 point, 11 rebound double-double, but the Boomers ran out of steam in the final quarter.
It didn’t take long for both teams to settle in. After going coast-to-coast a couple of times the crowd finally got involved when Liz Cambage got her first touch of the ball and went to the basket. She was fouled but nailed the first free throw to open the scoring.
Nat Hurst got the Caps firing, making some tough shots but Canberra was not clicking offensively. Jackson had two fouls within the first three minutes and was sent to the bench allowing Cambage to rack up some points but the former Dandenong junior soon earned her own second personal foul and was also benched.
Bulleen blanketed the Caps defensively and Abby Bishop missed an open layup on the buzzer at quarter-time allowing Bulleen a 14-12 lead.
The second quarter started at a furious pace and the defending champions scored the first seven points of the term to open up a 19-14 lead. Jackson finally got on the score board a minute and a half into the second term and fired up the Caps.
The game started to get physical as Bulleen worked to stop the Caps scoring run. A Jenna O’Hea 3-pointer midway through the term slowed the pace somewhat and when the Boomers hit the front again a minute later Canberra Coach Carrie Graf called a timeout to regroup.
The Caps hit back immediately from the timeout but O’Hea continued on a rampage, finishing with nine points for the quarter and earning a 33-30 lead for Bulleen.
Bulleen point guard Sharin Milner opened up with a 3-pointer to start the second half and after O’Hea blocked Kellie Abrams shot attempt Cambage converted at the other end for an eight point lead.
Canberra started clamping down on O’Hea and after consecutive triples from Nat Hurst and Lauren Jackson Bulleen coach Tom Maher had had enough and called a timeout with the Caps ahead by two.
Jackson hit one from range before the players turned on a shooting display with O’Hea, Hurst and Bulleen’e Kylie Reid all hitting from long range.
With 4.4 seconds remaining in the quarter the Caps did all they could to shut down the Boomers final play. The league’s best shot-blocker Marianna Tolo swatted away O’Hea’s attempted but Bulleen veteran Desi Glaubtiz pulled in the rejected shot and nailed a 2-pointer on the siren.
The home team held a 56-53 advantage at the start of the final term and when O’Hea hit her third 3-pointer the Boomers were out by six.
Tolo took the job on Cambage and blocked her first three shot attempts, drawing the foul on the 203cm in the third instance and Cambage was called to the bench.
Carly Wilson iced a triple to bring the Caps back within one point.
Abrams was awarded her fifth foul with five minutes remaining leaving Graf in a dilemma as to whom could match O’Hea but the coach said it also worked in their favour.
“In a roundabout way when Abrams fouled out it forced us to put our three bigs on, which we’d practiced during the week but we hadn’t pulled the trigger on it much and I think when we went with that big lineup Tolo made stops and Jackson and Abby Bishop with Tolo… the size for us helped us down the stretch.”
With the rain pelting the roof and the Bulleen faithful in full song the teams traded baskets in the final minutes
Bishop triple 72-70 2:13 then was fouled at the other end, and with Bulleen in the bonus, she went to the free throw line and drained 1-of-2 attempts.
Jackson missed a –pointer with 25 seconds remaining and the Boomers and 20 seconds to make something happen.
Jarry missed the equaliser and as the Capitals grabbed the rebound, the contingent of Caps fans made themselves known. Bulleen fouled with 3.7 seconds on the clock, sending Jackson to the line, she drained them both, and the game was over.
“Our goal was to try and keep them under 65," Graf said.
"They made some huge shots, O’Hea step back threes… they made some good shots against great ‘D’, it was classic great play… but we knew if we could keep them around that 65 mark we had enough tools to try and get it done.”
CANBERRA TRANSACT CAPITALS 75 (N Hurst 21, L Jackson 18, C Wilson 12) def
GLOBAL METALS BULLEEN BOOMERS 70 (J O’Hea 26, E Cambage 16, S Milner 8)
At The Cage, Melbourne
By Kimberley Lewis for WNBL Media
Photos courtesy of Kangaroo Photos