The Canberra Capitals have reached their third-straight WNBL Grand Final after a hard-fought Preliminary Final victory against the Bendigo Spirit, 83-78, at the AIS Arena today.
The win sets up a third-consecutive WNBL Grand Final showdown between the Capitals and the Bulleen Boomers, to be held at The Cage in Melbourne next Sunday.
Bendigo’s loss ended the Spirit’s most successful season in their four-year history, unable to overcome the fast start of the Capitals, who met every challenge thrown at them by the valiant visiting team.
Carly Wilson was outstanding for the home town Capitals, playing every minute of the contest. Her defence on Bendigo young-gun Tess Madgen was instrumental in setting up her side’s victory, holding her to just 4 points, while leading her team in scoring with 21.
Jess Bibby had 20 points for the victors, while Opals centre Marianna Tolo finished the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks, which included a number of clutch free-throws, hitting 12 of 13 from the line.
Bendigo Spirit captain Kristi Harrower led all scorers with 26 points, and despite another terrific game from centre Gabe Richards (12 points, 13 rebounds), too much was left in the hands of too little, Bendigo struggling to find multiple offensive options.
From the opening the Spirit were showing no signs of nerves in their first ever Preliminary Final, Kristi Harrower opening their scoring account, before a basket by Tess Madgen gave the visitors a 6-5 lead. Carly Wilson quickly replied with a three-point basket, with the one-on-one battle between Wilson and Madgen a feature of the game early on.
Guard Alison Lacey connected on two three-point baskets for the Capitals, giving them a 16-8 lead and forcing Bernie Harrower to call time out in an attempt to settle his team. Canberra remained hot from long range, Jessica Bibby hitting another three-pointer to open a double digit lead, 21-11, with two minutes left.
Bendigo responded through a Kelly Wilson three-pointer, before a Gabe Richards basket brought the scores back to 26-18 to end the first term.
The second term began with two-straight jump shots from Spirit star Kristi Harrower, who traded baskets with Carly Wilson in the early going. Marianna Tolo was also involved in a tough match-up with Gabe Richards, the two centres battling for rebounds and clearing paths for their team-mates.
A three-point basket from Bendigo’s Toni Edmondson was followed by a bomb from near half-court by Harrower, making the scores 38-32 in Canberra’s favour with 3.30 remaining in the half. The Spirit were pushing hard, but despite baskets to Richards and Eleanor Haring could not snatch the lead and trailed 42-40 at halftime.
Like she did in the second term, Kristi Harrower opened scoring in the third with a jump shot. But as she had done all night, Carly Wilson responded for the Capitals. Marianna Tolo continued to influence both ends of the floor, with a big block leading to a fast breaking that finished in a three-point play, making the scores 50-42 with six minutes remaining.
Harrower and Richards responded for the Spirit, Richards dominating the offensive glass, with her tenth point of the term bringing the scores back to 54-52.
Once more, as she had done all night, it was Carly Wilson, with 16 points in the game, helping to steady the reigning champions, who increased their lead with a 19-18 quarter to finish the third ahead 61-56.
The final term started in familiar fashion, Kristi Harrower connecting from long range to again bring the difference back to two points, 61-59. But once again Canberra found a way to keep Bendigo at bay, Hannah Bowley coming on and hitting just her third three-pointer of the season.
With six minutes remaining and the score 70-63, Tess Madgen hit just her second basket of the game to bring scores back to 70-65. Tolo continued her accurate shooting for Canberra and a Jess Bibby breakaway lay-in threatened to blow the game open.
Canberra held a ten point lead 80-70 with two minutes remaining, but three-straight Bendigo baskets from Richards, Harrower and Aubry, brought scores back to 80-76 with just 45 seconds remaining.
Coming out of time out, a Harrower jump shot fell just short, and Marianna Tolo knocked down the ensuing free-throws to ice the game for the Capitals, who finished with the 83-78 victory.
Canberra Capitals 83 (Carly Wilson 21, Marianna Tolo 20, Jess Bibby 20) defeated the Bendigo Spirit 78 (Kristi Harrower 26, Kelly Wilson 14, Gabe Richards 12)