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WNBL14: League needs to show backbone

THERE's an elephant in the WNBL room and the League can choose to ignore the whack in the face Melbourne's Sophie Cunningham gave Canberra's Keely Froling or it can choose to act.

The referees on the scene chose to ignore the contact altogether as Cunningham barrelled into Froling, elbow high and the Caps star hitting the floor having sustained a fractured cheekbone and broken nose.

Head high contact of that nature, accidental or otherwise, should not be tolerated at this level.

And within seconds of that play, Cunningham lined up Caps guard Maddi Rocci with a hip-and-shoulder which also lamely only was assessed as a regular foul. Play on the ball?

Froling, who as Capitals coach Paul Goriss said is "as tough as shit" finished out the overtime thriller and was a key player in the Caps' win.

But the WNBL needs to step up and at the very least investigate both incidents. There's enough footage around, after all.

Or the League can really do something and suspend Cunningham for the same amount of time she has knocked Froling out of playing. That absolutely would send a message there's a difference between physicality and brutality.

* * *

NEVER under-estimate the heart of a champion. Famous words uttered by Houston Rockets' NBA championship-winning coach Rudy Tomjanovich decades ago. But they would have been right at home today in Dandenong if Caps coach Paul Goriss had uttered them.

Already down Kelsey Griffin (ankle, now hamstring) and Keely Froling (fractured cheekbone, broken nose), the defending champion Caps seized control of the contest from the outset, Marianna Tolo going to war with Southside import Mercedes Russell.

By the time the dust settled on Canberra's stunning all-the-way 98-74 road win, Nurse had a season-high 33 points, Olivia Epoupa a season-high 15 (plus a game-high 13 rebounds and eight assists), with career-highs from Rocci (19 points) and Alex Delaney (13 points). Tolo (13 points, 12 boards) and Epoupa had double-doubles and all eight players the Caps took to Dandenong produced on the scoresheet, the lead as great as 29.

Cheryl Chambers' milestone 250th game as a WNBL coach was far from her best, her team - albeit down superstar Jenna O'Hea - ill-prepared for the ferocity of Canberra's intent or of its withering 50 per cent floor accuracy.

Put simply, the Flyers could not stop Canberra. Defensively they were terrible, with Leilani Mitchell possibly the benchmark for defensive futility in this one. Her matador stances and lack of genuine commitment were uncharacteristic and not one to inspire any confidence in her teammates.

Her only saving grace was hitting some shots, but five turnovers also spoke to her forcing at that end.

Russell had a double-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and at 9-of-13 from the floor, should have had twice as many shot attempts in O'Hea's absence.

The further this went, the better Canberra became, Nurse delivering her 33 points at 54 per cent, Rocci's 19 at 63, with 4-of-6 triples. Delaney also shot at 54 per cent.

This was a win for the ages and one which should fill the Caps with confidence going back-to-back is very much back on the table. 

IN Sydney, Melbourne bounced back from its overtime loss in Canberra to put out the Flames 76-62, former Boomers guard Brittany Smart leading the home team with 18 points.

With Alice Kunek (elbow surgery) joining Colleen Planeta (ACL) and Tahlia Tupaea (PCL) on the sidelines, Sydney coach Katrina Hibbert did a great job keeping her team competitive until the final quarter.

But despite Flames centre Lauren Scherf again securing a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds, Sydney had no answer for Ezi Magbegor.

The Opals' (and Boomers) power forward had 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting (73 per cent) and even connected on her only 3-point attempt.

Maddie Garrick's 13-point, seven-assists delivery also was crucial but holding Sydney to eight points in the final stanza ensured Melbourne pushed its win-loss record to 13-6.

IT wasn't all bad news for league leader Southside, the Flyers earlier in the round heading into Bendigo and breaking the Spirit 91-76.

Out of the blocks with a 24-15 first quarter, followed up by a 25-18 second, meant the Flyers were ahead 49-33 at halftime and already with an eye toward Canberra.

The 24-17 third period made it 73-50 with a quarter left, Southside leading by as many as 29 and able to get double-figure minutes of playing time into benchies Kiera Rowe, Anneli Maley and Louella Tomlinson.

Rebecca Cole's 22 points led the scoring, Mercedes Russell with a 13-point, 12-rebound contribution, Leilani Mitchell's 19 points at 67 per cent. Tessa Lavey led Bendigo with 20 points.

IN Perth for their final home game of the season, the effect on the Lynx of axing Imani McGee-Stafford paid off in the same way it had for Townsville a week prior when it released Abby Bishop.

Everyone was "up" and Townsville went down in a screaming heap, despite being alive at the last break, trailing 48-58.

Perth put on a final quarter clinic, scoring a season-high 37 points (to 14) in an amazing final period to have the Red Army home crowd in full roaring voice.

Alison Schwagmeyer-Belger (21) led five Lynx players in double figures - Marena Whittle and Katie Ebzery on 17, Lauren Mansfield 14, Nadeen Payne 10 - with Ariel Atkins a point back on nine.

Bridget Carleton had 12 and 12 for the Fire and Darcee Garbin 19 points but the Townsville crew hit the wall and were helpless in the face of the Lynx onslaught. 

EARLIER in the round, Adelaide beat Townsville and Canberra won in overtime over Melbourne, those reviews here.

(Talbot 16, Turner 15, Nicholson 14, Seekamp 12, Westbeld 10; Talbot 10 rebs; Nicholson 9 assts) d JCU TOWNSVILLE FIRE 60 (Madgen 19, Garbin 16, Vanloo 10; Garbin 10 rebs; Madgen 4 assts) at The Lighthouse, Titanium Security Arena.
UNIVERSITY of CANBERRA CAPITALS 76 (Nurse 23, Tolo 22, Froling 12; Epoupa 16 rebs; Epoupa 7 assts) d DEAKIN MELBOURNE BOOMERS 75 (Cunningham 22, Beck 17, Magbegor 14; George 8 rebs; George 8 assts) in overtime {66-66} at Study Hall, National Convention Centre.
DEAKIN MELBOURNE BOOMERS 76 (Magbegor 25, George 14, Garrick 13, Beck 10; George 8 rebs; Garrick 7 assts) d SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 62 (Smart 18, Scherf 14; Scherf 11 rebs; Wilson 6 assts) at The Law Courts, Bryden’s Stadium.
SOUTHSIDE FLYERS 91 (Cole 22, Mitchell 19, Blicavs 18, Russell 13; Russell 12 rebs; Clydesdale 6 assts) d BENDIGO SPIRIT 76 (Lavey 20, Ernst, Wehrung 15; Heal 8 rebs; Wilson 5 assts) at The Spirit Level, Bendigo Stadium.
PERTH LYNX 95 (Schwagmeyer-Belger 21, Whittle, Ebzery 17, Mansfield 14, Payne 10; Ebzery 8 rebs; Atkins, Mansfield 3 assts) d JCU TOWNSVILLE FIRE 62 (Garbin 19, Carleton 12, Madgen 10; Carleton 12 rebs; Carleton, Vanloo, Gaze 3 assts) at The Enclosure, Bendat Stadium.
UNI of CANBERRA CAPITALS 98 (Nurse 33, Rocci 19, Epoupa 15, Delaney, Tolo 13; Epoupa 13 rebs; Epoupa 8 assts) d SOUTHSIDE FLYERS 74 (Russell 18, Mitchell 14, Clydesdale 11, Cole, Blicavs 10; Russell 10 rebs; Mitchell 5 assts) at The Hangar, Dandenong Stadium.

TOMORROW: The WNBL "run to the finals"

Jan 19

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.