A third-quarter blitz helped the Bendigo Bank Spirit overcome a determined Sydney Uni Flames outfit 77-69 at Bendigo Stadium last night.
The Spirit’s 15th win for the season was one of its hardest-fought, with Bendigo only dousing the Flames late in the final term.
The victory lifted the Spirit to two wins clear on top of the Women’s National Basketball League ladder, having played one game more than second-placed Dandenong.
Bendigo went into last night’s match without Chantella Perera, although Kristi Harrower shrugged off a sore Achilles to take the court.
The Spirit burst out of the blocks to take an 11-2 lead, but the Flames’ import April Sykes’ eight points led her team to an 18-16 quarter-time advantage.
Fighting to keep its finals hopes alive, Sydney came out firing in the second term and led by five-points before Bendigo lifted to only trail 38-39 at the long break.
Sydney’s twin towers Sykes and veteran Rohanee Cox were causing the Spirit all sorts of trouble in the paint, with 13 and 12 points respectively.
But it was the Spirit’s centre, Gabe Richards who kept Bendigo in the game at the other end by scoring 12 points.
Richards produced a brilliant third term of 10 points and six rebounds and helped the Spirit open a 61-53 lead at the final change.
Kelly Wilson showed her class from range, while Kelsey Griffin and Renae Camino scored points at crucial times.
Sydney didn’t give in in the last term and brought the margin to just six points at just under two minutes to play.
But as she often does, Harrower stepped up when the game was there to be won – dribbling past three opponents to lay-up and ice the game.
Spirit coach Bernie Harrower praised his team for its ability to get the ‘W’, despite being below its best against an underrated Sydney team.
“They’re a good side and I’ve said that all week, do not underestimate Sydney – they’re as good as any team in the competition and they proved that again tonight,” he said.
“We had to dig deep defensively in the second half, they had 39 at half-time – they’ve had 30 in the second half and we’ve had 39, so it was a big second half for us.”
Harrower finished with 10 assists and nine points, while Richards led all on 22 points and nine rebounds.
Kelly Wilson finished with 15 points and Griffin had 11.
Cox and Sykes were well held after half-time, finishing with 17 and 16 points, while Sarah Graham hit some big threes to also finish with 16.
The Spirit now travels to play Logan tomorrow.