BENDIGO Spirit’s 2017-18 WNBL season opener has ended in defeat against a new-look Canberra Capitals.
The Spirit paid dearly for a slow start in a 93-80 loss at The National Convention Centre on Friday night.
They trailed by 10 points at quarter time and 15 points at half time before coach Simon Pritchard’s side launched a brave third quarter fight back.
The Spirit were able to claw their way back to within nine points at the final change after they outscored the Capitals 26-20 in the third team.
But Canberra, led by their star Abigail Wehrung, club legend Natalie Hurst and new import Jordan Hooper, were able to steady in the final term and push the margin back out to 13 points.
Wehrung sank the opening basket of the night 35 seconds into the contest and ended the night with 22 points and five rebounds.
Hurst had a game-high 14 assists, while Hopper, who previously played in the WNBL with South East Queensland Stars, scored 18 points.
Opals star Kelsey Griffin led the Spirit with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Betnijah Laney finished with 19 points.
Fellow import and guard Rachel Banham scored 10 points.
The Capitals got excellent productivity from their bench with 42 points to the Spirit’s 12.
Kate Gaze (14) and impressive debutante Eziyoda Magbegor (12) accounted for 26 of them.
Played at the Capitals’ new stadium, coach Paul Goriss praised his team’s first half defensive intensity.
"We want to make this a place where other teams don't want to come and play," he said.
"We definitely set a standard in the first half, we lost our way in the third ... that's what we want to be our hallmark this season, we want to get things done at the defensive end because we know we're going to be able to score.
"That's going to be a thing that we hopefully hang our hat on."
Goriss lauded the performance of young-gun Magbegor.
"(Magbegor) is a phenomenal player, she's great now but she's going to get even better with this experience, playing against women," he said.
"Words don't describe for an 18-year-old coming in and doing what she does.
“She's aggressive, she's assertive, she makes things happen. I'm just glad she's on our team."
In other games played so far, Melbourne Boomers won their season opener against Dandenong Rangers 76-61, Adelaide Lightning defeated reigning premiers Sydney Uni Flames 91-80, and Townsville Fire defeated Melbourne Boomers 63-54.
The Spirit play their first home game for the season this Saturday night against Perth Lynx.
- with Caden Helmers, Canberra Times